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In the song Old Chisholm Trail, a famous cowboy song there's the following line:

I started up the trail October 23rd
Started up the trail with a 2U herd

(emphasis mine)

For lyrics.

I know 2U can be "to you", but it can't be that slang here.
I've come across U meaning a rack unit in computer lingo. So the only explanation I can imagine is that this U in the lyrics means "unit". Would then a "2U herd" be a herd with two heads of cattle? But then, why just not say "two heads"? (OK, ok, syllable count and rhymes in versification).
If not, what does it mean?

If I'm right, I'd like to know if cowboys usually count their cattle heads as "units"? And if this use of U for "unit" is relatively common.

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Woodie Guthrie sings about The Old Chisolm Trail, an important overland cattle-driving trail when cattle ranches were popular, and the life of a cowboy was glamorized (the cattle trade was at its peak from 1867 until the early 1880s; The Old Chisholm Trail is a song that dates back to the 1870s). Cattle branding was a necessary part of ranching. When cattle driving, every cowboy carried his own personal brand book. They contained brands of local herds, reports of stolen cattle, rough maps of cattle drives and other trail information that was needed for ready reference.

Through the scribblings in a brand book, it was often possible for stray cattle to be returned to the rightful owner. When a strange brand turned up in a herd being sold, the owner—sometimes several counties away—would receive a check for steers he had never even missed.

The song references a lot of a cowboy's experiences on the 'trail' (bacon and beans most every day, etc.) Guthrie also tells of finding a stray in the herd (though why his boss would order it killed is a mystery to me; maybe just to make it rhyme with "skillet".

Brands were fairly complicated things; there was a Flying U and a KU, so... I'm guessing it might it be the brand on the cattle? Two U's or 2U. There are a number of ranches named 2U including one in Nevada. There was a UU ranch in Texas when the trail opened. There is even a UU Ranch Airport in Whitesboro, TX; there's a UUBarr (would look like UU-) Ranch as well. It's mostly a 'Dude' Ranch, though.

It could have been Abel Head Pierce's brand, a Texas cattle raiser (1834–1900) who, when he started, branded a B, then BB, then UU, and finally D.

  • Both answers so far point towards cattle branding. A far cry from what I could imagine. – Laure Mar 18 '14 at 11:26
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From here:

Then I think of what was the 2-U herd? Well I believe it stands for the Wheeler Herd = 2-U (W. = Double U = 2U Herd)

So what was the Wheeler Herd?: That same year, O. W. Wheeler answered McCoy's call, and he along with partners used the Chisholm Trail to bring a herd of 2,400 steers from Texas to Abilene. This herd was the first of an estimated 5,000,000 head of Texas cattle to reach Kansas over the Chisholm Trail

This herd was FIRST then there was a second herd by another owner and the trail was formed.

I do not know that much about herding cattle, I am not too certain about if the cattle really come back down to texas??? I don't think they do as I have not read that they have, everything I read is THEY ENDED in Kansas.

Thats why I believe it is north.

  • Was very impressed, but when I checked your link, none of it is substantiated. :( – anongoodnurse Mar 18 '14 at 9:54
  • @Susan. Seems a wrong link was put in but it's on Wikipedia. I've found more on Wheeler on the Chisholm Trail website. Both your answers point to cattle branding, I would never have thought about it. – Laure Mar 18 '14 at 11:35
  • What wrong link?! Don't be put off by the title of the page... – user3306356 Mar 18 '14 at 12:00
  • @Susan, you just needed to scroll down to the correct link with the lyrics. – Kristina Lopez Mar 18 '14 at 13:45

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