A Rough Beginning
In the 1860s and 70s, cattle ranching in the United States was a crude industry at best. Fence-cuttings, cattle rustling and conflicting claims for land rights were mortal problems for homesteaders and livestock grazers.
A "packer monopoly" kept market information from cattle producers, while railroads, which were quickly springing up, charged exorbitant rates for shipping cattle.
It was clear that cattle producers needed to band together to have strength in combating these issues. Emerging state level organizations were adequate for dealing with cattle thieves and ownership issues, but not for trade and governmental issues. Cattlemen needed to think bigger -- on a national level.
After several failed attempts, a national cattle producers organization became a reality in 1898, when two members of the Livestock Committee of the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Trade Board called a National Stock Growers Convention Jan. 25-27, 1898, in Denver, Colo. Charles F. Martin and John W. Springer had a plan to form "an association of associations" which would represent every branch of the livestock industry, from cattle to hogs, to sheep, chickens, goats and horses.
More than 2,000 convention attendees heard three days of discussion on interstate trade, public lands and packer trusts. However, the main order of business at the first convention was the formation of the National Live Stock Association (NLSA) of the United States.
After one year of operation, the infant association was off to a good start. Springer, who was elected the first association president, reported that NLSA had 53 organizational members, represented 5,000 producers with 9 million head of stock and had a combined investment of $300 million. In addition, NLSA initiated two activities that would endure through the coming century -- legislative lobbying and industry-wide communication through a national newsletter.
After several early years of growth, the National Live Stock Association and the industry fell on hard times. Prices plummeted while rail charges jumped. Range wars and public lands battles continued to divide members whose support waned. Splinter groups began peeling away from the national association.
In 1901, one such splinter group formed the American Cattle Growers Association whose purpose was to solely represent cattle producers, particularly against sheep growers. Disputes between cattle growers and sheep growers over grazing rights had become so heated that bands of cattlemen often sought to wipe out the sheepmen through intimidation and the eventual clubbing or shooting of sheepherders and their flocks.
Meanwhile, despite the split and formation of the American Cattle Growers Association, the National Live Stock Association still faced strife between remaining members. In 1905, an attempt was made to eliminate railroads from NLSA membership, but to retain the commission men, stockyards and packers as members. Although representing all segments of the industry did not have wide support, a reorganization committee nonetheless defeated the movement and the railroads remained in. This conflict spurned yet another splinter group to peel away from the association to form the American Stock Growers Association.
Frank J. Hagenbarth, NLSA president from 1904-05, persistently worked for harmony between the divided groups. In 1906, his persistence paid off. The National Live Stock Association and the American Stock Growers Association merged into one strong organization -- the American National Live Stock Association (ANSLA).
That same year, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair's harsh novel about unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants prompted the federal government to pass the first Federal Meat Inspection Act. ANSLA supported the act as it gave beef a better acceptance in the market place, and won a major victory when the federal government agreed to bare the cost of meat inspection.