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Kansas Cowtowns

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On the Trail

On the cattle Trail.


Kansas Cowtowns:



Baxter Springs




Dodge City



Great Bend

Hays City


Junction City






During the Civil War, Texas cattle were no longer allowed to be shipped northward, effectively cutting off the income and much of the economy of the Confederate state of Texas. When the war was finally over, this policy had led to a large abundance of Texas cattle, as well as a pent-up demand for beef in the northern states. Texas cattle ranchers were only too happy to meet the demand.


Immediately following the war, a number of Kansas cowtowns began to spring up along the developing railheads. Beginning in Baxter Springs, and expanding westward along with the railroad to Abilene, Ellsworth, Caldwell, Wichita, and Dodge City, these cities all developed a reputation as wild and wooly frontier towns. Secondary cattle markets in Newton, Hunnewell, Great Bend, Hays, Brookville, Coffeyville, and Junction City also achieved periods of brief success as cowtowns.

Meeting the demands of the many cowboys coming off the Chisholm Trail, dance halls and saloons, which almost always featured gambling, were fixtures in these Kansas cowtowns. Brothels and prostitution were another business that excelled with the high percentage of men arriving and very few women to accommodate them. The towns grew quickly, often levying taxes on the vices provided to the cowboys– liquor, gambling and prostitution. They also quickly grew reputations that were described as "wicked, decadent, evil, and lawless.”

Between the years of 1865 and 1885, hundreds of thousands of Texas Longhorns were driven to these shipping points. However, by the mid-1880's, a number of events ended the cattle drive era in Kansas. Most prominently was the arrival of the railroad into Texas, but also factoring in, were quarantine laws and homesteaders that closed of much of the open range. But the cattle business in Kansas did not end. By 1890, the state ranked third in the nation in cattle production. As to the cowtowns themselves, most moved into a quieter existence becoming peaceable agricultural communities.


It was here in these cowtowns that many famous Old West characters gained or bolstered their reputations, men such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin, and dozens of others. In these wild frontier towns also occurred some of the most famous gunfights of the American West including the Dalton Gang Shoot-Out in Coffeyville, the Hide Park Gunfight in Newton, and Long Branch Saloon Shootout in Dodge City.


Kansas Cowtowns: 


Vintage Abilene, Kansas postcard.Abilene - Abilene already existed before it became a cowtown. In 1857, it was established as a stagecoach stop and was officially laid out in 1860. However, it retained a sleepy existence until a livestock dealer from Illinois, named Joseph G. McCoy saw Abilene as the perfect place for a railhead from which to ship cattle from in 1867.


The city soon filled with not only cowboys, but also gamblers, outlaws, and prostitutes. By 1870, it had become so lawless, that Abilene hired its first marshal, Thomas Smith, whose first official act was to issue an order that no one would be allowed to carry firearms within the city limits without a permit. However, Smith was killed in the line of duty before the year ended. The next year, Wild Bill Hickok became the city's marshal. Abilene reigned supreme as the Queen of Kansas cowtowns until new railheads in Newton, Wichita and Ellsworth, became the favored shipping points in 1872. During its four year reign, over 3 million head of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail and shipped from Abilene. More ...


Baxter Springs - The first Kansas cowtown to develop was Baxter Springs, in the corner of southeast Kansas. In 1865, after the war was over, a town was laid out on 80 acres by Captain M. Mann and J. J. Barnes and soon thereafter Baxter Springs became an outlet for the Texas cattle trade. As Missouri became off-limits for Texas cattle due to quarantines, Baxter Springs welcomed them to Kansas. The community built stockyards with corrals capable of holding 20,000 cattle and provided range land with plenty of grass and water. Though the town took on all the appearances of prosperity, it also inherited a reputation for being one of the wildest cowtowns in the West. Baxter Springs remained cattle outlet through the 1870’s as the herds were driven up the Old Shawnee Trail. More ...


Brookville - When the Kansas Pacific Railroad arrived in 1870, the town served briefly as a cattle shipping area. It soon boasted 800 people, a bank, a newspaper, telegraph and express offices, and a post office, as well as a few other businesses. Today, Brookville is a virtual ghost town with just about 200 people and no open businesses.


Caldwell, Kansas 1880'sCaldwell - Challenging Dodge City for the cattle market in the 1880's, Caldwell was known as the "Border Queen," for her location near the Oklahoma border. Situated along the Chisholm Trail, Caldwell catered to the many cowboys who passed by with their large cattle herds on their way to Abilene and Wichita even before the town became a shipping point itself. However, in 1879, the Santa Fe Railroad extended its line to Caldwell , and the town found itself in the middle of the cattle trade. In no time, it sprouted saloons, gambling dens, and brothels, providing a place where the cowboys could go wild after months on the dusty and treacherous trail. Gunfights, showdowns, general hell raising and hangings soon became commonplace. More ...


Coffeyville - As early  as 1803 the present site of Coffeyville was occupied by the Black Dog band of Osage Indians who roamed this part of Kansas and northern Oklahoma, hunting buffalo. The site was first settled by white men in 1869 when Colonel James A. Coffey established an Indian Trading Post. News of the trading post spread quickly through the tribes living southward in Indian Territory and the business thrived. Soon a number of settlers came to the area and the new town that formed around the trading post was called Coffeyville, in the Colonel's honor.


A town was officially formed with the arrival of the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston railroad in 1871. It soon became yet another one of the famous Kansas Cowtowns as Texas cattleman used it as a shipping point. Saloons, dance halls and gambling places multiplied as the city served three major rail lines. Soon it took on the name of "Cow Town" due to its shipping point status and the large number of cattle grazing the open range surrounding the town. Once the railheads moved to Texas, Coffeyville settled down, that least until the famous Dalton Gang Raid in 1892. Probably the best-known incident in Coffeyville history, the event occurred when the Dalton Gang tried to rob two banks simultaneously, but were instead, surprised by local citizens and police officers who fought back. All the members of the Dalton Gang were killed with the exception of Emmett Dalton, who amazingly survived with 23 gunshot wounds. Three citizens, including a U.S. Marshal, Marshal Charles T. Connelly, died in defense of the town.


Toward the end of the 19th Century, Coffeyville continued to grow as a trading center and prosperous farming region. In 1900, the town progressed into manufacturing and by 1915 it had grown to a population of nearly 19,000 residents. However, when the plants started closing, people moved on. Today the town supports about 10,000 souls.



Continued Next Page


The Dalton Gang killed

The bodies of Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grattan Dalton and Dick Broadwell in Coffeyville, Kansas.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!


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