The idea for today’s post came from the book, “Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South”, by Grady McWhiney. In the chapter on herding, he discusses driving free-range hogs to market saying, “Throughout the antebellum period Southerners drove enormous herds of livestock over long distances to market. Thousands of swine went east, north, and south each year along established routes.” He went on to share numbers showing more hogs were herded between 1866 and 1880 than cattle.
In 1820, Winchester, Virginia passed an act to the effect that citizens within the town could not keep hogs and let them go at will because doing so tended to spoil the water for human consumption. The act, however, did not limit a non-resident from driving his hogs through the town in order to get them to market, to butcher them, or to drive them from one plantation to another. – March 1st, 1761.
Just what was it like herding hogs? “The hog is one of the most difficult and unsatisfactory animals to drive and particularly so if an effort is made to force the animal or animals in question. On the other hand, hogs are very easy animals to lead if they are trained to it, and the best way to train them is to get them in the habit of following a man with some feed, which feed they get after they have followed him a certain distance.” This is an excellent example of how a thing was not hard to accomplish when one knew how, but in later years when the knowledge was lost tended to seem very difficult.
How many head could be driven at a time? For the answer to that we look at an account from an old retired farmer in Missouri. He noted seeing 2,000 hogs pass through Columbia on the way to St. Louis. They were divided into, “lots of convenient size. The drovers had long whips which they cracked as they went along”. Cracking the whips was accepted, but striking the hogs with the whip was not as it bruised the meat.
The gentleman claimed that ten miles per day was about the most that could be covered and except for the man in charge the drovers walked along with the herd. The man on horseback was responsible for riding ahead to procure corn to feed the hogs when stopped for the night.
Indeed, farmers often profited from the sale of corn to the hog drovers along established routes. Some farmers planted large fields of corn for this purpose and rode several miles out to meet with the drovers to negotiate the price of said corn. “It is said that the soil of Teay’s valley [W. VA] was worn out by continued cultivation of corn to supply the demand of hog traffic”.
“It was generally the depth of winter during the hog-driving season”, and the drovers found lodgings at a tavern or a farmhouse, most having a room set aside for the use of such persons. When the rivers were frozen hard enough the hogs were marched across at other times they were ferried across.
“The present generation is little aware of the long distances which hogs used to travel during the thirties and forties of last century [1830-40]”, up to the use of the railroads. The railroads eliminated the need to drive large herds but did not bring about an instant end to hog driving because small farmers who could not afford to ship by rail had no choice but to continue to drive their hogs to market.
The books of a Kentucky man were examined and quoted in a book published in 1838 showing the number of animals that had passed his door headed South in 1835. There were 4,716 horses, 1,951 mules, 2,485 beeves, 2,887 shoats, 1,320 sheep, and 69,187 hogs.
As one would expect, the extreme heat and humidity of July and August was noted to make the process more difficult and sometimes the condition of hogs that had been herded some distance at that time of year suffered.
A Cincinnati paper contained an article on pork coming in for slaughter saying that farmers sometimes banded together, each having his own hogs intermingled in the numbers being driven to market, while others chose to sell their hogs to drovers who resold them upon reaching Cincinnati. The greatest danger in combining animals in this way was the spread of disease from sick animals.
Who was doing the driving? In short, just about anybody. Numerous sources depict boys and men of various stations taking the job of driving hogs in order to make wages. Horace Greely noted women doing hard work around farms including driving hogs to and from market. Even the military got into the act of driving hogs as evidenced by a letter from G. W. Randolph, Secretary of War, to General Marshall asking if his cavalry could be employed in driving hogs out of eastern Kentucky [Nov. 12, 1862).
With the introduction of refrigeration, driving hogs to a major market was no longer necessary as they could be processed in smaller numbers wherever needed. While Hollywood isn’t likely to depict a hog drive in a movie, I think we’ll all agree it was big business, as much so as herding cows. ©
Guilford, William Sumner. “California Hog Book”. 1915. San Francisco.
“Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society”. 1870. Springfield.
Henning, William Waller. “The Statutes at Large”. 1820. Richmond.
Missouri Dept. of Agriculture. “Bulletin”. Vol. 20. Nov. 1920.
U.S. War Dept. “The War of the Rebellion”.
“The Cultivator”. May 1843. Albany, NY.
West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey”. “Fayette County”. Vol. 2. 1919.
“The Wool Grower and Magazine of Agriculture and Horticulture”. August 1851.