Cattle Trails of the Prairies
By Charles Moreau
Harger in 1892
<< Previous 1
as it had been for many years before, was the chief producer of livestock,
in the Western States. Upon all its widespread ranges were feeding herds
by the thousand, and no other industry approached that of cattle-raising
in importance or extent. The few hundred thousand cattle of Spanish blood
which had been placed there during the state’s life as a Mexican province,
were multiplied until three and a half million head were estimated as
belongings. They had been somewhat improved in breed, but were still wiry,
nervous, long-limbed creatures, with slender, branching horns and restless
eyes. They could run like deer, and were almost as wild.
The peculiarly favorable climate
of Texas gave
the state almost a monopoly of the business. The pastures were green the
year around, and the proximity to market, either at points on the
to which herds from the eastern part of the State could easily be driven,
or by water from points on the Gulf, gave a distinct advantage.
Mexico had in times
past been a valuable consumer, but was now nearly deserted, and the
nearer selling-places were able to handle the supply. The fine,
hair-like "buffalo grass” that covers the prairies for four hundred
miles east of the mountains, and wherever found is as nourishing in
winter as in summer, flourished in abundance, and the mesquite was not
to be despised as a change of diet for the herds.
Cattle Round-up in
This image available for photographic prints
The outbreak of the
Civil War brought
upon the ranch owners a peculiar embarrassment of riches. With the
Northern market cut off, and Southern business life demoralized, no
disposition could be made of the rapidly increasing herds. Occasional
fugitive sales along the Mississippi River became almost the only markets.
Prices declined, and for a time two to four dollars a head would
purchase the best animals on the ranges. Driving northward had not
been much practiced, and now, with the sharp skirmishing along the
there was no opportunity to begin it. Stock was neglected as
valueless. Men were "cattle-poor,” and it was a time of discouragement
to those who had looked for fortunes in their enterprises.
In 1865 and’ 1866 the ranch owners
determined to seek Northern markets at any cost, and thousands of
animals were massed in the northeast portion of the state preparatory
to driving to Missouri railroad
stations. The summer of 1866 saw this movement begin. Fully two
hundred and seventy thousand head were pushed northward. There was
little regularity in the courses taken. The Rock Bluffs ford, on the
Red River, was the starting place for many. Up the Kinishi Valley,
across the plains to
then, with a circuitous route among the Ozarks, across southeastern
Missouri – that was
the line most followed.
But, a new danger threatened. There had ensconced
themselves among the wilder regions of southern Missouri and northern
legitimate successors to the guerrillas of
days, who by mere force
of advantageous position, levied unmerciful tribute upon all drovers
passing through their territory. The tax was an oppressive one, and no
matter how shrewd were the movements of the herders, the unwieldy
masses of animals were sure to be detected. Should the demands of the
not be acceded to, the drover was in many instances subjected to
bodily punishment. At the same time one of the persecutors would ride
furiously at the herd, swinging a colored blanket. The timed beeves,
bewildered by the unwanted sight, would scurry in every direction,
becoming more frightened as they ran, until the herd would be
scattered over miles of territory. Days and weeks of search on the
part of the
as the herders who assisted the drover were called, would serve to
secure only a portion of the lot.
Fear of Spanish
fever was made the pretext for other delays, while the hostility of the
in the northeastern part of the
shut off a more westerly route to avoid the bandits. Many head of cattle
were lost on the way by reason of the toilsome track through the Ozark
Mountains, and the remainder reached markets in
and Sedalia in poor condition and brought low prices. The year’s drive was
discouraging and unprofitable to the Texas
cattle barons and many plans were considered for the disposition of the
constantly growing surplus. Northern prices for good stock were
flattering; capital was ready for investment in the businesses; nothing
was needed but an outlet for the abundance of beef.
The solution of
the problem confronting the cattle raisers came through the construction
of the railroads across Kansas.
In 1867 the old Kansas
Pacific Railroad, now the Kansas
Division of the Union Pacific, was being built from Kansas City along the
valley of the
Kansas River due west across the state.
It had reached half way from the
Missouri to the
mountains before the possibilities it offered became apparent. The country
traversed was but sparsely settled; the towns consisted for the most part
of a few rude cabins, including the inevitable
But the tide of emigration was pushing westward, and there was a
magnificent empire for it to conquer.
