Tales of the Rupununi Cattle Trail – By Dmitri Allicock

Entrance to the Rupununi Cattle Trail- circa 1920

Entrance to the Rupununi Cattle Trail- circa 1920

Tales of the Rupununi Cattle Trail

By Dmitri Allicock

Cattle, cowboys and horses, creeks, rivers, wooden bridges, swamps, rain, mosquitoes, jaguars and snakes are the ingredients for a great imaginative western movie and can be found in the stories of the movement of herds of cattle from the grasslands of Rupununi to the coastal marketplace of British Guiana, just shy of a hundred years ago.

On the hoof, cattle were driven along a cattle trail that wended its way from Annai in the Rupununi Savannahs through the dense wild of Guyana to the Yawakuri Savannah on the Berbice River, covering a distance of at least 120 miles. At the end of the journey, the cattle were exhausted and wasted. The trail was successfully completed in 1919 and the first head of cattle was driven over it in 1920.  

A glance at the map of Guyana reveals that the 5000 square miles of the prime Savannah lands of Rupununi is located in the isolated deep south- west of Guyana. In the early ranching period there was no way to reach the Guyana coast with cattle and no market at all except in Brazil where demand was uncertain and values low. Transportation was a serious problem and waterfalls interfered with river transport. Highways and railways were non-existent, and construction through the forests and swamps was cost prohibitive.

[Read moreTales of the Rupununi Cattle Trail ]

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Comments

  • Deen  On February 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Another piece of history I never knew.
    Thanks Dmitri for this informative article and for revealing the history of the cattle industry in Guyana.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On February 14, 2014 at 1:30 am

    Thanks Deen, several of my extended family members worked on the trail

  • M. heydorn  On February 14, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Yes, I remember while growing up in both Georgetown, and New Amsterdam, in the late 40s, and 50s, a lot of reminiscences, within the family, surrounding this trail. You see, an uncle of mine Lionel Menezes, worked this trail on behalf of the fading Melville family cattle ranch in the Rupununi during the mid 40s through the late 50s. It was reported that he was so adept and skillful at running many cattle along a specific trail that he managed to carve out, that it was referred to as the “MENEZES TRAIL” Some older folks than I may be able to confirm this. The last time I saw him was in 1958, just about the time I left then British Guiana, for Barbados.. Unfortunately, at that time he was pretty inundated, a practice that most ranchers of the day, because of the nature of the work, embibed in. He passed away around 56 yrs. of age, in the late 1950s, a well worn out cowboy.

    • Philip Da Cambra  On February 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Informative articles for sure. Thank you , Mr Alcock and Mr Heydorn.
      In early1960 or 1961 ( I cannot remember which ), my cousin and myself sailed up the Berbice River from New Amsterdam to Tacama. From Tacama we walked all the way through the jungles ,etc, partially along this cattle trail, to Lethem. While on the trail, my most vivid memory is being assailed by cattle ticks, which were still alive and well along the trail, despite the fact that at that time the trail had not been used by the cattle for several years . We therefore had to spend many hours digging out ticks from each other. Good job we knew each other well. Otherwise it was a great trip ………so many years ago.
      Take care all.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On February 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Awesome Mr. M Heydorn. Great memories indeed.

  • Joseph G Singh  On February 17, 2014 at 12:38 am

    Great article Dimitri. Stan Brock who was Ranch Manager at Dadanawa in the late 50s wrote in : “All the Cowboys were Indians”, of his experiences driving a herd through the Trail. Last Nov, I visited the site of the cattle crossing on the Demerara River just below Canister Falls. The left bank of the River at the crossing was sloped by the builders of the trail, at a convenient gradient for about 50 yds so that it resembled a natural Shute channelling the cattle towards the River. I believe the tick that bothered Philip was the seasonal bush tick – the ‘miburi’ and not the dark grey/bluish cattle tick which has a life span of two months.
    Joe

  • M. heydorn  On February 17, 2014 at 2:55 am

    All my EXs live in Texas. Were these Indian cowboys East Indians, or Amerindians? How old is the referenced Ranch Manager today? I suspect that there were indeed Amerindian cowhands around at the time, but Lionel Menezes was one of the established cowboys, of European stock,on the Melville Ranch in the late 40s to late 50s.

