Tennessee Mountain Stories

Hog Drives

Between John Wayne movies and television series like The Virginian and Bonanza, Hollywood has romanticized and institutionalized cattle drives.  But no one ever talks about hog drives.  Is there any such thing?

Have you ever asked yourself how would a farmer get a ‘crop’ of hogs to market on the Plateau before he had a truck?  Would you imagine he would load them up on a horse-drawn wagon?  I saw that in a tv-western episode once where a cattleman bought a prize bull and moved him home in a monstrous enclosed wagon and team of sizable horses.  It didn’t seem plausible to me, but neither did it seem difficult to drive or even lead a single bull.  However, I never gave much thought to moving hogs until someone mentioned the hog drives that used to come up the mountain into Monterey to meet the train.

If you’ve read Replacing Ann, you will remember that Bill Lewis was well respected for his skill in raising hogs and in his early life he worked as an overseer on big hog farms down near Livingston.  Well, here’s a confession – many of my fictional characters are inspired by legends of real people from the region.  And, I’ve heard a family legend about a man who really did work on big hog farms under the mountain and at least in his family’s memory, was very skilled and respected.  The railway came to Monterey years before a spur was built into Livingston.  (The Tennessee Central arrived in Monterey in the 1890’s but of course I can’t find the date of the Livingston spur when I actually need it.  Maybe one of you would be good enough to share that information with me if you know it.) In order to sell any stock or produce beyond a very close radius, you would have to get it to a rail-head so that meant Monterey for many years.  

So I was getting fairly convinced that this legend was based in fact but wondered if the art of driving hogs was unique to our neck of the Appalachian woods.  I found an article at atlasobscura.com that confirmed this was a regular occurrence in the nineteenth century.  In fact, they explain that the plantations of the South preferred to buy their pork and grow the crops that brought in more cash.  That article says the supply of hogs was mainly in Tennessee.

Now, I’ve experienced moving a few pigs from one pen to another or trying to get them into the barn.  And those were pigs that lived their whole lives in fenced enclosures.  Remember that the feeding range for hogs prior to the 1947 fence law, was anywhere the animals could get to.  (Now, here’s an interesting piece of history for you – prior to 1858, the law actually said that livestock owners were required to keep their animals fenced.  The 1858 change reversed the requirement saying that crop producers must ‘fence-out’ livestock.  So the concept of open ranges in Eastern states was really pretty short-lived.  With that said, we still have to remember that Tennessee was the wild west in the mid nineteenth century so I’m not sure how these laws were received or even enforced.)  So moving these hogs was surely a bigger challenge than today’s hog farmers would experience.  Still, I suppose if you could get the whole herd moving, it would be possible.

The atlasobscura article mentioned, “In 2006 a prominent archaeologist, a specialist in livestock, baldly insisted that pigs ‘cannot be driven’.  The historical record suggests otherwise.”  The author goes on to quote an 1847 tollgate record from North Carolina totaling the livestock moving as: 692 sheep, 898 cattle, 1317 horses, and 51,753 hogs.