From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 50 - March 13, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Henry Angus, Vigo Mill and Bill Woods at the Drift Fence around 1910.
History of the Green River Drift

(The following introduction to the book "Green River Drift" is reprinted with permission from author Jonita Sommers.)

Cattle raising has handed down a lasting legacy in the Upper Green River valley. Looking at the history of the area, one can easily see how the ranching industry has influenced the region and how the industry itself had developed and changed over the last century.

Part of the influence comes from area associations, from people working together. Local ranchers formed the Big Piney Roundup Association in 1890 after the "Equalizer Winter" of 1889-1890, when bad weather ravished herds, making everyone equal in the face of destruction. The first, large association later split into two smaller ones. As more settlers came to the Green River Valley, the cowboys and foremen of these groups made up "wagons" to care for the cattle in the area. From these wagons, more associations were formed, requiring more financial organization.

In 1916, the Upper Green River Cattle and Horse Growers Association was formed from one of them. In 1925, its name was changed to the Upper Green River Cattle Association, which is its present name. The Association's cattle have trailed or drifted up and down the Green River with the seasons for so many years that their migration has become known as the Green River Drift.

Over the years, the government asked for group cooperation, too: the Forest Service wanted structured management on its land, which the ranchers used for summer and fall pasture. As ranchers and federal agencies worked together to develop a management plan that would use and protect the land so that it would be productive for years to come, the Association thrived. The management system it uses has changed over the last 75 years with technology: trucks, airplanes and well-drilling capabilities have forced many changes, so that one wagon of riders no longer oversees the entire range. But the overwhelming impression is one of tradition. The Association has continued the ranching way of life, and done so successfully.

Since the 1870s, then, each decade has seen change shape the ranching industry in subtle or dramatic ways. Before the turn of the century, area ranchers changed the shape of their land holdings by fencing; they altered the feed situation by putting up hay. The early 1900s saw in increase in the number of cattle on the range, requiring the use of wagons and associations in the 1910s to manage the herds. During the 1920s, these organizations and associations grew stronger. The growing number of residents in the area in the 1930s also changed the way the cattle were moved. Driveways were added to bypass private land. By the 1940s, motor vehicles replaced horse-drawn wagons; by the 1950s, allotments were fenced. After the 1960s, when water development took priority, the era of the wagon finally ended in the 1970s, when individual cow camps were built. By the 1980s, the range was divided into different grazing management systems, and there was no longer a foreman and a crew of cowboys to manage the entire range. Each management system had its own individual cowboy to manage the camp, instead.

Photographs from the many years show these changes visually. They also point to other alterations: the change in dress of cowboys, the different styles of cowboy gear used over time. Cowboys have always been stylish trendsetters. Their hats are good examples of this. Protecting riders from sun, wind, rain and snow, hats also followed the fashions of the era. Chaps are another item of cowboy gear to change over time. Pictures in this (the Green River Drift) book show bat-wing chaps, chaps made of Angora, shotgun chaps and chink chaps, along with pants, saddles, bridles and ropes of various styles.

The cowboys looked different through the years, but so did the horses they rode and the cattle they watched. Favored horse breeds and physiques have changed through time, as have preferred cattle breeds and methods of breeding. In the first years of ranching in the Green River region, Texas longhorns and Durham crossbreeds prevailed; today, Herefords and Angus crossbreeds are predominant.

Whatever future styles or breeds run the Green River Drift range, it is clear that range monitoring and public awareness will impact the Association in the 1990s. In recent years, the public has paid close attention to how ranching benefits the environment. The conscientious effort made by the Upper Green River Cattle Association ranchers to maintain and develop the range so that it is protected and productive has provided a lasting legacy and a 100 year history of successful ranching in the Upper Green River Valley. A look at the range today shows that the ranchers have taken care of it. There is plentiful forage for herds of deer, antelope and elk as well as for cattle, and wild animals and beef cattle to graze together. The ranchers of today struggle to preserve family ranches, and make them as productive as possible. If a rancher takes care of the land, the land will in turn take care of the rancher. This is our tradition, and our promise.

Photo credits:  Edna Swain

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