The Bos primigenius migrated to north between the Ice Ages and when the ice retreated became a resident species of the North of Scotland, circa 11 500 years ago. Feral bovines formed small herds for at least a part of the year but no consensus exists concerning their habitat. When Neolithic and Bronze Age people colonised Scotland about 5000 years ago, they brought with them domesticated Celtic shorthorns or long-fronted oxen (Bos longifrons). Some sources believe there was cross breeding and the Bos Longifrons was responsible for long horns, with the 'Bos Primigenius' proving long hairy looks. Cattle from the Islands (Kyloes) were usually black, hardy and small (runts). Only later the in the 19th century, were red/brown variants exported from Glen Lyon and their gene proved to be dominant and is now the colour of most of the breed in various shades. The Kyloes ability to forage and graze for plants which many other cattle avoid enabled them to survive in steep mountain areas and their hairy coat insulated them during the cold winters.
Highland Cattle were able to produce beef from inhospitable land, and by the 5th century, domesticated highland cattle were the main source of meat and milk for "Crofters," and their hide hair was used to spin yarn. They became vital to the survival of the Highlanders who lived under their Clan Chiefs as communities and later as Tenants. It was in the interest of the chiefs to have as many Tenants as possible, as each man was a potential fighter who contributed to the strength of the Clan, and each Tenant could graze his cattle on the common land. This system encouraged over production of beasts, and in addition the long winters and infertile soils meant a shortage of stored feed to sustain cattle over the winter. With nothing else to trade the cattle were driven long distances, on foot, South and East to where the denser human populations lay and sold for food.
At first, during the earlier centuries, the livestock business was handled by Monks, but gradually as the worth of cattle as symbols of wealth became apparent the Droving Trade was taken over by warring clans. Over centuries, trade routes or drove roads from the Highlands were established through very hostile territory. The Crown realised they could raise revenue by establishing fairs or trysts for traders and drovers to sell their goods in market towns like Muir of Ord, Crieff, Alyth, Brechin, Dumbarton, and Dumfries. By the 17th century bi-annual Trysts were held at Crieff and Falkirk. Cattle had to swim across seas and lochs before being driven along the ancient and treacherous drove roads to the market towns. On average the cattle travelled between ten and fifteen miles a day over the roughest terrain. After the sale most were driven south to England, fattened then resold for as prime beef to feed the growing populations of Manchester and London. The lucrative trade was at its height from 1760 to 1820, with something like 150,000 cattle per annum taken across the highland drove roads, but by the end of the 19th century, this was at an end.
Drovers moved stock on behalf of farmers and landowners. They were local men and gathered together herds between 100 -2000 beasts. They started to visit farms in May, bargaining for cattle often only 1 or 2 at a time, since many of the highland farming tenants were very poor. Gradually, they had herd they could drive South. Ahead of them lay a long and dangerous journey. Seas, lochs and flooded rivers might have to be crossed as the droves meandered over trackless mountains, sometimes in thick mist, or driving rain. Drovers were generally rough in appearance, uncultured and behaved wildly away from the herd. The best were highly skilled men who planned with precision the routes they took and knew where to get enough grazing along the way. Drovers would often sleep rough with the herd to prevent them straying or being stolen. The Drover's day started about 8.00 am., and the herd was moved off on a broad front with several strings of cattle. It was important the lead cattle went in the direction the Drovers wanted them to go. Dogs helped control the stock, and were often sent home alone after a drove. The cattle were skilfully managed to avoid wearing them down or damaging their hooves, and on average travelled between 16-20 km a day in all weathers. Sometimes the herd might stop near a rough Inn where some shelter could be obtained. Drovers’ diet consisted of oats, whey and onions washed down by milk or whisky. Occasionally, they drew blood from a cow and mixed it with oatmeal to make "black pudding." Drovers were rough sorts and spent most of their working day shouting working their dogs, and ordering others around. There was a constant threat of pillage, often leading to skirmishes in which men were killed.
