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The Round Up

Cowboys mounted for round-up, Spring Creek, west of Okotoks, Alberta, 1892. Leaving camp. Bar U and Mosquito Creek wagons. L-R: Phil Waynard; Archie Jarvis; Charlie Miller; Hunter Powell; Mike Herman; Charlie Brown; Hope Smith; J. H. Brown; Jack Graham; Jack Blake; W. W. Brown; Jack Nichols; Pete McElroy. The round ups in western Canada, like the long and arduous cattle drives, involved gathering cattle and bringing them to a specified place on the prairie. Unlike the drive, however, a round up happened twice a year - in the spring, beginning in late May or early June, and again in the fall. The spring round up was the more extensive, as the animals had usually drifted further from their home ranges during the winter.

The round up captain - usually a foreman for one of the big ranches - planned the entire operation. Large outfits provided the wagons, food, supplies, cooks, and even some cowboys. The rate of $1.25 per day included room and board for each rider from the smaller ranchers and the services of wranglers, who managed each man's string of saddle horses. The cook was one of the most important men on the journey: his wagon held culinary supplies enough to maintain the ten to twelve hungry men assigned to each. The cook's helper, or "cookee", drove another wagon containing the cowboys' bedrolls, tent, clothing, and other spare gear.

Round-up camp and grub tent, High River area, Alberta, 1892. Charlie Lehr, cook. Each outfit would be detailed to work a separate area, beginning in the south and moving northward, usually along a river. The riders would circle out from their wagon to gather and bring found cattle to a pre-arranged campsite, a different one for each night. When the prescribed area had been covered, the herds were brought together and culled according to home ranch, and the calves would be branded. Night herders worked in two to four hour shifts, riding around the herd and making sure the animals bedded down together. But if the night was windy and the rain fell, the cattle could become spooked and stampede, and it was difficult for even the most skilled cowboy to regain control. Despite setbacks, the herds moved steadily northwards, getting smaller and smaller as branded animals were left at ranches along the way.

In 1885, 60,000 head of cattle were gathered in a huge round up employing 100 men, 500 saddle horses and fifteen wagons. After this, the general round ups were discontinued, and each district - Pincher Creek, Ft. Macleod, High River, and Willow Creek - operated its own.

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