  • Joseph G Singh  On February 18, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Stan Brock is an Englishman from Southampton. His father , a telecommunications Engineer, had worked in British Guiana, and he influenced Stan’s decision to seek his fortunes here in 1953 at age 17. He enlisted at Dadanawa Ranch owned by the Rupununi Development Co as a Vaquero and worked his way up to Foreman and then to General Manager by 1965. He left in 1968 after receiving an offer as co- host from the producers of Wild Kingdom, a TV series in the USA that filmed wild-life adventure episodes in different parts of the world dedicated to the conservation of rapidly disappearing species. He founded the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Volunteer Corps in 1985 – airborne doctors flying into remote regions. He brought a RAM Team to the Rupununi in 1994 – twenty six years after leaving the Ranch at Dadanawa. RAM has a pilot and light aircraft permanently based in the Rupununi, flying medical emergency missions from remote villages to the nearest hospital at Lethem. Stan is still a trim and vigorous 78 year old and paid a visit just two weeks ago. We are good friends.
    Sincerely
    Joseph G Singh

  • Joseph G Singh  On February 18, 2014 at 12:28 am

    By the way the ‘cowboys’ at Dadanawa were in the main, Amerindians from the Wapishana Tribe. There were also a few Brazilians.
    Joe

  • M. heydorn  On February 18, 2014 at 4:11 am

    Are you discussing the Melville Ranch? You mentioned that Stan Brock worked out of the Dadanawa Ranch owned by The Rupununi Development Co. I do not doubt that this gentleman did what you claimed he did, in the late 50s through the late 60s., but we are talking the Melville Ranch. I actually recall attending Sacred Heart R.C. school in Georgetown,in the mid to late 40s, at the same time that two of the Melville boys were likewise students. I get the impression that you are doubting my story. Let me just end by saying that, my uncle Lionel Menezes was not the only Portuguese cowboy in that part of the land, but there were other Portuguese cowboys working at the Melville Ranch, at the time.

    • Roger Kenyon  On March 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      There was no ranch called the “Melville Ranch”. HPC Melville sold his interests at Dadanawa to a public company in 1919 and became both a shareholder and first Managing Director. He resigned in 1924 and lived in England after. There were other ranches and ranchers some Melvilles, one a Hart, and Robert Evan Wong owned a ranch there, Good Hope, and one in Berbice at Torani. Cattle drivers along the Trail were a mixed group. Some were Amerindians from Rupununi and some were from Demerara and Berbice. The Trail was maintained at various times by the Rupununi Development Company, private contractors, then by the Government. Tommy Kenyon, the manager of Ebini Reserach Station was the last Trail Superintendent from 1940 until it closed down.
      Roger Kenyon

      • Malcolm  On March 24, 2014 at 2:02 am

        In response to Roger Kenyon,

        You seemed to be rather didactic about the absence of a Melville Ranch, yet you mentioned that there were other ranches and ranchers, some being the Melvilles. H.P.C.Melville did apparently sell most of his interests earlier on, at Dadanawa to public interests, but parts were distributed to menbers of his large family in the process; I believe he had two wives. Hart who married one of the Melville girls, and the Melville brothers were allotted acreage in the swap, and opened their own cattle ranches. In the 40s and early 50s, the trail was said to have branched out in several ways. One of these branches I am told was named the “Menezes Trail”.This is where I come in, for this gentleman was my uncle, born in Demerara of European (Born in Portugal) parents. There were others like him of like circumstances of birth, and direct immigrants from Portugal who worked at this Melville Ranch, e.g Rodrigues, and Vincent, etc.

