By the end of the Civil War, the grasslands of South Texas were covered with thousands of Longhorns roaming wild, just at a time when the growing cities of the Northeast and Middle West needed meat. In Texas these cattle were worth about $4.00 each, but if some way could be found to get them to northern markets then they would be worth about $40.00 each. The law of supply and demand initiated one of the most unique periods in Texas history, one that was destined to last only about 10 or 12 years, but it bound the state forever to the mythology of the cowboy.

Cattle drives similar to the one shown in the mural, emerging out of the dust of the trail and snaking its way upward across the canvas, started northward in 1866. In the early drives, rations were carried in saddlebags or on packhorses; one or two blankets tied behind the saddle sufficed for bedding. Drives to the northern markets began in the spring and continued through the summer. Daily travel distances were gauged by grass and water; the object was to fatten the cattle en route. Dependable lead steers were often used at the front of the herd, and many of these were not sold at the end of the drive but taken home and used time and time again. Each cowboy took two to fives horses with him on the drive, often switching horsed to give his mount a rest. The Spanish had brought horses as well as cattle to the new world, and most of the cow ponies used on drives were descendents of wild mustangs. Like the cattle, they had adapted and multiplied in their new environment, and they were dependable, smart, and extremely agile.