One of the first comers was an
Joseph G. McCoy, to whom is due the honor of originating the
cattle trails. He was familiar with the situation in the Lone Star State,
and conceived the idea of forming a great shipping point on the new
railroad. He was encouraged by the officials and arrangements were made
for the location of the proper yards at Abilene, a station one hundred and
sixty-five miles from Kansas City, situated in the midst of a
richly-grassed prairie section, admirably adapted for grazing grounds of
incoming herds. The town had less than a dozen houses, and was within less
than thirty miles of the end of the road, as then completed. Yards were
built and steps were taken to induce the cattlemen to make this a point
from which to ship their herds.
A single horseman was dispatched on a
lonely ride across Indian-infested
prairies to send every herd he could encounter to the new shipping place.
He went southwest, crossing the
near the site of the
present city of Wichita, thence into the Indian Territory.
It was some time before he found any of the straggling herds, and when he
did he could with difficulty induce the drovers to believe that they would
be treated with respect and fairness, so used were they to the violence of
the old course. However, many were convinced, and a herd of nearly two
thousand head, belonging to some Californians, was the first to break the
northern end of a trail over which so many million restless hoofs were
destined to travel. About thirty-six thousand cattle, one percent of Texas’
Abilene that season, and every drover went back well
pleased with the facilities afforded. The first shipment from Abilene was
made September 5, 1867, and was celebrated by an excursion of Illinois
stock dealers coming in a special train to see the start. Money was lost
on the year’s business, both from damage to the droves by floods and
raids, and because of the prejudice in the East against Texas
beef, then considered by many too wild for use.
The movement was started, and 1868 saw
a general friendliness for the new market among Texas
stock owners, and a northward drive that exceeded seventy-five thousand
head. But the succeeding year, 1869, showed a greater increase, and one
hundred and sixty thousand cattle came tramping up like a horned army from
the ranches of the South.
By this time well defined trails had
been located, and for two decades those trunk-lines connecting the great
producing and consuming points held their supremacy. The most famous of
these was the "Chisholm Trail." It was named after Jesse, an eccentric frontier
stockman, who was the first to drive over it.
Chisholm lived at Paris,
was a bachelor, and had many thousand head of cattle on the ranges in the
southern part of the State. Later he removed to
and died a few years ago, leaving almost uncounted droves upon his
ranches. There was through Texas,
reaching down from the Red River, the irregular "Southern Texas
Trail,” ending at the north near Cooke County. From the Red River,
Chisholm broke the way to Kansas,
riding ahead of his herd and selecting what seemed the most favorable
route. He forded the Red River near the mouth of Mud Creek, followed that
stream to its head, kept northwest to Wild Horse Creek, to the west of
Signal Mountains, and crossed the Washita at Elm Spring. Due north took
him to the Canadian River, after leaving which he soon struck the
Kingfisher Creek Valley. This was followed to the Cimarron. Touching the
head of Black Bear and Bluff Creeks, its next considerable stream was the
Salt fork of the Arkansas, which was crossed at Sewell’s Ranch. Sewell was
a Government post-trader, who was a favorite with the Indians,
and had two large ranches in the Territory.
near Caldwell, the course was a little east of north, crossing the
Arkansas near Wichita. Here was the famous ‘‘First and Last Chance
with its sign-board facing two ways to attract the
coming up across the Territory and those returning from market. Thence the
trail turned northeasterly, striking Newton, and so on over the divide
between the Smoky Hill and the Arkansas to the prairies south of Abilene.
Following Chisholm's track came thousands of herds, and the trail became a
From two hundred to four hundred yards wide,
beaten into the bare earth it reached over hill and through valley for
over six hundred miles (including its southern extension) a chocolate band
amid the green prairies, uniting the North and South.
Continued Next Page
<< Previous 1
From Legends' Photo Shop
Photographs of the Old West - From Legends'
Photo Print Shop, you'll
find hundreds of
of the Old West
that can be ordered in prints or downloaded for commercial use. Providing
dramatic glimpses into the rich heritage of the
famous characters including notorious
and trailblazers, and more;
including covered wagons and stagecoaches;
Saloons, Gambling &
Westward Expansion, and everything in between.
I wish I could find words to express
the trueness, the bravery, the hardihood, the sense of honor, the loyalty
to their trust and to each other of the old trail hands.
-- Charles Goodnight