Beef Moves to Nebraska
7 of 7

The "Beef Issue"

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Ration Day at the Commissary
Ration Day at the Commissary at Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D. 1890.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2845-8-12

On the reservations, commissaries were established to distribute sugar, flour, coffee, bacon, dried beans, and other staples (often referred to as "domestic rations") to Native Americans. Periodically, the government would provide live cattle at events called "beef issues". Herds of around 100 to 150 head of cattle were driven to the reservation agency where families would gather for the distribution.


Indians butchering their beef issue, circa 1870s.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2969-2-072

Cattle would be turned loose on the prairie, and then pursued by mounted hunters, echoing back to the days of the bison hunts. When an animal had been killed, families would dress out the animals where they fell. The Indians would then load the meat onto wagons where it was then dried for storage.

Read more about it:
Indian Agency correspondence
and receipts for Beef Issue
Indian Department Receipt for Beef Cattle
Chief Red Cloud traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk Congress into creating the Indian Agency later named for him.

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The Omaha Herald described one of these events on Sunday, September 19, 1875:

"About 3,000 mounted Indians surrounded the corral where the cattle were confined; as the names of the Indians were called out, the gate of the corral was swung open and the requisite number of beef were let loose, and then commenced a most savagely exciting scene that pen or picture could depict."

beef issue cattle in a pen
About 95 head of cattle waiting to be issued, circa 1889.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2969-2-072

In latter years, the replicated bison hunt ended. With the large number of people, spooked animals, and shooting, the possibility of injury was great. Animals were simply killed in their corrals, and then hauled out where there was room to dress them. Beef issues continued into the 20th century.

Find out more about the Beef Issue and its consequences.
From the 2008 NET Television production Beef State

By 1875, cattle had become a permanent part of Nebraska’s vista. Some wanted them here; some obviously did not. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the story of beef would lose some of its rough edges, and create some new ones.

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1875-1899 High Falutin’ Beef
Follow THE STORY OF BEEF through the decades.
1850-1874
Beef Moves
to Nebraska
1875-1899
High Falutin’
Beef
1900-1924
Reforming
Beef
1925-1949
Beef Goes Modern
1950-1974
Beef
State
2000-2024
NE Beef
Goes Global