Cattle rustling (or reiving) and selling protection against theft were commonplace. Cattle-lifters or caterans (highland bandits or malefactors) could make a good living menacing the drovers. Rustling often involved clans and was a major problem for many centuries on both sides of the Scotland - England border. During the 61 years of the Wars of Scottish Independence, cattle droving continued but became more perilous. Although some Drovers carried letters of safe passage any trade with England was regarded as aiding the enemy and actively discouraged. Between 1300 and 1600, Border Reivers were hard to catch gangs of horsemen who stole livestock anywhere a day's ride from the border. They were organised according to families and clans and left their victims bereft of the means of life and livelihood. Resulting long standing feuds (or cankers) between the clans led to further escalation of hostility. The responsibility of apprehending the reivers was onerous, time-consuming and often led to friction between the two countries. Under the legalities of Border Law, the Scots could seek to redress for their losses and take revenge provided it was quick (usually within 6 days). The 'Hot Trod' custom allowed revenge attacks provided these were loud and obvious. When the thieves were overtaken, they were considered by Border Law to be caught ‘in the deede doinge’ or at the ‘rede hand’ (caught red-handed). Pursuit of the Border Reivers frequently led to fierce encounters, and death of the thieves. Rival clans observed these rules and rights allowed by the ruling classes.
March Wardens were officially there to investigate cases of rustling and determine the perpetrators of the crime before calling them to trial. The process was complicated because of the border and a March Warden had to notify his opposite number across the border with a Bill of Complaint This was a formal request to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them for trial and sentencing at the Day of Truce, at the Border Line. Prior to the Day of Truce, wardens met to discuss the number of 'Bills of Complaint' and deliberate on their relative value of the stolen stock. Arguments broke out when certain perpetrators failed to appear. More often than not, relationships between the Wardens was acrimonious and many were in 'the pockets' of the Border Reivers, consequently they turned a blind eye to the crimes.
Attitudes to Trade between Scotland and England changed slowly but when James VI of Scotland, ascended the throne of England as James I of England, he united Scotland and England in 1603. By 1607, free trade had been agreed between the 2 countries, though customs duties were retained on hides and cattle. Under the new laws, many clans responsible for rustling were banished to County Fermanagh in Ireland. By the middle of the 17th Century, the Drove Trade flourished. Authorities brought in a range of strict controls including branding methods, strictures on markets and butchering. Scotland was now regarded as the meat store of England. Cattle were grazed and fattened after their long journey before being driven further South to the London Markets. In 1794, the London Meat Market of Smithfield recorded 108,000 cattle arriving for slaughter and at least 80% of these came from Scotland.
Gradually the demand for drove cattle diminished as animal husbandry improved with agricultural development. Enclosed systems of fields replaced open common grazing and large, fatter cattle were bred and raised ready for market. The introduction of steam ships meant lowland farmers and elsewhere could ship their cattle directly to the southern markets instead of by the long arduous overland droves. By 1880, and the introduction of the railways, a faster and more reliable means of transport ensured droving was over. The Scottish Highland Cattle Society was formed in 1884, and the animals were registered. Over the years, societies have also been formed in Canada, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Many Highland drovers immigrated and became cattlemen and helped establish the great cattle trails of the western United States and Australia. The term ‘cowboy’ was coined to describe these itinerant, illiterate roughnecks herding cattle in the back country. It gained such a derogatory reputation cattle herdsman in the East adopted the original term, Drover. The most famous cattleman was Jesse Chisholm, born circa., 1805 in Tennessee. His mother was Cherokee, and his father, a drover from Skye. After his father left the family, young Jesse was raised by his mother and became fluent in the dialects of many of the area’s Native American tribes. He soon established several trading posts in the Indian Territory to service the displaced tribes of the West. During the Civil War he served both sides as a trader and interpreter. After the war, he and James R. Mead, established a trade route from Texas through Indian Territory to Kansas. Herds started to be driven through from 1866, and by 1884, an estimated 5 million head of cattle, and a million mustangs had successfully reached the railheads in Kansas. The Chisholm Trail is the most famous cow path in world. Jesse Chisholm became a national hero and brokered many important peace negotiations between whites and Indians in Texas and Oklahoma. Throughout his long life, he was known for his bravery and fairness and refused to pick sides between the white man and the Indian.
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