The Great Cowboy Strike At Tascosa In 1883 They were being treated like 'employees,' not like cowboys.

cowboy strike
Saloon in Tascosa.

The strike took pace in the Texas Panhandle and involved between 30 and 325 cowboys and lasted about two and a half months.

This strike was predicated by some serious changes in west Texas brought about by the big ranches being taken over by eastern or foreign “cabals.” Prior to that, oftentimes, cowboys were partially paid with cattle which they raised on their own small spreads. Mavericks were the property of whom ever caught and branded them.

The new owners stopped all that, reduced some wages, and prohibited any ranch employee from having their own spread. The strike was primarily aimed at five ranches, the LIT, the LX, the LS, the LE, and the T Anchor, which they believed were controlled by corporations or individuals interested in ranching only as a speculative venture for quick profit.

It failed, mostly because of the shortage of jobs and an abundance of unemployed men willing to work for whatever they could get. The late Elmer Kelton won a Western Writers of America Spur Award for best novel with a story called The Day the Cowboys Quit. Its fiction, but it’s an accurate picture of the great cowboy strike.

Interestingly, it began when some absentee-owned ranches started telling cowboys they couldn’t have brands of their own. On most locally-owned ranches the owner let his permanent hands have their own brands & run their stock on his pasture as long as they didn’t have too many. When it came time to sell the owner’s brand and his cowboys’ brands were sold together, then the proceeds pro-rated based on the number of head each cowboy had in the sale. The absentee owners were telling cowboys they couldn’t have their own brands. They were being treated like ’employees,’ not like cowboys.

Cowboys, being independent didn’t appreciate such haughty treatment. Not surprisingly, there was an outbreak of rustling on the big outfits in the Panhandle.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at


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