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STAMPEDES were the most dramatic, hazardous, and disastrous events of roundups and cattle drives. Oxen, horses, and buffalo all might stampede, but the frantic flight that the rancheros called estampida was especially characteristic of longhorns. A great herd peacefully bedded down might, with the instantaneity of forked lightning, be on its feet, and then with hoofs, hocks, and horns knocking together, the ground shaking from the impact, thunder away in headlong flight. The only way to check them was to circle the leaders and thus swing the mass into a "mill." Causes of stampedes were many: the whir of a rattlesnake near the head of some snoring steer, the flirt of a polecat's tail, the jump of a rabbit, the smell of a lobo, the flash of a match by some careless cowboy lighting a cigarette, or any unexpected sound such as the shaking of an empty saddle by a horse. Cowboy songs were not so much to soothe cattle as to afford a barrier against surprises. Nonetheless, the best preventives were bellies full of grass and water.

Western artists like Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, and Frank Reaugh have pictured the stampede. Popular ballads like "Lasca" and "When Work's All Done This Fall" have dramatized it. One of the most powerful stories ever written on any western subject, Longrope's Last Guard by Russell, translates it fully. Yet, human fatalities from stampedes were rare. The worst results of the stampedes were to the cattle themselves: animals trampled to death, horns and legs broken, and more "tallow run off" in a night than could be restored by a month of grazing.


Clayton, Lawrence. Vaqueros, Cowboys, and Buckaroos. Austin: University of Texas Press.2001.

Dary, David. Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries. New York: Knopf.1981.

Rifkin, Jeremy. Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. New York: Dutton.1992.

Worcester, Donald Emmet. The Chisholm Trail: High Road of the Cattle Kingdom. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

J. FrankDobie

See alsoCattle ; Cattle Drives ; Cowboy Songs ; Cowboys ; Sheep ; Trail Drivers .