When we think of cattle drives, images of the Old West appear in our mind’s eye, right?
This is mainly due to the success of Hollywood and their ability to portray the cattle drive culture that flourished in the American West after the Civil War. But would it surprise you if I told you that livestock drives including cattle, hogs, horses, and mules were all very common across the South? In fact, for folks here in old Campbell County and then Douglas County it was a very common site to see drovers traveling through on their way to Atlanta.
By the 1830s hundreds of thousands of cattle and hogs were driven to eastern trade centers, and by 1849, Atlanta was a destination for the drovers as it was the terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Other railroads soon followed such as the Georgia Western/Georgia Pacific that eventually came through Douglas County, and I’ve seen a mention here and there regarding how drovers used Douglas County’s cleared railroad bed to drive livestock to Atlanta prior to the placement of the rails.
Atlanta was a big market for livestock, and the most cost effective way to reach it was to drive the animals over open land — sometimes a distance of 200 to 300 miles — so it’s not surprising to think that some of those trips often crossed through Douglas County.
The drovers wanted the best price for the animals; they had to keep the livestock healthy. This meant a slow progression — sometimes making only eight miles a day, which meant the drovers would stay overnight several times during the annual trip to market.
Eventually, as the land became more settled, farmers saw they might be able to make a dollar or two from the drovers crossing their lands.
Certain places along the route became known as “stock stands” or feedlots. Drovers could spend the night and feed the animals. Sometimes they could feed themselves at taverns or public houses that would spring up along the way.
Pace’s Tavern owned by Hardy Pace (think Paces Ferry Road) set up his tavern at Vinings specifically for the cattle drovers that were coming through the area.
Raymond Johnston was born in 1892 and lived in the Ephesus community of Douglas County.
According to an account that Fannie Mae Davis relates in her book, Mr. Johnston “demonstrated his business acumen as early as seven years of age…There came a day when Raymond’s father was away from home and the cattle drovers stopped at the farm to water their cattle. Having nothing to feed the animals they asked the small boy standing by the watering trough to sell them 75 bundles of fodder. He refused to sell, but pointing to a calf, he said, ‘I will swap you the fodder for that calf.’ The trade was made.”
Yes, Raymond Johnston went on to become one of Douglas County’s most prosperous farmers.
Of course, livestock drovers could have bad reputations. They wandered the lands, drank in the taverns, and didn’t conform to either farm or merchant lives.
In 1880, the July 22nd issue of “The Atlanta Constitution” reported a situation between a drover accused of cattle stealing after camping overnight in the Whitesburg area. The Rev. J.B.C. Quillian along with a posse set out to catch up with the accused man and upon doing so a search of his wagon revealed a buggy apron, curtains and a bottle of castor oil.
The man apparently told a pretty tale and Quillian let him off by paying five dollars.
Quillian was a very well-known circuit riding pastor in these parts who had retired to Douglasville in 1875. He lived in the American Gothic home on Campbellton Street that sits across from Douglas County High School and next to the Cultural Arts Council of Douglasville/Douglas County.
Eventually, the livestock drovers were seen less and less as it became cheaper to move the animals via the railroad and later with trucks. But they most certainly played a role in the history of Douglas County.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories.