Kansas Cowtowns - Violent Places on the
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On the cattle Trail.
The Cattle Trails
Cattle Trails of the Prairies
Chisholm Trail - Herding the Cattle
The Goodnight-Loving Trail
Great Western Trail
The Shawnee Trail -
Driving Longhorns to Missouri
The Men That Tamed the Cowtowns
Wild & Woolly Cowtowns
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 -- some
five million head -- roaming the ranches of the Lone Star State. With no
railroads to ship them to market, the cattle were worth only
$3 to $4 a head. In the meantime, there was
a pent-up demand for beef in the northern and eastern
states where the going rate was 10 times that amount.
Realizing the immense
profits to be made, Texas cattlemen began searching for the nearest rail heads.
However, this would not be as easy as it might seem. For several years,
Missouri and Kansas farmers feared the Texas Longhorns coming through or
entering their states due to a cattle disease called "Texas Fever".
The longhorn cattle appeared to be perfectly healthy, but Midwestern
cattle allowed to mix with them or to use a pasture recently vacated by
the longhorns sometimes became ill and often died. It was determined that
ticks were spreading the disease to the local cattle but the longhorns
were immune to it.
In the spring of 1866 drovers were wrangling an estimated 200,000 to
260,000 longhorns northward along the
Shawnee Trail from Texas. While
many were turned back or severely delayed due to Texas Fever, some drovers
diverted their herds around the hostile settlements getting their cattle
to market and making large profits.
But the days of cattle blazing the Shawnee Trail were virtually over. In
the first half of 1867 six states enacted laws against trailing and Texas
cattlemen knew that something else would have to be done. At about this
time, a young livestock dealer named Joseph G. McCoy conceived the
idea of establishing a shipping depot for cattle at some point in the
west and knew that the railroad companies were interested in expanding
their freight operations. He soon selected
and opened the
Abilene Trail through Indian Territory
Texas. Thus began
the era of the long cattle drive and Kansas cowtowns.
As the developing railheads moved westward, so did the wild and wooly
frontier towns including
Dodge City. Secondary cattle markets
Great Bend, Hays,
Junction City also achieved periods of brief success as
Meeting the demands of the many
cowboys coming off the Chisholm
Trail, dance halls and
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
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
Kansas. Most prominently was the arrival of the railroad into
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
cowtowns themselves, most moved into a quieter existence becoming
peaceable agricultural communities.
It was here in these cow towns that
Old West characters gained or bolstered their reputations, men
Wild Bill Hickok,
Wesley Hardin, and dozens of others. In these wild frontier towns also
occurred some of the most famous
gunfights of the American West including
Dalton Gang Shoot-Out in Coffeyville, the
Hide Park Gunfight in
Long Branch Saloon Shootout
already existed before it became a cow town. 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,
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.
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
Trail and shipped from Abilene.
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.
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