|What created the cattle boom?
Prior to 1848 California cattle were commercially valuable for hides and tallow, the average price of a full grown steers seldom rose above $4 a head. But the Gold Rush created an enormous and ever-expanding demand for beef. So the custom of slaughtering cattle for hides and tallow quickly gave way to selling cattle for beef.
It soon became common practice to drive the cattle north along the coast or inland to the San Joaquin Valley. The cattle lived off the land, the drives started after the winter rains when grass reached maturity. They rarely moved more than ten to fifteen miles a day, the entire drive took about a full month.
Cattle prices rose from 1849 for about six years. At this time in San Francisco, cattle were sold for as high as $75 a head, while small calves sold for $20 to $25 a head.
Bands of Indians and outlaws raided the ranchos for horses or cattle. This was such a major problem that the governor in 1851, listed stock rustling as one of the state's major economic ills and the offense became grand larceny. In order to protect highly prized cattle, some rancheros built low adobe walls mounted with cheveaux de frise or steer horns, or ballado that surrounded the pasture.
As ranchero were driven by greed, they failed to preserve their breeding stock. They consumed their profits holding little or none for the future. By 1856, the price for large cattle had dropped to $16 or $18 a head. Then by 1860 the price for large cattle had fallen to $10 a head. The flush days of cattle prices had pasted.