High Falutin’ Beef
6 of 6

The Birth of the Stockyards

Texas Longhorns being driven to the cattle rendezvous, 1878
Texas Longhorns being Driven to the Cattle Rendezvous, 1878.
Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society, 94173

By hook or by crook, or even by legal means, ranchers acquired or "borrowed" huge tracts of land on which to grow this new, high falutin’ beef. But many of them noticed that it was a long way to take their cattle to Chicago for meat-processing.


Transport of Texas Beef on the Kansas-Pacific Railway, 1871
Transport of Texas Beef on the Kansas-Pacific Railway, Scene at a Cattle Shoot in Abelene, Kansas, 1871.
Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society

In 1882, Alexander Swan (Remember him? The Scottish rancher from Wyoming) came to Omaha and urged business leaders there to consider creating a stockyard. He and others, including Englishman C. R. Schaller, argued that shipping cattle the extra 500 miles to Chicago caused weight loss, and therefore profit loss.

They also noted that Omaha was a transportation center, with the Union Pacific Railroad intersecting there with the Missouri River. The Missouri provided an adequate water supply and excellent drainage, both necessary for raising stock. Swan noted, too, that there was abundant corn and grass, all that was needed to care for and fatten cattle.

Mag Me! Select the magnifying glass
for an extreme close-up.
Omaha Riverfront, 1868
Omaha Riverfront, 1868.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2341-013

Original Omaha Stockyards, Frank Drexel Farm, 1885.
Note: Arrow indicates first Livestock Exchange Building in the old Drexel farmhouse.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG1085-24-11

In 1884, a group of investors built cattle pens on 10 acres of ground. Then, just two years later, the investors built the Livestock Exchange building. The stockyards grew quickly, as did the volume of animals it processed. Soon meatpackers set up packing plants adjacent to the yards, starting with G. H. Hammond in 1885, Fowler Brothers in 1886, and Armour-Cudahy and Swift in 1887.

By 1890, South Omaha was the hub
of a burgeoning western meat industry.

Find out more about the birth of the Omaha Stockyards.
From the 2008 NET Television production Beef State


Second building of the Omaha Union Stockyards, illustrating rapid economic growth of the industry in just one short year, 1886.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG1085-02-01

The stockyards and packing plants became the lifeblood of the city of Omaha’s economy. But even something so positive had a down side. A new era was about to dawn in the United States, the reform era of Progressivism.

Corruption and health hazards, beware! The dawn of the twentieth century is upon you!

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1900-1924 Reforming Beef
Follow THE STORY OF BEEF through the decades.
1850-1874
Beef Moves
to Nebraska
1875-1899
High Falutin’
Beef
1900-1924
Reforming
Beef
1925-1949
Beef Goes Modern
1950-1974
Beef
State
2000-2024
NE Beef
Goes Global