1874 – A Cattle Call Is Heard From Lafayette Square


In the list of St Louis City ordinances from 1861, there appears a provision for the handling of dead animal carcasses, and a prohibition on raising hogs within the city limits. There is even an ordinance banning the flying of kites. But is no mention of the movement of cattle through city streets. On September 10th 1874, the St Louis Dispatch gave notice of a public meeting meant to organize protest to a proposed ordinance allowing the driving of cattle down public streets during daylight hours. This was to be done on behalf of the children attending Clinton, Peabody, Pestalozzi and Carroll schools. As you can see, the signatories to this notice include many of the leading Lafayette Square residents (and community leaders) of the day, including former mayors Thomas and Britton.  

The Compton Dry map of St Louis in 1875 is a constant source of discovery. It has detail that captures the nature, and the headlines, of those times. In 1874, it was legal to drive cattle down the streets of St Louis from 10pm to dawn. This is depicted below on Manchester Road near its intersection with Clayton Road:


Judging from the man on the galloping horse, these cayuses are moving right along. There was, of course, no signal at that intersection in 1874. The possibilities for mayhem seem pretty plain. 

An alternative was floated that would relocate stock raising to Illinois. In St. Louis of 1874 there was a total of one bridge across the Mississippi River. Moving cattle to the many city butchers was both a hassle and a daily necessity. The butchers and cattlemen of Missouri leaned on the City Council to allow daylight driving of stock through the city streets.  A sympathetic council didn’t want to see cattle raising (and driving) move East, where slaughterhouses would be built, and jobs lost to Illinois. A ban would also cause meat prices to rise, due to the cost of two bridge or barge fares as cattle crossed and recrossed state lines, via the river. The butchers additionally protested that it was near impossible to select individual animals in the dark, and that driving cattle on a moonless night required extra hands, further escalating costs.

Communities like Lafayette Square rallied support for a daylight ban on cattle driving, and enlisted 15,000 schoolchildren to help them make their point on public safety grounds. 

St Louis Mayor Joseph Brown listened to a delegation representing butchers and cattle owners from the city. They pleaded not to be forced to relocate across the river. They expressed their desire to live, work and continue to pay taxes in St Louis. They were open to restricting certain streets from driving cattle, and adding stipulations on labor required for the job. A Mr. Sullivan complained that he had been arrested for a daylight violation. While in custody, his cattle were turned loose, and they wandered all over the city, requiring an extensive search.

Unmoved, Mayor Brown began a short solioquy.  After a brief review of the pro and con arguements, he added: 

“Certainly, I suppose no one has suffered more than I have…from cattle driving… I live on Chouteau Avenue, and after 10 o’clock at night it seems as if the butchers and drovers have a special spite against me, for they make all kinds of noising, whooping and shouting when passing my house. It was only night before last when a German driving cattle past called out loud enough to be heard by the company sitting on my porch: ‘G__d D__n Mayor Brown, what do I care for him.’ I only mention this to show the annoyance I am put to in this matter.”

St Louis Mayor Joseph Brown

He made note of the  support from every alderman, in addition to 15,000 petitioners in favor of continuing the ordinance on the books. He also made plain that he felt the days of driving cattle on city streets must end, and that a centralization of beef processing was needed in St Louis. The ordinance stood.

By 1881, City ordinance called for a ban on horned cattle on the streets between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m in November, December, January and February, with an extra hour added on each side in the remaining months. Violating this was a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $5.00, nor more than $50.00. Milk cows and calves were permissable, in droves of less than 25, between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m and again from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. It also set a maximum herd of 50 at any time, with a required numbers of attendants, at a rate of speed not to exceed three miles per hour. This ordinance still stood in 1900, almost verbatim. 

By 1905, the State began to rule on challenges to this (as in City of Doniphan vs White) and the widespread adoption of streetcars and the automobile made coexistence with cattle on the roadways nearly impossible. The automobile won, and certainly not for the last time. Our cities, by the late 1940’s were redesigned to exclusively accommodate cars and trucks. Cattle were relegated to giant feedlots, via railroads, and slaughterhouses became of such scale that they had to relocate to less densely populated areas. 

And nowadays, you can’t drive your cattle through the city, but you can drive your car to a few choice steakhouses. Whether by design or chance, things in a growing city eventually get worked out. 

While writing this, I was plagued by a song loop from back when I was a little kid. A number one country song of 1955 was “Cattle Call”, by Eddy Arnold. “The Tennessee Plowboy” , as he was known, worked a waltz, a yodel, and simple cowboy lyrics ( “I’m brown as a berry from a ridin’ the prairie”) into a huge hit. Incidentally, Arnold sang for KWK radio in St Louis in the late 1930s, before hitting it big in Nashville. If you’d like to catch this earworm of a tune, have a look at the following video from 1955: 


Thanks to research sources, including:

Revised City Ordinances Of 1881, 1901, and 1905 for St Louis; courtesy of New York City Library online. 

Compton Dry Pictorial Map Of St Louis; 1875, available in its glorious electronic entirety at the Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4164sm.gpm00001/

St Louis Dispatch of July 30th and September 10, 1874, via newspapers.com

Joseph Brown And His Civil War Ironclads: Myron J. Smith; McFarland And Company; 2017

San Diego Union Tribune for the photo from their 2008 article on 300 head of cattle driven through the streets of San Diego.