Primary Resource: “A Day With the Cow Column” by Jesse Applegate

Cowboy at Cattle Drive

Flickr: Creative Commons–Stuart Rankin: Cowboy at Cattle Drive (Colorado, 1970)


The first large wagon train to Oregon Territory took place in 1843. Jesse Applegate was one of the leaders of the cow column, the great herd of thousands of cattle driven to Oregon with the settlers. The cattle moved slower than the wagons, so those who owned more than a few cattle travelled with the cattle, while those who only owned a few travelled with the faster group.

In this recollection, published in 1877 in the Transactions of the Fourth Annual Re-Union of the Oregon Pioneer Association, Applegate recounts a typical day for the cow column. First in the column, the women and children walk near the wagons and gather flowers. Then, several boys or men herd the very “docile and sagacious” horses who seem to always behave.

Not so with the large herd of horned beasts that bring up the rear; lazy, selfish and unsocial, it has been a task to get them in motion, the strong, always ready to domineer over the weak, halt in the front and forbid the weaker to pass them. They seem to move only in fear of the driver’s whip; though in the morning, full to repletion, they have not been driven an hour before their hunger and thirst seem to indicate a fast of days’ duration. Through all the long day their greed is never sated nor their thirst quenched, nor is there a moment of relaxation of the tedious and vexatious labors of their drivers, although to all others the march furnishes some season of relaxation or enjoyment. For the cow drivers there is none.

Apparently thirty-some years after the trek, Applegate is nostalgic about just about everything else–except for working with the cattle. I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the odor, dust, flies, or noise that would accompany thousands of cattle.

I have no experience with cattle. Are they really that temperamental?


  1. Patricia A Miller

    The temperment of cattle can depend a lot upon the breed and how they are raised. We have shorthorn cattle and my husband works with them from when they are calves. He can drive the 4-wheeler in front of them and they follow him like he is the Pied Piper. Other breeds are not so easy to manage.

  2. Deb Watley

    I love the image of your husband as the Pied Piper of cattle. It sounds like he loves animals and has a gift for raising them. I always think of dairy cows as gentle, but Texas Longhorns as sort of dangerous. But that impression is from books and movies, not personal experience.

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