- Historic Sites
The Long Drive
A cowboy’s own story of his experiences on the trail from Texas to Chicago
April 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 3
Tales of the great longhorn herds which thronged the plains of Texas lured many fortune seekers there after the Civil War. One of them was an elderly livestock buyer named Upton Bushnell, who set out from Ohio in the spring of 1866. Bushnell had reckoned that beef fetching no more than three or four dollars a head in the poor and underpopulated Southwest was worth ten times as much up North—an opportunity for profit that many others were to discover after him. Although most of the 260,000 head of cattle driven north that year went only as far as the western Missouri railheads—Abilene and the other Kansas cow towns would have their heyday later—Bushnell planned to take his herd directly to the Chicago stockyards. That a sizable part of it reached its goal after incredible hardships was largely due to the efforts of his able head man, a young Indiana farmer named Perry Case. What follows is Case’s hitherto unpublished story of the long drive, told when he was an old man. Relying on a memory undimmed by age, and his carefully-kept diary, he dictated this account to a relative, Mrs. Nancy Gay Case Hughes of Chicago, shortly before his death in 1926.
A New Orleans we saw our first Texas cattle. They was loaded on cars to go east. And oh, such horses, Gawd! I never see such splendid horses!
Bushnell, talking with a man, says, “I am going to Texas after a load of cattle.”
The man says, “You are aware that you can’t buy Texas cattle with greenbacks, hain’t you?”
“No,” says he, “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Well,” he said, “you can’t buy a beef steer with a bushel basket full of greenbacks. Many can’t read or write and can’t tell a one from a twenty. They won’t take paper. You will have to have gold.”
We had two days to wait for the steamship. In the meantime Bushnell says to Dick and me, “Boys, we will go down to the bank here and get our money changed. You will have to go with me because it will be too heavy for one man to carry. We will divide it up. Each one will carry a third. It will be heavy enough then.”
The cashier brought out the money in rolls of gold. My Gawd, we could never have carried silver. We went aboard the ship for the night. We always managed, on account of this money, to all be together as much as we could. Dick hid his money in his belt. I put mine in a handkerchief tied around my neck under my shirt.
Our ship, the I. S. Harris , left New Orleans next morning for Galveston, Texas. The Mississippi don’t mix with salt water for two or three miles; you can see the muddy waters of the Mississippi far out in the bay. About that time it began getting rough. It wasn’t what the sailors called rough, but it was rough enough that Bartlett, Bushnell, and Fred Lewis wasn’t out of their berths the rest of the trip—two days and two nights. Dick would go to Fred twenty times a day and ask him if he was better just to hear old Fred stutter and spit, “O-n-no, b-b-b-by God!” Oh, he stuttered worse than any man I ever knew. And Dick would just die laughing.
When we landed in Galveston, we learned we had to wait until evening for a boat to Houston. At Houston we took a little railroad called Texas Central north to a little town called Millican. No grading was done, just ties laid down on the surface. The train ran slowly. Once the train stopped. We didn’t understand and looked out, and there was the engineer off buying a pail of berries of some women picking beside of the tracks. We stopped for the passengers to drink at a spring, and we stopped at every ranch.
At Millican we stayed at a hotel. After supper we was sitting on the veranda in front of the hotel smoking cigars. (They all call porches verandas there.)
We heard a revolver shotl A man cried out three times, each cry getting weaker. Dick jumped up and said, “That was a man shot.”
I glanced around and saw everyone sitting still, not even taking their cigars out of their mouths. I pulled Dick by the pants to sit down. He was white as a sheet. The man’s cries was terrible but I see every one sitting still.
Some boys came along going the way of the shots. It wasn’t but a minute or two until back they come, and as they passed, one of the men took his cigar out of his mouth and said, “Who was shot, boys?”
“Oh, Texas Jack shot such and such a one.”
The man said, “Kill him?”
Dick said, “Why did he kill him?”
“Oh,” said the man, “probably just a tenderfoot.”
“That Jack is a bad one,” the other man said.
We gathered more about the fellow. They said he was quick on the draw and a sure shot. He knew everyone was afraid of him. He did not have to pay for what he wanted, horse or drinks. He took what he wanted and was likely to shoot the man for giving it to him, or innocent men for no reason at all. (Though desperadoes were common on the Texas frontier, and murder was an all-too-frequent occurrence, one cannot help but feel that this “shooting” was a well-contrived hoax perpetrated on the credulous and still gullible northern “tenderfeet.” [Ed.])
The next day Bushnell was getting worse. The seasickness was getting the best of him. He did not get better of it. The doctor said, “You will have to lie still.”