A Bullwhacker’s Life

Each day, KHC  features the hot topics and great speakers in the Speakers Bureau catalog. Today’s featured presentation is “A Bullwhacker’s Life Freighting Supplies over the Plains” by Jim Gray.

Arrival of caravans at Santa Fe

Arrival of the caravans at Santa Fe, 1840s.
Image from kansasmemory.org, Kansas Historical Society, copy and reuse restrictions apply.

Bullwhackers traveled the Kansas frontier freighting supplies and shaping a profession akin to today’s long-haul truck drivers. Traveling the Santa Fe, California-Oregon, and Smoky Hill Trails, commercial and independent bullwhackers walked beside their ox-drawn wagons, courting danger with every trip. In “A Bullwhacker’s Life Freighting Supplies over the Plains,” Jim Gray discusses how fortunes could be won or lost and how bullwhackers tested their skills at peaceful negotiation as they passed through lands controlled by prairie bands of Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Comanche peoples.

“In the popular culture of the Old West most ‘wagon train’ stories are of immigrants traveling west in search of a better life. For some reason the commercial freighting operations have been largely forgotten,” Gray observed. “I felt that the bullwhacker deserved his place in Kansas history.”

Jim Gray

Jim Gray

Jim Gray is a sixth-generation Kansan who co-founded the COWBOY (Cockeyed Old West Band of Yahoos) Society to promote and preserve Kansas’s cowboy heritage through the bi-monthly newspaper, Kansas Cowboy. He is the author of Desperate Seed: Ellsworth Kansas on the Violent Frontier and writes the newspaper column “The Way West.”

Bring Jim Gray’s “A Bullwhacker’s Life Freighting Supplies over the Plains,” his other presentation, “Frontier Kansas Cattle Towns,” or one of the other presentations in the Speakers Bureau catalog to your community for FREE with a Resource Center Support Grant. It’s quick and easy! Visit the Speakers Bureau page to get started or contact Leslie Von Holten, KHC program officer, for more information.