I thought once or twice we were done for

A cowboy herding longhorn in 1902

In the late 1860s, amid the rugged landscapes of post-Civil War America, countless cowboys undertook arduous journeys herding cattle from Texas to Kansas where the demand for beef was on the rise. One such cowboy was Jack Bailey, a 37-year-old North Texan who herded approximately 2’000 cattle north in 1868, his relatively advanced age making him an anomaly amongst the younger people generally found on these drives. Also atypical was Bailey’s habit of regularly recording his trail days in a journal—a handwritten chronicle that offers us a rare window into the trials, tribulations, and daily life of those who braved the frontier. This particular entry came near the beginning of his travels, at a time when the weather was not on his side.

The Diary Entry
Jack Bailey Journal, 2001.074, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Tuesday Aug the 18th 1868 

Had the devil last night in shape of a storm which lays over any thing of the kind I ever witnessed. The wind came in whirls down this hollow, tremendous rain. Keen loud claps of thunder and the most vivid, forked, scariest pretiest + fastest lightning I ever saw. It came up while the first relief was out which was mine. We turned the cattle towards a point of timber and went to camp, in a hurry too. Just did get in, in time. It came with a vengeance. Clouds came every way. Met over us, and such a clash. I thought once or twice we were done for. Some of the boys badly scared. Our tent blew down. The old lady holered for help to hold her tent down. We let ours rip and every fellow for himself. Some went to wagons. Some to other tent. Everything soaking wet. Finally abated. Children got to crying. Women scolding. Some of the boys singing and all talking about the storm. Not much sleeping going on. All cold wet + mad. Well, but takeing every thing in consideration all passed off very well. Our cattle scatered very little this morning. Smiths herd is all over the country. From all appearances he had a big stamped. A great many of his in our herd. We rounded ours in before breakfast. I dont think we have lost one. Stay here to day. Ground too soft to travel + Smith cant leave on account of lost cattle. I have been out in rain nearly all day. Close for the night. Had to all herd to day.

Further Reading

Jack Bailey’s journal runs from August 1868 to November of the same year, and in 2001 it was acquired by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City where it now lives. Five years after it arrived, it was published as A Texas Cowboy’s Journal Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868, edited by David Dary. It’s an amazing piece of history, lovingly presented, unique in its firsthand portrayal of cowboy life during the post-Civil War era.


Bailey, Jack. A Texas Cowboy’s Journal Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868. Edited by David Dary. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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