Cowboys, Cattle Drives, and Campfires

First of two Fourth of July

Campfire Stories

Photo credits given below plus Cowboy Bean recipe.

“The western Great Plains, our fascination of its lore and adventures, will forever have a special place in our hearts and national legacy. Over time, it becomes apparent these words—Cowboys, Cattle Drives, and Campfires—are actually hard-earned symbols of our personal life stories. Cowboys: the ups and down moments of joyful victory and sad losses in life. Cattle drives: the wild, unknown, dangerous, but sometimes exhilarating life adventures. Campfires: quiet moments of reflection and rest of opportunities lost and others gained. So, sit back, enjoy your time in history. Reflect where you are, and accept the challenge to step forward to brighter moments and a richer life.” cs

Courtesy use by National Archives

A cowboy sits by his campfire, and sips a cup of coffee. The warmth slowly moves down his body, and a slight grin fills the corners of his mouth and rugged face. One tanned by the ever changing weather and dusty trail he's been on the last several months. A deep sigh and relaxation knowing there's no immediate riding to do.

Courtesy use by OK No Man's Land Museum

The last few months kept coming to mind. and why he is now out in the great outdoors alone. The huge cattle drive from Texas, across always dangerous Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and sometimes through lawless No Man’s Land (Oklahoma) to the rail head in Dodge City was long, difficult, dangerous, and constantly moving north. He wanted to travel back to his home country on a slow, quiet pace. 

Courtesy of OK No Man's Land Museum

The cowboys put the cattle to bed by night and had them on the move by first light. Always seeking life saving water for the herd, horses, and self. They surely inhaled dust stirred by thousands of hooves, but kept pushing the herd north no matter the obstacles. No wonder these cowboys expected to have a rip-roaring time in the town where they delivered their cattle, and it’s a big reason for rail heads like Dodge City to have a matching reputation of lawlessness.

Courtesy use by OK No Man's Land Museum

Dodge City, after the Civil War and in the 1870 decade of the great cattle drives experienced more than 10 million cattle shipped out of the cow town alone. It was also the high time of the buffalo hunters, and Dodge City history reports 1.5 million buffalo hides shipped out of its railroad depot. The huge cattle pens and numerous buffalo hides would have resulted in a smelly place. Sadly, all actions have consequences sooner or later. This also greatly reduced the food, clothing, and shelter supply of nomadic Great Plains Native Americans like the Cheyenne and Arapaho.


A cowboy, after such a traumatic experience, sometimes return to his homeland country alone. From Dodge, he might even have diverted to a secluded place for a while to what we call, ‘unwind’ and meditate. Black Mesa in the far northwestern corner of Oklahoma and its highest elevation might have been such a place for some weary pokes. They might've found themselves, though, tangling with outlaws holding out in Robbers' Roost. In recent years, some have even taken that adventure, and encountered wild animals like mountain lions or panthers.

This cowboy took his return trip alone, and was enjoying his campfire. But western hospitality lived as a weary stranger hollered from a distance, “Hello the camp.” 


"Welcome. Come sit a spell,” the cowboy replied as he motioned, “help yourself,” to what grub and coffee are left. They soon began to spin stories about their adventures—bronc riding, cattle drives and stampedes, fair ladies kissed, mountains climbed, raging rivers swum, ornery critters whupped, deserts crossed, and damsels and children saved. Their accounts flew to heights where only eagles soar.


Time passed quickly, and the stranger said he had to be heading down the trail even though dark. He tipped his hat, “Adios,” and rode away. 

“Didn’t get the name,” the cowboy muttered sadly as he tossed a few more buffalo chips into the campfire. Won't be any of these before long. Soon his head was on his saddle, and he peered at the moon and the vast starlight sky. “Always amazing! Which one was created first?”

“Yes, the western Great Plains is a wonderful experience and fabulous place. It’s where the sounds of history still echo. Cottonwoods sing joyously in the prairie winds. The smell of sage fills the air. Coyotes serenade the moon. Jack rabbits run chasers in circles. Road runners do their thing. Prairie chickens dance in delight. Whippoorwills soothe the soul. The flowers of Indian Nations bloom again. Cowpokes still ride dusty trails. A handshake is the contract. Character is built on keeping one's word and getting the job done. Neighbors know each others' names and help them and strangers alike at a moment's notice. The joy of fishing is good company. Old, trusty windmills lift life from springs below. Campfires and grub gladly are shared. The Indian and pioneer determination still abounds. The vast and awesome starry sky assures there will be a new day. Sunrises and sets are indescribable. Raindrops bring forth hidden life. The bark of prairie dogs add musical notes to the wind. The spirits of buffalo still roam. Creation is affirmed. … YES, IT’S UNEQUALED! LONG MAY IT BE!” … cs

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I’m a writer who grew up in the Panhandle of Oklahoma, on a small farm and then in a small country town. I’ve never forgotten memories of the western Great Plains, its small towns, and its culture and character. Those admirable attributes often are woven into my writings. This is exemplified in my latest book, Shades of Color. Without realizing it as I wrote, the ‘ultimate answer to ALL human conflict’ was slowly revealed in those pages. ... I should have expected this!


Thanks for stopping by my campfire, and sharing the memories and a little history.


I’ll keep the campfire burning,




PS: Please feel free to share this Campfire Story with someone else. They can receive future ones too by sending an email to Clifton at or individuals can join Clifton's Campfire Stories at:


Photos (top down): #1 and 3-5 Vintage photos courtesy OK No Man's Land Museum at Goodwell, OK., #2 Courtesy National Archives, #6 Black Mesa, courtesy of Dr. Paul Reed of Guymon, OK. #7 Glory of the Heavens courtesy of Arlene Winfrey of the western Great Plains. CS Logo by F. Ozaki:


Second July Fourth Campfire Story: ‘What does a World Champion Bronc Rider and an Acadamey Winning Movie Star have to do with a small farm in western Oklahoma?' Plus, there will be another yummy recipes. God bless! ... cs

© Clifton Savoy, Ph.D.

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Hal’s Cowboy Bean Recipe

In memory of Hal Richards of Buffalo, OK


4 Cups of Pinto Beans

2 Lbs. Hamburger (or sausage or ham)

2 16 oz. cans stewed tomatoes

6-8 cloves minced fresh garlic

2 2 oz. cans chopped green chilies

3 diced red Serrano Peppers, crushed (or 2 cans rotel)

Salt and pepper to taste


Bring Beans to hard boil, let set 30 min. then slowly cook beans for 2 hrs. Add remaining ingredients. Slowly cook until done (about 1 hr.) Add more peppers if desired.


(Alternative: Soak beans overnight then drain. Add to slow cooker along with 

water and garlic. Cook for 2 hours, then add the remaining 

ingredients and cook until beans are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.