They Could Have Debated Until the Cows Came Home

Monday, February 17, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley
Cattle grazed opposite Moccasin Bend, and were thankful to be outside the jurisdiction of the anti-cattle ordinance.
Cattle grazed opposite Moccasin Bend, and were thankful to be outside the jurisdiction of the anti-cattle ordinance.

Civil War-era photographs of Chattanooga have scenes which look like towns in the Old West.   Most buildings were wood frame.  Unpaved streets were dusty in droughts and muddy after monsoons.  Few citizens may have minded if there were livestock being kept.  The occupying Federal army had several corrals in the city.

The city grew in population and became more urban after the Civil War ended.  The developed area pushed outward into formerly agricultural areas.  Citizen complaints about livestock started to increase.  The cattle were lowing (mooing), and disturbing the peace of the rising metropolis.

By the March 10, 1888 meeting of Chattanooga’s aldermen (an earlier form of government similar to today’s City Council) voices were demanding that the cattle be driven out of town.   The Chattanooga Times covered the debate in its March 11, 1888 morning edition under the heading, “THE COW MUST GO.”  The local governing body, comprised of representatives from the five wards plus one at-large alderman, weighed an ordinance proposed recently by representative C.H. Dyer.

Mr. Dyer served dual roles as alderman of the Second Ward and Justice of the Peace.  He had observed that Chattanooga had grown in size to the point that cows should no longer be permitted to roam freely. A check of statistics from the 1888 city directory shows a population of 40,972 residents within the city limits, which was an increase of 4,069 since the previous year. 

Alderman C.C. Howard of the Fifth Ward countered that passage of the ordinance would be unfair to lower income citizens who kept dairy cows to supply milk to their families.  He felt that some owners would have to sell their cows if the ordinance against free range farming passed.

Countering Mr. Howard’s opinion were W.W. Sylvester, who rose to his feet and stated in “VERY EMPHATIC LANGUAGE” (fiery enough that The Times put this in all capital letters), that Chattanooga had risen above village status, and needed restrictions on cattle.   Alderman J.T. Lynn said that the negatives of cows outweighed the positives.  C.H. Dyer again defended his proposed ordinance by saying that many citizens had improved the landscaping of their properties, but roaming cows had destroyed the work.

A final vote was heard about the herd.  The ordinance passed by a vote of five in favor, and one who had stated some discouraging words.

Keeping livestock within the city limits has continued as an issue to the present day.  I recall that as some areas were annexed by Chattanooga, existing farmers were given an option of continuing their practices.   As the popularity of natural, close-to-home, agriculture has been increasing, some have favored raising chickens within the city.  So far, however, the ordinance enacted by the 1888 city alderman appears still to be the law.

Please contact me at if you have information to add to this history.




Civil War-era buildings on Poplar Street resemble the Old West.  Chattanooga's view changed quickly after the war.
Civil War-era buildings on Poplar Street resemble the Old West. Chattanooga's view changed quickly after the war.

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