Cowboy Rations for a Trail Drive
“Wake up snakes, and bite a biscuit.”
Cowboy Cook’s Saying
By the 1890s, with land fenced off into quarter sections, the freewheeling, open range cowboy days of trailing large herds of Texas cattle to northern markets were all but over. But not quite. In 1892, the famed XIT ranch drove a herd of 2,500 head from Channing, Texas to their Cedar Creek ranch, north of Miles City, Montana. J. Ealy Moore, the trail boss, keep a careful record of their nearly nine hundred mile, thirteen-week journey—of the miles covered each day and where they bedded down each night. He also jotted down the food rations his crew of ten cowboys consumed, some of which was bought and stowed on the chuckwagon in Channing, while other provision were purchased along the trail. Along with their share of beef steak and wild game, these cowboys ate:
40 pounds of rice
160 gallons of beans
9 gallons of sorghum
300 pounds of fruit—dried currants and prunes, fresh, dried, and canned apples and peaches
1750 pounds of white flour
405 pounds of white sugar
Kegs of pickles
720 pounds of potatoes
2 pounds of ground and brewed coffee beans a day—going through 3 coffee mills
Moore also noted that Sam Williamson, the drive’s cook, flavored his cooking with vanilla and lemon extracts, cinnamon, and mustard.
Moore’s journal was published 1932 as “Diary of a Trial Trip to Montana, 1892,” by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, Canyon, Texas, and edited by J. Evetts Haley.
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