During a stampede, did cowboys use guns to control the cattle?
Absolutely. Cowboys fired their pistols to turn the herd and get them moving in a circular pattern. The noise of the gunfire was an effective method. This would keep them from running for miles, going off an arroyo or cliff or destroying property or themselves.
Trailhands would have done just about anything to get the herd back under control. As Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie once wrote, the nature of the beast made that necessary: “When cattle stompede [sic], they run. The herd instinct in the bovine is so great that he can go from a state of watchful relaxation with his fellows to pandemonium in an instant. It is the only ignoble thing he is capable of for he is just a poor dumb cow brute who ain’t got no mama or papa and he never went to school.”
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write:
Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008,
Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at