Cattle grazed throughout the park from the 1870s until 1945. The grazing ratio was about one adult animal to 17 acres. Old-timers noted that the grass was tall and abundant. The cattle companies located springs, dug wells, and developed rainwater impoundments called tanks, which can be seen today at places like White Tank and Barker Dam.
In the early years the desert was open range and cattlemen moved their animals seasonally from one area to another in search of adequate food and water. In those days, if you were a cowpuncher, you had a pair of chaps, a horse and a pack horse, a bedroll, salt, staples, a six-shooter, and a big chew of tobacco. according to Jim Hester, an early area cowboy.