A common plotline for a Western is the cattle drive.
Ranches raise cattle, but then they need to get them to market. Usually the target is a town along the railroad, but occasionally the destination is somewhere else. A Western based on a cattle drive is more likely to star plain old Working cowboys
as the stars, rather than using them as scenery.
In Real Life these were among the great risks to a ranch. They need to transport the cattle to make money, but if something goes wrong they could lose everything. Dangers include a stampede
, snakes, storms, flash floods, drought, etc. These days it's done to impress tourists; real ranchers use trucks.
Often a form of MacGuffin Escort Mission
- "Trail Boss, Matt Savage" was a strip that ran in Western Comics. Matt Savage still occasionally appears in The DCU.
- Many instances in Tex Willer.
- In Tomahawk #119, Tomahawk and the Rangers have to drive a herd of steers to besieged Yankee fort that is starving.
- The Buster Keaton classic Go West involves Buster having to get a herd of cattle to the stockyards. He first has to fight off an attack by an enemy rancher, and then guide all those cows through the streets of the city after leaving the train station.
- The first City Slickers movie was set around some city guys temporarily joining a ranch and helping on the cattle drive, facing just about every stereotypical problem on the ways, plus a few others.
- The Cowboys. With all the men in the district gone, Wil Anderson is forced to use high schoolers to take his herd to market.
- Red River, also starring John Wayne.
- The movie Australia features a huge cattle drove across the Outback to Darwin.
- Classic Australian film The Overlanders, herding cattle halfway across the continent under the threat of Japanese invasion.
- Predictably, the 1951 western Cattle Drive featured one of these.
- In Broken Trail, rather than cattle, the animals being driven are horses, but apart from that the storyline follows the model of the cattle drive.
- The novel Centennial by James Michener. It was specifically mentioned how much more hazardous this was than a normal cattle drive, because it was a mixed gender herd for a new ranch, this was late in the season, and they'd have to go through hostile Indian territory.
- The novel The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams is a fictionalised account of a cattle drive written by a former working cowboy.
- The novel Lonesome Dove features a cattle drive to Montana, and manages to include the obligatory stampedes, rustlers, snakes, flash floods, storms, wild Indians, etc... and having to eat grasshoppers.
- In the book and movie Old Yeller, one of the main plot points is that the father of the family has gone on a cattle drive, leaving his wife and two kids at home.
- Cattle drives feature prominently in several novels by J.T. Edson, including his first novel Trail Boss.
- Bonanza: Several episodes prominently had to do with cattle drives. A few others had it as a background plot to explain a regular character not appearing in an episode ("Ben's away on a cattle drive," for instance) or to set up the main plot, with the actual story focusing on one of the other Cartwrights and (usually) being something completely different.
- Rawhide was about a cattle drive.
- The characters from The Virginian appear leading one of these in the tele-movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of Draw which features cameos by cast members of many classic TV westerns.
- A minor (and buggy) sidequest from Fallout 2 has the player escorting a cattle drive that can run into anything from bandits and scorpions to Super Mutants with rocket launchers and miniguns.
- One of the early missions in Red Dead Redemption is rounding up the MacFarlane Ranch cattle in preparation for the drive.
- Stan Smith of American Dad! dragooned his son and son's friends into a cattle drive through city streets in an effort to make them "more manly." Hilarity Ensues, especially as Stan is more delusional than usual during the event (from eating some of the diseased cow-meat while Steve and his friends declined).