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, rustlers, snakes, storms, flash floods, drought, etc. These days it's done to impress tourists; real ranchers use trucks.
Also known as Droving, though less so in the United States than elsewhere.
Often a form of MacGuffin Escort Mission.
- The movie Australia features a huge cattle drove across the Outback to Darwin.
- 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.
- At the end of The Bull of the West, Ben is preparing to send his herd on a cattle drive to market when he discovers the herd is infected with aftosa and has to be destroyed.
- Predictably, the 1951 western Cattle Drive featured one of these.
- Cattle Empire starring Joel McCrea is about two competing drives trying to be the first to reach market.
- 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.
- The Culpepper Cattle Co.: The main plot is the titular Culpepper Cattle Company driving cattle to Fort Lewis, with young protagonist Ben coming along in hopes of learning from the men and becoming like them.
- 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.
- Classic Australian film The Overlanders, herding cattle halfway across the continent under the threat of Japanese invasion.
- The Ramrodder starts with Rick leaving the cattle drive in the hands of his segundo to drive it the last few miles into town, while he goes to visit his sweetheart.
- Red River, also starring John Wayne.
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: The Kid encounters a cattle drive during his travels. He sees the dust cloud that it raises long before he sees the cows.
- 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.
- The protagonists are part of one of these in The Tower of Zhaal (part of the Cthulhu Armageddon series) before it is interrupted by the attack of an evil cult. Notably, the protagonists never find out what happened to the cattle involved.
- 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.
- The characters from The Virginian appear leading one of these in the telemovie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of Draw which features cameos by cast members of many classic TV westerns.
- Rawhide was about a cattle drive.
- The Six Shooter: Britt joins a small cattle drive driving a herd to Abilene in "The Stampede".
- The Blood Drive trilogy of adventures from the Deadlands series that was released for both Deadlands: Reloaded and Deadlands: The Weird West. You drive a thousand steers across the Weird West with threats from a crazy shaman, railroad barons, and the US government chasing a man on a rocket pack's discoveries.
- Empire Earth II: The second Maasai mission has you escort the village herd of cows to a different pasture. Thankfully the cows don't wander off in the path of the armed mercenaries trying to kill you.
- 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.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, on Tatooine you herd banthas to lure a krayt dragon out of a cave where it's blocking the way to a Plot Coupon.
- One of the early missions in Red Dead Redemption is rounding up the MacFarlane Ranch cattle in preparation for the drive.
- All Grown Up!: In "Dude, Where's My Horse?", the kids spend a week on a ranch and take part in a cattle drive, with the cattle being a herd of ostriches.
- 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).
- The Brady Kids: In "Give Me a Home Where the Panda Bears Roam and the Dog and the Mynah Bird Play", the kids go on a cattle drive. As usual, Marlon's magic makes a mess of things.