One of the most iconic sights of the Old West is a cattle corral. Sometimes known as traps, holding pens, or enclosures, these relics of the old times are scattered throughout the desert and mountains from back in the days of working cattle. These structures basically act as areas to keep livestock in one place when sorting, branding or loading cattle in remote areas. These make the job much easier without having to push the whole herd back to the main ranch as these corrals are often miles and miles away from the headquarters. These corrals also often had water available, either extracted from wells with windmills or through digging ponds to collect rain water naturally from the washes. That way the livestock as well as the horses and cattleman could have a drink when they were working there.
Back in the day, materials were scant and expensive, so you will very often see these structures built with a variety of natural and manmade materials. The most common manmade material used is railroad ties and barbed wire. Railroad ties are thick pieces of lumber that were used underneath railroad tracks to support the locomotives. These are usually about 8 inches by 8 inches wide and around 8 feet long. Their length allows them to be buried deep in the ground standing up which makes them very solid. These act as the supports for the corners, and then in between you will see numerous stands of barbed wire with sticks every foot or so. That’s right, sticks. Back in the day it was hard enough hauling the railroad ties and wire out to these remote spots on horses and wagons, so the cowboys would forage for sticks to use as posts in between. You will also see that they used wooden boards as well for fencing, and sometimes in very remote areas with trees you will see corrals made entirely out of natural materials, with tree trucks as supports instead of railroad ties. Either way they must have done a good job because these structures are still standing today over 100 years later and are still used by working cattle ranches in the area.
We have one on our property of Shot-Up well. Just a short horse ride or a easy hike on foot, Shot-Up well is less than a mile away from the ranch and is a great example of an old corral. These will also have loading chutes and branding chutes, and can be divided up into different pens in order to sort and count cattle. They really make for a very picturesque landscape, especially at sunset. There are a couple corrals up in the mountains that are part of our ATV tours and that we sometimes ride to on horses for the lunch rides. These are also very old and are a great place to dismount and tie the horses. They are a gentle reminder of the flourishing days of the west when the pioneers would stake their claims to their lands and build their lives in middle of nowhere. If only those old wooden posts could speak, the stories and sights they have been witness to would be infinite.