The Syndicates

Trailing had been better than shipping by railroad because cows fattened up on the trail. On the railroad they were often injured and lost weight. It cost up to 1/3 less to trail them rather than ship them. Trailing contractors were often used by ranchers because they couldn't aford to have their own men gone from the ranch for so long. He paid the contractor so much per head to do it. Contractors supplied the crew, cook, chuckwagon, trail boss, provisions, and horses.
Dillard R. Fant of Goliad was one who exclusively drove cattle for others. Many family firms did well in this area too, such as the Blocker Brothers and the Pryor Brothers. At times the majority of cows going up were taken by contractors. It is not known exactly how many though since most did not keep very good records.
Syndicates were also common, many with foreign owners. British money was behind many of the syndicates. Investment flourished because of a widespread belief that there was much wealth to be gained in the cattle industry. Many easterners invested too. It was a difficult arrangement because the offsite management and the onsite employees didn't understand the problems of the other. Also, the cowboys didn't appreciate being treated like a servant when some British aristocrat visited his ranch. Some ranches with absentee owners were robbed by their own employees. The managers were not paid well either, averaging about $90 per month. One of the most successful syndicate ranches was the Matador, established in 1879. In 1882, a Scottish investor bought it and acquired over one million acres. He also acquired land in Montana to fatten the cattle.
The cattle business spread quickly from the Rio Grande to Canada in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Conrad Kohrs was the major cattleman of Montana. He got his start by operating a butcher shop in mining camps. In 1866, he bought John Grant's ranch and cattle in Deer Lodge Valley. He built up his herds with Texas longhorns and Missouri shorthorns, and later, Hereford bulls. The grass on the plains was perfect for cows, which also led to the spread of cattle ranches.
People opposed the foreign investment and began to fight it rhough legislation, but that was declared unconstitutional. There was also fierce competition from other Texas ranches. Fences cutoff trail lanes. Men began to demand payment for using their watering holes. The winter of 1885 was severe in the central plains and 85% of the cattle there died. The summer of 1886 was unusually dry and there was little grass, but more cows were driven in anyway from Texas, Oregon, and Washington, where it was overgrazed. Another hard winter followed. Many got out of the business after that. Conrad Kohrs lost money that year but recoverd quickly. He borrowed $100,000 and bought 9,000 steers from Idaho. In 1889, he bought more in Idaho and Oregon, making $15 a head. His best year was in 1891 when profits averaged $62.50 per head and sales were $290,000.

-Copyright 2000 by Beth Gibson