Need help for book set in Wyoming.

Nov 2018
2
Washington DC
#1
Hello everyone,

Not to give too much away, but I am writing a book about a cattle ranch owner set in Wyoming in the 1890s. I am doing a lot research myself since I have never been to Wyoming and have no idea what it was like to live there in the 1890s. Some general help on some questions I have would be greatly appreciated.

1. Does anyone know how a general cattle ranch would have be ran? Like what role did everyone on ranch have to play in order to keep things running smoothly.

2. What was the relationship between the Native American community and the ranchers like?

3. What jobs would have been available for young single women?

Those our the first questions that pop up in my head, if I have more I will be sure to post them. Thanks again for taking the time to read my post. If anyone has any good books about the history of Wyoming focusing on the late 19th century that they would recommend for me, that would be greatly appreciated.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#2
3. What jobs would have been available for young single women?
I would think that any job which they were capable of doing would have been available to them. I know that the Western U.S. was more egalitarian than the Eastern U.S. was due to the fact that women did a lot of the work in the West and thus were more likely to be perceived as equals by their male counterparts in the West than in the East. Of course, it's possible that some of this was due to labor shortages in the West considering that the West had a much smaller population back then.
 
Likes: LadyLex225
Nov 2018
2
Washington DC
#3
Some more questions that I just thought of.

4. If somebody was sick, how would that person get medical help?

5. How were orphaned children taken care of?

6. How common would wolf hunting have been?
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
12,997
SoCal
#4
Some more questions that I just thought of.

4. If somebody was sick, how would that person get medical help?
From a nearby doctor, no? I would think that they would look for the nearest doctor in the area.

5. How were orphaned children taken care of?
My guess is either by relatives, by family friends, or in orphanages. I don't know what orphanages back then looked like, though.

6. How common would wolf hunting have been?
No idea; sorry. :(
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#5
The winter of 1886-87 went down in cattle history as the Big Die Up. It was an especially bad winter with deep snow that did not melt. Cattle that had evolved in Texas did not know how to dig down through the snow and find grass and 90% of western cattle starved to death. In 1890, herds would still be small, the recovery having just begun. Any journey out onto the prairie would still find many bones, especially down in gullies where cattle would congregate to get out of the cold wind. In 1890, new techniques were being developed like converting grazing land to hay fields so that hay could be stored up and used to feed cattle in winter. At harvest time the hay would be mowed and baled and then just left to lay there in the fields. In winter the cattle would be herded into the hay fields and they would eat the hay. The bales were big enough to stick up out of the snow, or if the snow was really deep the cowboys would dig away the snow to expose the bales. The open range was coming to an end. Barbed wire was increasingly common. In earlier years, the big ranchers hated barbed wire because it injured their cattle and restricted their grazing options, but after the Big Die Up ranchers started using barbed wire to keep cattle out of the hay fields while the hay was growing.

If you've never lived on the Great Plains, the wind never stops blowing. It can be annoying, even to the point of driving people insane, especially people who did not grow up here and are not used to it. At the end of the movie "Castaway" a lady gives Tom Hanks directions from the Texas panhandle. When she points north she says, "...and if you go that way there's a whole lot of nothin' - all the way to Canada." It's easy to find a fortune in a land of plenty. We who live on the Plains are proud of our ability to make somethin' from nothin'. There's a reason why that movie drew a comparison between life alone on a desert island and the Great Plains. In places out here, one can see forever and feel very small and alone. It breeds a self reliance that city people never understand.

Read a book or some internet articles on the Battle of Wounded Knee. Pay particular attention to the Ghost Dance, an Indian religious revival that had whites all over the west afraid that the Indian Wars were about to renew.
If your cattle ranch was near an Indian reservation, it might be common for hungry Indians to steal a cow or two. Your ranch might sell cattle to the Office of Indian Affairs who would then distribute rations to the reservation Indians.

Doctors were found only in the cities and large towns. If a small town did have a doctor, there was only one and there was probably a reason he was in a small town, making very little money treating just a few patients - he probably wasn't a good doctor. He might be a drunk, fleeing a bad marriage, or just have a poor bedside manner, but people would be reluctant to be treated by him. Most healthcare was performed by wives and mothers.

Orphans were provided for informally. Orphanages were found only in the cities. If a child really did have no living relatives, the preacher or maybe the sheriff would arrange an adoption. The adopting parents might be motivated by a desire to put the child to work. The modern practice of the state paying foster parents to cover the costs of raising a child probably did not yet exist. Foster parents might want to recoup their investment. A lucky child might find a childless couple who only want someone to love, but I wouldn't count on it.

Wolves were threats to livestock and were heavily hunted. Cattlemen's associations would pay bounties for wolf pelts. Wolves only recently came off the endangered species list after heavy lobbying and numerous lawsuits by western ranchers.

Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, in 1869, when Wyoming was still a territory. As early as 1870, there was a women serving as justice of the peace in Wyoming. Also that year women served on juries. From about the same time Wyoming recognized the right of married women to own property in their own names, not just their husbands. By 1890 these rights would no longer be new to a long time Wyominger. They would seem strange to an outsider. I doubt many Wyoming women had jobs very different from women in other states. School teacher, domestic servant, store clerk, prostitute. Men probably still greatly outnumbered women as late as 1890, creating a market for the sex trade. Indian prostitutes may have been common, given the desperate poverty on the reservations. A young single white woman would not have to remain so. She would have her choice of numerous suitors. Teaching back then did not require a college degree and some teachers in rural Wyoming might not even have a high school diploma. Country schools taught grades one through eight all in the same classroom, anywhere from ten to thirty kids unevenly distributed across the grades. What might be common in Wyoming but unusual in the rest of the country was a woman who owned her own business, even a married woman whose husband's name did not appear on the shingle.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,061
Dispargum
#6
At the top of the ranch structure was the boss. He might be a proprietor, an owner/operator, or he might be a hired manager answering to investors back east or even in Europe. The boss would spend a lot of time in the office doing paperwork, but he was also expected to get out and ride around looking things over. Below the boss was the foreman or top hand. The only time the foreman was in an office was when he consulted with the boss. The rest of the time the foreman was outdoors, supervising cowboys. Cowboys were just that - boys - young men in their teens or early twenties. Cowboy pay was low but also included room and board. Cowboys lived in the bunkhouse and ate at the chuck wagon. There were no married cowboys. Cowboy pay was too low to support a family. Cowboy was an entry-level job done by young men who had just left their parental homes. A man who wanted to marry was expected to take a more serious and better paying job first. There were older cowboys, but these were men who had resolved upon a bachelor life. The foreman probably earned enough to support a family. If he was married he lived on the ranch as the ranch was too big to commute on and off of every day. Due to their age, cowboys were playful, irresponsible, aggressive, and proud. They needed a supervisor with a firm hand. Another job on a ranch was the cook. He worked out of a kitchen at the ranch or if operating too far out from the ranch house then he drove the chuck wagon and cooked over an open fire. There might be a wrangler who dealt mostly with horses rather than cows. I doubt there would be a full time blacksmith but a good amateur blacksmith would be highly prized. Because ranches were so big and the nearest town or neighbor so far away, ranches had to be as self-sufficient as possible.

An annual event on a ranch was the round up. This usually occurred in early summer, after the calves had been born. The cattle would be driven in from their grazing lands to a central location where the calves would be branded, castrated so that they would grow nice and fat, and possibly de-horned so that they would not injure each other. By 1890, the arrival of the railroads had made long distance cattle drives unnecessary, so the cattle would be turned back loose to graze and gain weight. At some point during the warmer parts of the year, those cattle that were being sold would be rounded up again and driven to the closest railroad, loaded onto cattle cars, and shipped to market. Fall was hay mowing season, a new activity that some traditional cowboys probably resisted. Inspecting and repairing barbed wire fences was another year-round activity that was new and might be resisted on grounds that barbed wire injured cattle. The days of the line camp were long gone by 1890. Line camps were what ranchers used before barbed wire. The rancher patrolled his land boundary with a series of line camps, one cowboy per camp. The cowboy's job was to ensure no cattle wandered off the boss's land. Cowboys could be alone in line camps for months at a time. In 1890 older cowboys might begin a story with "Years ago, when I was working a line camp..." On the ranch with free room and board there was nothing to spend money on. When cowboys went to town, they spent all of their money quickly on the things young men spend money on - alcohol, gambling, and women.
 
Likes: Futurist

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
5,500
#7
You might look into the Johnson County War in 1892, when large ranchers attempted to literally kill the small ranchers.

Well of course you know what the main occupation would be for a young single woman? I am not sure what other occupations there were for women, maybe bartender or teacher.
 
Last edited:

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,466
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#8
You should look at maps of Wyoming especially maps dating from 1890 to 1900 if your story is set in the 1890s.

Owen Wister often traveled to Wyoming, and was familiar with it first hand, but I recently looked at his novel he Virginian (1902) and found some rather odd geographical indications. The fictional locations | MovieChat

So you should try to set your ranch in a reasonable place for the 1890s, so readers won't complain that the directions to the ranch in chapter Two put it in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation or Yellowstone National Park or ask why you write that the town of Dead End (imaginary name) is 50 miles from the Union Pacific Railroad when there was actually a Union Pacific station in Dead End.

The Indian Wars were just about totally over in the 1890s, so basically it was only slightly more dangerous for a lone white person to met Indians than to meet a group of white men.

Just as the Indian wars had their period, and buffalo hunting had its era that was over and done with before the 1890s started, and the outlaw era continued into the early 1900s, the wolf hunting era in Wyoming had its period, which included the 1890s. I believe that wolves were not finally exterminated in Wyoming until the 1900s. It s said the last wolves in Yellowstone were killed in 1926. History of wolves in Yellowstone - Wikipedia
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
2,386
Las Vegas, NV USA
#9
Why does it have to be in Wyoming when it could be Texas? Wyoming has just 4 towns with populations ranging from 30,000 to 60,000. If that's now, imagine what it was like in 1890. It's high, cold and lonely. Who wants to read about that? Texas is where the action was in 1890! If you like blizzards, Texas has them (mostly in the northern panhandle). Texas has everything a writer could want.:love:
 

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