Re: livestock shipments

dennyanspach <danspach@...>

Doug Harding's report is invaluable, and it surely caused a lot of recall about my own family's experiences with cattle shipping from Ida Grove, IA, on the CNW's Carroll - Onawa-Sioux City line, the route of the Sioux City section of the CORN KING LIMITED.

Doug mentioned cattle shipped from Valentine, NE. These were grass fed cattle purchased for fattening on grain in Iowa before being shipped off to market. My maternal grandfather was an Iowa cattleman, and he traveled often to Valentine to buy cattle to his own account in the teens through the '30s. He dealt with one Valentine ranch owner that he liked a great deal, and the family always thought his visits there were as much social as they were about business.

Drover's cabooses: My father, and most of my uncles had a lot of stories to tell of their trips in CNW cabooses accompanying cattle being shipped to the Chicago Union Stockyards. They would have gone through Belle Plaine. Universally, they hated (hated!) those trips for their discomfort, length, and (notably) for the bad treatment they received from the train crews- a distinct off note that is at odds with usual railroad mythology. As Doug also notes, it seems that most trips were made in ordinary cabooses with some crude accommodation made for "passengers".

Commission Houses: Prior to the reforms brought about by the Grange Acts (1911?), cattle shipped to markets principally Chicago, were subject to the buying whims of the meat packer's agents at the stockyards, which could without penalty underpay for livestock for just about any reason with impunity. The cattle were delivered there in a one way trip, and there was no place else for them to go except into the packing house at whatever terms were offered. This prompted the formation of commission houses, the first and most prominent was the cooperative Corn Belt Meat Producers' Association of Des Moines, founded by my grandfather (above) as President, and Henry Wallace (father of FDR's future Vice President of the same name) as Vice President. On behalf of the members of the association, the association employed agents at the Union stockyards that would negotiate the best prices for arriving cattle shipped by the members. They were paid on some sort of "commission" per animal on the hoof (and probably also by weight), thus the name.

In an elegant oral memoire related to me by an elderly cousin, "Shipping Fat Cattle to Market", he talked about the horse-drawn rack of straw for bedding in the stock car that accompanied the cattle as they were driven the miles down the country roads and through town to the railhead - a story slightly at odds with Doug's narrative.


Denny S. Anspach MD

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