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Cowhands were very important to the cattle industry for a period of time. On the ranch, cowhands, or cowboys, were responsible for monitoring the cattle. They had to be sure the cattle moved across the open range so they didn’t overgraze the land. They also had to keep track of the cattle.
Before the long drives began, the cowhands had to brand the cattle. This was necessary so they could identify their cattle in case their cattle wandered from the group. The long drives were necessary because they had to transport the cattle to railroad towns where the cattle would be shipped to market. Since the railroads hadn’t expanded as far as south where the ranches were located, the long drives were necessary. Conducting a long drive was very hard work for the cowhands.
Once the cattle arrived in the railroad towns, called cow towns, they were placed on the trains. Then they would be shipped to the slaughterhouses in the east. After the cattle were gone, the cowhands would have some free time before heading back to the ranch. During these times, the cow towns were very wild places. Abilene, Kansas was an example of a cow town.
Eventually, ranching changed from open-range ranching to closed-ranch ranching. When this happened, the roles of the cowhands changed dramatically. The cowhands functioned more as ranch assistants since they didn’t have to do the same jobs as in the past. For many years, the cowhands were vital to the ranching industry.
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