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Cattle Baron

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A Cattle Baron is the Rancher writ large. Instead of owning one regular-sized ranch, the Cattle Baron will own several ranches, possibly in more than one state, or a county-sized one with many thousand head of cattle. He (or very rarely she) will be one of the wealthiest people in the territory or state, and one of the biggest employers.

A Cattle Baron is generally at least middle-aged—it takes a while to accumulate that much capital. Some will be homegrown types who struggled their way up from single ranches, while others are foreigners (English and German are popular nationalities for this) who simply bought up land. Their clothing, tack and homes will tend to be rather ostentatious, but somewhat practical for range life.

Cattle Barons in fiction will usually have either grown or nearly grown children, a beautiful daughter and/or either a rebellious or dutiful son. Conflicts between the children, and with their parents, are frequent.

In The Western, a Cattle Baron will often be the Big Bad of the story, (Aristocrats Are Evil, even if the "Baron" bit is metaphorical with "Robber Baron") with the desire to buy out or crush independent ranchers and homesteaders to add to his wealth and power. However, they can also be a benign employer for a protagonist if their holdings are plagued by rustlers. Expect them to be rather autocratic in any case.

Often a Small-Town Tyrant, and perhaps a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit. Compare the Railroad Baron.


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    Comic Books 
  • The 1967 Lucky Luke comic book Barbed Wire On the Prairie has Cass Casey as a Big Bad, trying to crush an independent farmer. However, he is redeemed by the end, with both him and his fellow cattle barons being shown that both cattle and farming will be an important part of the future (specifically, the farmers having the expertise to dig wells deep enough that they don't fear droughts like the barons do).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Spencer Tracy's character in Broken Lance, also a western version of King Lear. Matthew Devereaux is a ranch owner who has built an enormous ranch and mining empire.
  • Chisum: As one of the founders of the town of Lincoln, cattle baron John Chisum is increasingly worried as Lawrence Murphy moves in on the local stores, bank and land by questionable means. Chisum and fellow honest ranch owner Henry Tunstall try and use the law, but Murphy owns that too.
  • Patrick Stewart's character in King Of Texas, a Western version of King Lear. John Lear, a wealthy cattle baron and analog to King Lear divides his property among his daughters, only to be rejected by the eldest two of them once they have it.
  • Red River: Fourteen years after starting his cattle ranch in Texas, Tom Dunston is finally ready to drive his 10,000 head of cattle to market. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son.

  • John Chisum was an actual Cattle Baron during the 1870s/1880s. He was portrayed by John Wayne in Chisum and James Coburn in Young Guns II.
  • Parodied by Andy Griffith in the film Rustlers' Rhapsody; the narrator notes how you never actually see any of his cattle, just hear them mooing occasionally in the background.
  • 'King' Carney and Neil Fletcher in Baz Luhrmann's Australia. Sarah Ashley's late husband Maitland is a cattle baron of the foreign-born variety.
  • The eponymous character of McLintock! is the Benevolent Boss variant. He started out as a rancher and worked long and hard so his wife and daughter would prosper. He uses his considerable influence to resist the machinations of an Obstructive Bureaucrat and stand up for the local Comanche.
  • In Forty Guns, Jessica Drummond is the most powerful rancher in Arizona territory, and controls much of the territory's government.
  • The last story in Grim Prairie Tales has Horn, the richest man in the territory, who is holding a contest for the position of being his new hired gun. Rich enough that he rolls right over the objections of The Sheriff that what he is doing is tantamount to murder.
  • In Curse of the Undead, Buffer runs the biggest ranch in the district, and he is trying to drive out his neighbours so that he can add their land to his spread.
  • In The Bull of the West, Judge Garth and Georgia Price operate the two biggest ranches in the district. Judge Garth is a Reasonable Authority Figure who sides with the smaller Ranchers surrounding him. Georgia Price, however, is ruthless and attempts to drive out the small ranchers by using the open range laws to destroy the pasture they are planning to fence off as winter pasture for their herds.
  • In Last Train from Gun Hill, Craig Belden, a rich cattle baron, is the de facto ruler of the town of Gun Hill. Belden refuses to turn over his son, forcing Morgan to go against the entire town.

