A Well-Traveled People

One of the ranchers from the Panhandle died on the Titanic. A rancher in eastern New Mexico sent his children to the Austrian Alps during the late 1920s and early 1930s to spend time with their relatives, who were among the old Habsburg nobility. Others traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland on a regular basis, as well as to Houston, Chicago, New York City, and the like.

One of the surprises of doing research about this region’s early settlement and growth is just how mobile the population was.

The Hispanos came in from New Mexico. Many had been traders or herders with permission from the Comanche to graze on Comanche territory. Next were the ranchers. Many of the Anglo-American ranchers were used to traveling long distances to move their beasts to market, so for Charlie Goodnight or Harold Bugbee, taking the train to Ft. Worth and then Chicago was nothing. Once the English and Scots arrived, again, they’d crossed the Atlantic at least once, so going back for business or family matters was expensive but not overly complicated. Farmers often moved in from places like Illinois (climate shock!) or downstate, or farther north in Kansas or Nebraska. Again, travel was a physical challenge but not unusual.

Those who came to the region from abroad often kept ties to their kindred in the Old Country. Thus we find one of the ranch managers for the Bell Ranch corresponding in German with his maternal kinfolk in Austria (through a Scottish-English connection), and sending the next generation to Austria to meet their relatives (and to enjoy a summer in a place where the grass remained green. A novelty.) Others brought a little of the Old Sod with them to the States, but traveled all over the US and Canada, and in some cases other parts of the Americas on business.

Even people like Goodnight and other native-born Anglo-Americans roamed, often around the state or “Back East” on business or for pleasure. Some went to Washington D. C. to communicate in person with legislators – Solons as the term of the time was – and to ensure that their voices were heard. The more you read, the less surprising the travels become, because so many people from the region were on the move.

Once farming became more common, the itchy feet seem to have faded, but people still did – and do – go where they needed to go, or wanted to go. Drive to Dallas or Albuquerque for a concert and shopping? Sure, why not. There are exceptions, and I have met people who have not been more than forty miles from Amarillo. Most folks have at least come to Amarillo from outlying towns, if only for shopping and medical care. We are in the part of the world where distances are in hours, not miles, and so driving two or three hours to go shopping or visit friends is not unusual.

But back in the 1800s, to have so many people who traveled so widely? It speaks volumes about the sort of men and women who ventured to settle here in the first place, and who never quite stopped roaming.


5 thoughts on “A Well-Traveled People

  1. Regarding folks who never travel much. When my daughter was in the local Recreational Swim team, we were at an away meet and a group of other mother were fretting about getting list in the dark in the way home. The pool was on the corner of the two main roads of the town. Pick either one, go straight, don’t get off the road, and you were bound to end up at the main highway in the area. I looked at my daughter and asked, “Are we do used to traveling around the area that we’re the strange ones? “.
    I had been driving around both the local area and the rest of CA since I was 17. Usually with a loaded horse trailer attached and an event to get to. I knew the travel time needed and could judge if I was running late by the landmarks i was passing. For me, a 4 hour drive at night was no big deal and being early to an event was the goal.

    • I boggled a little at the statistic that on average, people in Germany go no farther than 60 Km from their home towns during their lifetime. Then I met people here who were similar. They didn’t need to go places, or didn’t have the resources, or the free time, so they don’t roam.

      I come from two itchy-footed families, so roaming is the semi-default condition.

      • As a child, I traveled with my family traveled up and down the US west coast, with just-past-the-border visits to Mexico and Canada. That didn’t seem too unusual.

        But my wife is an immigrant – every few years, we’d bundle our kids up and go to visit her relatives in Hong Kong, besides other just-for-fun international travel. Plus, #2 daughter spent a couple of summers in South America in immersion language classes.

        I don’t think we’re that unusual – maybe a bit outside the norm, but judging by conversation at my last high school reunion even in my small rural hometown, a lot of my classmates have traveled at least as much. And that’s ignoring the much larger number that have traveled thousands of miles from home but remained in the US.

        Isn’t there a quote to the effect that “in the US 100 years is a long time; in Europe, 100 miles is a long distance?” If we measured travel by distance, rather than number of countries, I rather suspect the average “untraveled” American … isn’t.

  2. Yep, travel was much more prevalent than one might think. Cowboys worked all over the west, from Mexico to Montana, from California, to Chicago, etc…

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