Cattle Kingdom: Early Ranching in Alberta
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince
Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western
Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946. His
Thanks to television, the American frontier has become synonymous with cowboys, cattle drives, and rowdy cow towns. What is often not realized, however, is that the Canadian West also had a vibrant ranching community in the late nineteenth century; the prairies were not simply the domain of the sodbuster and his plough.
In Cattle Kingdom, Edward Brado has written a highly readable account of the early ranching community of southwestern Alberta. After briefly reviewing the American experience, Brado describes the first attempts to raise cattle on the vast rolling grasslands of the western interior in the 1870s. Yet it was not until the introduction of extremely generous federal grazing regulations in 1881 — 100,000-acre leases at one cent per acne for twenty-one years — that the region became the scene of a number of large, speculative ranching ventures. Brado discusses the early operating history of three of the biggest ranches (the Cochrane, the Oxley, and the famous Bar U on Northwest Cattle Company) in separate chapters. He also takes a look at some of the more bizarre ranching schemes of the period — in particular, Major-General Thomas Strange’s Military Colonization Company. He then devotes several chapters to such general topics as hazards to the herds, competition from incoming settlers, early stock growers’ associations, the life of a cowboy, and the social and cultural features of the Canadian range. The story closes with the 1912 Calgary Stampede, an event that symbolizes the passing of the old open range frontier.
Cattle Kingdommakes several noteworthy observations about the early ranching experience but does not pursue these ideas in any detail. Instead of analyzing the degree of British and eastern Canadian involvement in the ranching industry, Brado seems more concerned with recounting entertaining anecdotes. There are also a few minor factual and spelling errors. The book’s strength, however, lies in its colourful portraits of the promoters, financial backers, ranch managers, foremen, and cowboys of the various ranches. It also provides good descriptions of such various ranching activities as cattle drives, the annual spring roundup, and branding. Cattle Kingdom is a nice complementary work to the scholarly The Canadian Prairie West and the Ranching Frontier 1874-1923 (Toronto, 1983).