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CATTLE TODAY

IT'S THE PITTS -- STAMPEDERS

by: Lee Pitts

“Like people, cattle are at their best when separated from the mob.” J Frank Dobie

I was rereading a book about cowboys and trail drives by one of my favorite authors when it dawned on me how much modern-day environmentalists, animal rightists and other habitual alarmists are just like stampeding Longhorns. With herds of wild steers and greenie groups all it takes is one member to get all riled up about some threat that may, or may not, be real and before you know it they are all running amuck, trampling and destroying whatever gets in their way.

The stampeding virus has pretty much been eradicated in cattle these days but now humans seem to have caught the bug. Back in the 1870's and 1880's when cattle were being trailed to towns (cattle were trailed, not driven) stampedes were a cowboy's worst nightmare. And that's usually when they happened, at night and in the dark, which is also when human stampedes begin... when people are in the dark.

Any number of small things could start a cattle stampede: thunder, lightning, the smell of a panther or an Indian, the snapping of a twig, a cow's cough or a human's sneeze. Cowboys rarely wore spurs on trail drives because even the sweet sound of a jinglebob could get the cattle up off their bedground and off to the races. And when one ran, they all did, “one jump to their feet and another jump to hell,” said one old time cowboy. Sometimes cattle stampedes were started by people who would profit by the confusion, and I'm sorry to report, that's true of human stampedes too.

It also doesn't take much to set off a stampede of fanatics: a government report or a movie by a former Vice President will do it. They are like the eternal pessimist with a sign that says, “The end is near.” Flip a switch and off they go. The havoc the herd leaves behind is in no proportion to what started it in the first place.

Some professional stampeders just want to make the world a better place, God bless ‘em, but the odds are high they'll just make it a bigger mess. They'll leave their spouse and kids at home eating a nuked dinner while they run over a rabbit in their SUV on their way to a meeting to save an endangered animal or to discuss global warming. The world would be a lot better off if they'd just stayed home with their family.

The worst disaster in trail drivin' days would occur when several herds had to hold up outside a cow town for a few days. There might be ten herds within the general vicinity and when one stampeded they all did. It took days to sort out the mess. The same thing happens these days when groups intermingle; you get a human stampede going with animal rightists and those who worship a green God and with their momentum they pick up other herds along the way: religious groups, trade unions and CEO's who use it as a marketing ploy.

It's never easy to reason with herd mentality.

What should we do about the professional stampeders amongst us? The cowboys would sing to them but today the singers and balladeers are more apt to start a stampede than end one. With a trail herd it was almost always the same one or two steers that instigated the trouble. They were chronic stampeders, usually slabsided and brainless and the cowboys would shoot them dead and leave their carcasses to rot in the sun so that they could get a little shuteye instead of risking their lives in the dark. Somehow I don't think that's a viable option these days with human stampeders.

A cattle stampede would usually end, often not far from where it began, when the leaders turned in on the herd and they all started balling up in a tight circle. The only difference between those confused cattle and greenies and animal rightists today is that the cattle almost always turned and circled to the right. These days their human counterparts always circle to the left. The far left.

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