  • The protagonist's dead sister's husband, James, in Sisters by Lynn Cheney (yes, that Lynn Cheney). He's of the foreign variety, definitely autocratic, and really hates homesteaders (though none of this is necessarily seen as a bad thing, and he's certainly not the antagonist).
  • Charles Goodnight, a Real Life Cattle Baron, appears as a heroic character in several of J.T. Edson's novels. Goodnight also makes a brief but important appearance near the end of Larry McMurtry's Streets of Laredo
  • Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch:
    • In Appaloosa, Bragg has aspirations to be one of these, with plans to import Angus cattle as breeding stock.
    • Blue Eyed Devil has a former confederate general turned cattle baron. Although he has some conflict with the protagonists for personal reasons, he is much more reasonable and less villainous than is generally seen with this trope.
    • Invoked in Resolution when a group of struggling homesteaders decide to pool their resources to become a sort of collective “cattle baron’’, knowing it’s the only way they can get enough influence to improve their situation.
    “Just like we can pool our cows, we want to pool ourselves. We ain’t big ranchers, but we could be like a big ranch, if we all associated. Then we could broker our own cattle, and maybe establish our own store, and maybe make a living.”

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doña Bárbara is the Latin American (in fact, Venezuelan) take on this trope, and a female one, to boot. In fact, whenever wealthy people from "El Llano" (the Venezuelan flatlands) appear in Telenovelas they tend not only to represent this trope, but reference Doña Bárbara in a way or another.
  • Frontier Circus: One attempts to drive a peaceful religious settlement off their land in "The Good Fight". After he gets cold feet, his foreman murders him and uses his widow to keep the scheme going.
  • Firefly, by virtue of being an Old-West-inspired Feudal Future, has literal cattle barons. One of them hires Mal to smuggle his livestock in "Shindig".
  • Yellowstone focuses on the Dutton family, who own a massive ranch in Missouri as they attempt to protect their empire from various potential threats.

  • The Six Shooter: In "The Coward", local big shot Noah Temple is looking to regain all of the land once owned by his grandfather (and subsequently lost by his father). The clerk in the hotel tells Britt that he has actually acquired more land than his grandfather's original spread, but Rancher Will Fetter and his wife Sarah remain stubbourn holdouts: owning a small ranch that is now completely surrounded by Temple's spread but refusing to sell.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout:
    • The New California Republic having a fair number of these is actually a minor plot point in Fallout 2: in the plot-apocalyptic wastes of western America, food is one of the most important things to have. The NCR's economic strength is built on the back of its dominance of the brahmin market, so the brahmin barons are one of the more important groups in the NCR. The mostly sympathetic senator Roger Westin is one of them.
    • Heck Gunderson of Fallout: New Vegas is a brahmin baron (brahmin being two-headed mutated cows of post-apocalyptic America). Unsurprisingly, he's also earned his power via cutthroat tactics and forcing other ranchers off their land at gunpoint. One sidequest deals with one of the ranchers whose land he stole who wants revenge.
    • Their disproportionate power in the NCR is brought up again in New Vegas, as they're able to get away with trying to provoke a mostly peaceful village of super mutants to attack first because they suspect they've been killing their brahmin.

     Web Original  
  • In the Whateley Universe, superpowered mutant Fantastico comes from a family of Texas cattle barons.

    Real Life 
  • Quite a number of them popped up across the various colonies in 19th-Century Australia, often referred to as "squatters" (though the term has come to mean someone illegally living in a home without paying rent).
  • The Gaelic Irish were historically famous for cattle-herding, and one of their noble titles was bo-aire, which literally translates to "cattle lord/chief."