History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

I have at another time touched on the subject of the drovers and their adventures, but with more information at hand, I will continue on the subject.

Driving cattle and hogs to market in early Tennessee was a rather common sight. Driving the two together was considered more feasible in most cases, since the cost of feeding was lessened as the hogs ate the corn that the cattle wasted along the way.

During the summer and autumn months, so many drovers traversed the Tennessee roads that one could identify the great herds simply by the sight of dust clouds arising from their many hoofs; they could be seen for a mile or more away.

The ungraveled roads became almost impassible in the winter and early spring. Cattle, like soldiers, walk abreast putting their feet in the tracks of those in front. Huge trenches across the road would be formed, and when dried great ruts were cast known as "cattle billows."

To drive a herd of cattle, a crew consisted of a drover who rode horseback at the head of the herd and the helpers who came on foot at the rear. The phrase "Sook! Sook! Sook," must have been heard by the multitudes.

Essentials for the drover and his helpers were carried in his saddlebags. These consisted of a change of linen, and in his saddle pad was found a roll of extra garments for use of the crew in stormy weather. A blacksnake whip was the drover's primary weapon, an implement he made with much skill. Its giant cracking sound resembled that of a revolver.

Picking up straggling animals was the function of a wagon which was sometimes used.

While stopping the herd in some shady spot to rest, the drover would promptly ride ahead to make arrangements for pasture and shelter for the night. Rather than riding, sometimes the drover walked at the head of the drove with a rope tied around the horns of the lead ox. A strap bearing a bell was thus fastened around the neck, the animal being called "the bell weather."

Following the leader was an instinctive trait. Often when a river was to be crossed by toll bridge or ferry, only the lead ox, or perhaps some other independent minded animal, was taken over because of the toll or ferriage being too high in cost. The rest of the drove would spontaneously plunge in and swim across.

Tolls were so unreasonably high that it was no wonder the drover took these chances. The risks were high, but his expertise in the art of droving virtually eliminated any loss of his herd.

Toll rates on geese were minimized compared to turkeys as they were not as hard on the road. Their webbed feet, moreover, could not stand long journeys, so they were driven at night into a pen covered with tar. The black substance ultimately provided a shoe-like surface to their feet and helped in the long marches.

While passing through a village, incidents sometimes occurred that would startle the herd, such as a dog rushing amongst it and breaking the line. The drover, thoroughly upset, would start hollerin' and hoopin', and pretty soon the whole village was standing by watching the fracas. Aided by the village boys, the herd would at last be brought back into line.cattle.

Cattle and horses alike often became lame on long marches. A blacksmith shop was always located close to the drovers inn for convenience. The shop was usually furnished with machinery intended to lift the animals off their feet so they could be shod and finish their journey.

All crossroads had an inn and a yard lot attached. Drovers, for obvious reasons, avoided towns and cities. There are still possibly old taverns in the outlying areas even today that survived the reign of time.

All professional drovers, who were successful in their venture, were considered a shrewd buyer as well a seller. A story goes that one drover had signed a written contract to deliver a herd of from one to five-hundred good fat hogs of not less than two-hundred weight by a certain date. Before the big day arrived, the price of hogs had risen so high that the drover could not purchase them to fulfill the contract without a great loss to himself.

On the appointed day, he appeared at the door of the buyer with a dray upon which was found a large fat hog. The marketer, apparently unobservant of the circumstances, was ecstatic. His dream of a rich turnover made his heart flutter.

Quickly viewing the one item, he demanded, "Where are my hogs?" "There! On the dray," answered the drover, "is the pork which according to the contract was to be from one to five-hundred. I find it more convenient to deliver you only one hog today." No jury could have found the drover guilty of any crime.

Hold-ups and robberies of drovers, particularly the ones who were homeward bound with great amounts of money in their pockets, happened many times. Despite this, the drover business grew by leaps and bounds.

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