• Safety Tales from the Chisolm Trail

Tom Carson Sospes

By: Thomas Carson

February 27, 2020

We have delivered a lot of safety training with a focus on Job Hazard Analysis and documentation over the past two weeks in Texas, so it was easy while driving across the countryside to let my mind wander to the dangers and hardships of driving cattle across 640 miles of open plains.

The last two weeks I have been traveling in Texas.  Having two daughters in Austin is of course a draw, but I love BBQ (Terry Black’s), I love Mexican food (too many to choose from, but Güero’s Taco Bar should not be missed) and most of all, I love the attitude of the place.safety tales from the trail

Young or old, I have never worked with such consistently up-beat people exuding an attitude that says, “Of course we can do that”.  A visit to the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin provides a great look into some of what makes Texas what she is: a state rich in character and characters, from Texas dance halls and Honky Tonks, to “hold my beer and watch this” to outlaw country music.

In the years following the civil war in America, cattle in Texas were worth $3-$4/head, while they were selling in the north and east for $40/head.  This is what economists call supply imbalance.  It wasn’t long before enterprising traders and cattlemen developed the cattle drive and found their way from various Texas locations to Abilene, Kansas where a railroad stop had been established.  The Chisolm Trail was the most famous of these routes, immortalized in movies and TV shows.  Over the course of the next 18 years, 5,000,000 head of cattle were delivered from Texas, in the process solidifying the reputations of both Texas cattlemen and cowboys for colorful creativity.

These were not easy trips, as both cows and wranglers had to endure dangers and hardship on the 640 miles across the plains.  Over the past two weeks we have delivered a lot of safety training with a focus on Job Hazard Analysis and documentation, so it was easy to let my mind wander to that theme while driving across the countryside.

Imagine Dusty Gardner, cattle boss, preparing to head ‘em up and move’em out, circa 1867: “OK fellas, listen up.  We’ll be headin’ north up the trail out of the county and we need to talk about trip hazards.  First of all, our lives depend on our rigging – check your cinches, stirrups and bridles every day before you mount up – chafe can be a problem.  And its gonna get dusty, so make sure you always got breathin’ protection handy.

“Speakin’ of protection, make sure you got your gloves on at all times – we don’t need anyone gettin’ rope burns while tying to control a rambunctious steer.

“Then we need to cross that Brazos River where you need to be wary of slippin’ hazards – those 18,000 cattle going down the river bank are going to make that one slick mess.

“While you’re in the water, don’t be fallin’ off your horse – tryin’ to swim out with boots full of water is much for any man.  Climbing up the far side there’s that water moccasin nest, so stay clear and make sure them boots and pants keep your legs covered.  We’ll be out and exposed to long hours of sun and dry conditions – make sure to cover up and stay hydrated.

“Now there may be issues with local residents along the way – watch out for each other and don’t let outsiders get into the herd.

“I guess that’s about it – did I leave anything out?  Good, good.  Now I’d like each of you to make your mark on my slate over there to tell me that we’re all on board here.  Saddle up, men – we’re headin’ north!”

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