The History of Cattle Drive Vacations in Montana

Updated 5/17/2017

For a truly unique cattle drive vacation, Dryhead Ranch offers a functioning modern day working cattle and horse ranch which lets you dive into the Wild West. Unlike so many other working ranches in this day and age, we primarily use horses to tend to our herds and maintain our land. In doing so, we are seeking to maintain the great American tradition of working ranches and cattle drives.

Our cattle drive vacations put you in the footsteps of some of this Nation’s toughest and roughest pioneers. Experience the West life with Dryhead Ranch!

Wyoming and Montana have long been associated with cattle and cowboys. Often, when you ask a person what they think of when you mention these states, Old West imagery of saddles and spurs are at the top of the list. Of course, some people might think the same thing about Texas or Nevada. As time has moved on, much of the West has given up on the traditional life-ways which give rise to the region more than 150 years ago. This is not the case at Dryhead Ranch. Driving cattle in the footsteps of the first intrepid pioneers, we continue to cultivate the skills and culture that made the West great.

 We offer the unique opportunity for others to share cattle ranch life by cattle driving alongside our modern-day cowboys and cowgirls. The history of driving cattle has helped shape the United States into what it is today and we seek to carry that into future generations.

Tradition of Cattle Drives

The tradition of working cattle drives began well before the United States had officially formed. Settlers began driving cattle all over North America as early as 1540. As the population in what is now the United States began to grow so did the demand for beef. 

Though the nascent beef industry grew slowly and steadily throughout the first part of the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until three major events changed the face of food production that beef really took off in the United States. The first was the Civil War. The most devastating conflict in American history, the Civil War pitted brother against brother in a complex conflict which called into question the very foundations of the Republic. Its long, meandering fronts demanded constant shipments of vittles from the hinterlands, and just such a hinterlands existed in Montana at the time. The second event that moved beef faster and more efficiently than ever before came in the form of the railroad. Never in the history of mankind had we been able to move people and goods faster than a horse could run. With the railroad, moving at a great speed was now possible, and with massive cargos to boot. Among these cargos going to the fronts were products of the third great event that changed the beef industry forerever: industrial canning. Before the advent of industrial canning, beef manufacturers would have to drive their cattle all the way to market. Pre-processing was simply impossible, as the meat would have to be kept on ice for long distances… something that was just not feasible in the second half of the nineteenth century. Industrialized canning meant that both army rations and market faire could be produced en masse at a factory, canned, and then shipped without having to worry about the logistical challenges of feeding and transporting live animals.

These three events changed the face of the beef industry and the West permanently. In the years immediately following the Civil War, the Montana beef industry exploded. Ranchers who used to struggle from year to year were becoming millionaires. Though beef consumption is down since the late 1900s, the effects of this beef boom can still be seen throughout the West.

Early ranchers and cowboys would drive their cattle from one location to another, often spanning hundreds of miles, for the purpose of selling their cattle for the best price. Often the demand would fluctuate and one location such as what is now Kansas or Colorado would offer a greater price per head. The demand for beef would also change as it was at the mercy of society’s preference. As supply and demand shifted so would the destination of the cattle drives. They went wherever they could receive the most amount of money for their herd.

Smaller cattle drives were necessary for ranchers as they tended their herd. As the cattle resided in one area the grass they rely on for food would diminish as they grazed the land. It was then necessary to move the herd to new pasture in order to ensure that they were properly nourished. These working cattle drives were much shorter. Instead of crossing great expanses the cows would remain located on the ranchers own land. Crossing acres gradually as they grazed the land instead of hundreds of miles they would later travel for the purpose of selling the herd.

Looking for a Real Cattle Drive Holiday?

The majesty of Montana is best experienced on horseback. Though we employ expert riders to drive our cattle, that doesn’t mean you need to be a riding expert to join us on an exciting working ranch vacation!

At Dryhead Ranch we welcome guests on your cattle drive holiday in order to share in the age old American tradition of driving cattle. You will join us in moving our herd from where they winter in Lovell, Wyoming to our home on Dryhead Ranch. The journey spans 50 miles and will give you the opportunity to see the beautiful countryside while becoming an honorary Dryhead ranch hand. The hard work and team building necessary for cattle driving will serve to draw your family closer together while providing you with the thrill of a lifetime. These cattle drive vacations are ideal for the family man and adventurer alike.

It’s time to plan your cattle drive vacation. Join us at Dryhead Ranch and become a new member of our family. Work alongside us as we carry on the American tradition of working ranches and cattle drives. When you sign up for one of our cattle drives you aren’t simply watching us work but partaking in the adventures of working ranch life. You become one of our family and work alongside us as we care for our cattle and horses. Sign up for one of our cattle drives today and  join us in celebrating the American cattle ranch tradition.


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