        The original trail I suspect has since “bit the dust”. It would be wonderful if I could just retrace my uncle’s footsteps, along that now almost extinct trail, to clarify for the “Doubting Thomas’,” the facts of which I speak.

      • Bruce Kraus  On April 22, 2014 at 11:32 am

        Robert Victor Evan Wong, the owner of Good Hope and Anchor Ranches, was my grandfather. According to his book, 92 Days, Evelyn Waugh visited BG in 1933, and made it to the Rupununi at a time when RVE was busy running for re-election to the Executive Council of the Colony back in Georgetown.

        Waugh’ guide, a pork knocker named Yetto told him that “The ranch I was making for was the property of a Georgetown Chinaman named Mr. Wong, who was one of Yetto’s heros on account of his reputation for his high play at cards.”

        Waugh also recounts: “Two wild-eyed, shaggy Patamona Indians also arrived in a canoe from upstream, trying to trade a monkey for some gunpowder, for Wong’s ranch is at one extreme angle of the savannah, the nearest civilized spot to the Parakaima district.”

      • Roger Kenyon  On April 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

        Bruce, that was a very interesting excerpt from Waugh’s trip. But there are three further references he made which I have found to be a riddle. When he was on the steamer on the way to Tacama he, along with the District Commissioner Edwin Haynes, had a conversation with a “Belgian” rancher. The rancher’s wife was Amerindian with two young children. I think he was referring to the manager of Anchor Ranch, who I am convinced was not Belgian but an Argintinian named Meguhn. Meguhn I think was manager from the latter part of the 1920s to 1935.Second, when he overnighted at Annai he met two strange Englishmen walking along the trail. He then said that they were employed by the Empire Marketing Board. One of these men was probably Myers, the husband of Iris Myers, a New Zeelander who wrote extensively on the Macusis of Central Rupununi. Lastly, the manager of Good Hope (then called Sunnyside) was Leonard D’Aguiar, a man Waugh described as skillful and dressed in vaquero garb. Leonard D’Aguiar ultimately bought the San Jose ranch from Iris Myers in 1946, or thereabouts. In passing, my father was the manager of Anchor Ranch from 1935 to 1940.
        It would be quite something if you have pictures of the people of that time.

  • M. heydorn  On February 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Just to add to the above. My grandfather and grandmother arrived in British Guiana from Portugal in the late 1870s, as children. They are the parents of Lionel Menezes; they were not Brazilians.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On February 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks guys. Awesome memories to preserve

  • Roger Kenyon  On March 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Dimitri that picture of the Trail was very interesting. Do you know the location? I have seen old film cottage of cattle being driven over a bridge and I assumed that the location was the yawakuri creek entrance to the tacama savanna. If you have them can you post other pictures of the Trail. There were apparently small corrals and buildings every 15 miles. Evelyn Waugh is the only writer that I know who spent time describing the size and characteristics of the trail. Although Brock and Turner did so but without the more detailed description

    • Bruce  On November 2, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      Hi, Roger! My Uncle Evan remembers your father teaching him the ropes at Anchor Ranch re herding cattle, and helping him out after he inadvertently caused a stampede! Unfortunately, he has no photos of the ranch or the cattle trail or the ranch people of that time. The only ones I know of are in Stan Brock’s book, mentioned above, and his Wild Kingdom episodes, which are on YouTube. (Evan is critical of those episodes, which he thinks were staged in part for television.) Did you ever visit Good Hope Ranch? Did you know Caesar Gorinsky?

      Check out the Wikipedia page I created on R.V. Evan Wong, which has a picture of him in the city.

  • Dmitri Allicock  On April 27, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Sorry for getting back to you so late Roger but I just saw your comments, I have no more pictures, I believe It was the entrance of the Cattle Trail from Rupununi. I would love to read Evelyn Waugh and Brock.

  • Penny  On August 13, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Iris Myers was my Great Aunt. She ran the ranch for 15 years.

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