In the 1940s, I was growing up on an Appalachian hill farm. We had to move our cattle to a new farm, so we drove our herd of cattle down the middle of the highway, completely blocking traffic. We conducted a cattle drive on 10 miles of highway, 4 miles of which was a U.S. highway. My father was born in 1892, before the invention of the automobile and the airplane. He and his father had a farming partnership on a small hill farm in West Virginia. They farmed with horses and mules. They raised cattle, hogs and sheep. In the early 1900s, trucks were not yet plentiful enough to haul farm animals. Living within a few miles of the Ohio River, they routinely drove their livestock on foot to the river, where they were loaded aboard a steamboat which carried them to market in Cincinnati.
Geese Wore Boots and Turkey Feet Were Tarred and Sanded to Provide Foot Protection During Long Drives to Market in London
For centuries, farmers all over the world have driven their livestock on foot to market on the public roads. Cattle, hogs, sheep and even large flocks or gaggles of 2000 to 3000 geese, were driven on foot long distances to market in London. The long journey was very hard on the feet of the animals. According to Wikipedia, “Cattle were fitted with iron shoes, geese were fitted with boots to protect their feet, and the feet of turkeys were tarred and sanded.”
According to National Road pa, in 1811, construction was begun on the National Road at Cumberland Maryland. The National Road opened up the states beyond the Appalachian Mountains to settlement and commerce. It was also a major thoroughfare for driving livestock to market on foot.
The American West was renowned for their extensive cattle drives to market.
In 1946, Cattle Drives Were Frowned Upon Except Possibly in the Far West Cattle Country
This was the culture to which my father was accustomed. The problem is that our culture had moved beyond the days of the cattle drive. In 1946, there were a lot of cars on the highway. On the U.S. highway we planned to use, there were a lot of semi-trailers and trucks of all sizes and descriptions. It was also patrolled by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, whose duty was to enforce the traffic laws, one of which was that you could not drive a herd of cattle down the middle of the highway.
Economic times were hard in our rural area and my father decided to save the good-sized haul bill we would have had, because it would have required several truckloads to haul the whole herd. My mother was assigned to drive ahead of the herd with a red flag on the car to warn oncoming motorists. As a 14 year old boy, I was assigned to follow the herd on foot and keep them moving and roundup any stragglers.
The Idea was Sheer Lunacy
To my teenage mind, the whole project seemed to be sheer lunacy. We did not have cowboys with lariats ready to roundup the strays. A cow that panicked would be uncontrollable and after crashing through several fences, might end up in the next county. Although she knew it was a crazy idea, my mother did not have veto power. I pleaded my case as long as possible, but to no avail. Those were the days when children had no option but to obey their parents.
Running away from home was not even an option, as in those days, runaways spent time in prison, or reform school, as it was then known. Incidentally, I only remember one runaway child in our town.
Cattle drive day arrived, bright and clear. We got the herd started down the road in the right direction. The cattle were very excited and moved at a fast pace. We would be on a county gravel road for about 6 miles. Mother was driving ahead in the car, flagging down oncoming traffic. There were several blind hills on the road, so she needed to stop any car from topping the hill and striking a cow. Sometimes when we would pass a driveway, a cow would takeoff up the driveway and I had to run after her and bring her back, after she had explored the barnyard for a while.
Being a Teen-age Boy, One of my Worst Fears was that One of My Schoolmates Would See Us and Think We Were Insane.
We finally came to the end of the county road and started down the U.S. highway. It was a well-traveled 2-lane blacktop road. When they saw the unbelievable sight of a full-fledged cattle drive, the cars completely stopped and the semi-trailers started pulling to the side of the road. I don’t believe anybody even honked their horns. I believe the attitudes of the drivers were more inclined to be a combination of amazement and amusement. I was really surprised. I am sure most of them had never seen a real live cattle drive. After traveling down the road another 4 miles, we arrived at our destination and steered the herd into their new home.
Although, for me, the risk and emotional stress was too high a price to pay, my father was right about us being able to accomplish the feat. The good part is we did not see any state patrol cars or suffer any injuries, lawsuits or losses of animals or humans. I also managed to survive one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Thankfully, I was able to persuade my father to hire a truck to transport our flock of sheep to their new home, instead of having a sheep drive. The best part was that, as far as I know, none of my schoolmates saw our cattle drive.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be taken as professional advice. It is written for informational purposes only and is correct to the best of my knowledge, but I cannot guarantee the accuracy. I do not accept any responsibility for the results of actions on your part taken as a result of reading this article. All actions are taken at your own risk. I am just relating my own opinions and experiences and my opinions could be wrong.
National Road pa.org/”Historical Timeline”/National Road pa.org