Grub pile ! shouts the cook, and in response to his call a dozen men jump out of their beds (which are on the ground) and hastily dress by candle light. A moment later they file into the cook tent for breakfast. It is half past three in the morning. Overhead the stars still illuminate the heavens, and the air is so cold, that most of the cow-boys wear either an extra pair of trousers of [sic] a pair of ‘chaps’ (pronounced ‘shaps’). These latter are leather trousers, minus seats, and with a fringe down the sides, or more usually, long hair on the front.
As soon as they are through breakfast the wrangler drives in the horses, which are roped, the cow-boys saddle them, and ride out to the herd. This is to be the first day of a drive of three thousand cattle for over one hundred miles, and entailing labour day and night for nearly a week.
With shouts and yells, much galloping and more swearing, the cow-boys set the vast herd in motion; slowly the cattle move forward and unwillingly, but as they find that however much they rush about in the wrong direction the cow-boys get them back, they settle down to a steady, slow, monotonous march forward.
For a couple of hours they advance thus, without break or change. All around is the prairie, dreary and vast. The air is warmer now: soon it will be hot, and the cow-punchers will feel it in their heavy clothing.
And now the ‘outfit’ rattles past. There are two wagons, first the grub-wagon with its four-horse team, and then the bed-wagon. Behind them come a hundred head of horses, strung out almost in single file, and swinging along at an easy trot, driven by the horse-wrangler, lean and brown. The whole is preceded by the cow-boy who is acting as ‘guide.’
Soon they are past, in a few minutes becoming a mere cloud of dust in the distance, and the cow-boys go onwards as before, the heavy dust from the cattle rising in their faces and the flies and mosquitoes annoying their nostrils and eyes. Hour after hour they plod onwards, till at last they sight the camp. Leaving a couple of men to hold the herd, the rest ride to the tent and have a much wanted dinner and assuage their thirst on water of a rich green colour. During the afternoon they do the same as in the morning, till four or five o’clock when they go to camp for tea. Perhaps seventeen or eighteen miles is the distance they have traversed, for cattle cannot be driven faster without injury.
Then, at night, the men take turns in herding the cattle, two or three men for two or three hours at a time.
The other days of the drive are much the same. Sometimes the water is clear as crystal, sometimes it is so black and stinks so that it is not fit to wash in. The men will all be glad when they arrive at their destination and leave the herd to look out for itself.
The cow-boys do not carry six-shooters now, in Canada anyway. So there is no ‘shooting up town’ and there are no ‘killings’ (but there are probably plenty of commonplace murders). Cow-boys do not indulge in hair two feet long, red shirts and crimson handkerchiefs about their necks, and none of them wear the so-called ‘cow-boy’ hats, worn by bank clerks and other woolly Westerners in Calgary and Lethbridge. They wear soft felt hats, with moderately broad brims and slightly high crowns, dark-coloured shirts, generally blue or black, a black silk handkerchief around the throat, corduroys or other rough trousers, waistcoats, top-boots, and spurs.
Though they don’t ‘shoot up the town’ they certainly go on lively sprees, and when, as occasionally happens, a dozen cow-boys strike town together, they excite considerable attention.
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This account appeared in the Easter 1907 edition of Upper Canada College’s The College Times, pages 45-47.