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Joseph G. McCoy - Kansas Cattle Baron

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Joseph G. McCoy (1837-1915) - Founder of the cattle trade in Kansas, originator of the Abilene Cattle Trail, and cattle baron in his own right, McCoy was born in Sangamon County, Illinois on December 21, 1837, the youngest of eleven children to David and Mary (Kirkpatrick) McCoy, natives of Virginia and Kentucky, respectively. He was educated in public schools and at Knox College. In 1861 he to started in the cattle business and that same year married Sarah Epler on October 22nd.


In 1867 he 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 Abilene, Kansas, and opened the Abilene Trail through  Indian Territory from Texas.


Some people sneered at his ideas, but he demonstrated their practicability. McCoy also built a hotel called the Droverís Cottage, a stockyard, office and bank in the little village along the Union Pacific Railroad that would serve as the shipping point.


Joseph G. McCoy

Joseph g. McCoy




McCoy advertised extensively throughout Texas to encourage cattle owners to drive their cattle to market in Abilene and by 1868, about 75,000 cattle were shipped from Abilene. By 1870 thousands of Texas longhorn cattle, which were ideal for cattle trails due to their long legs and hard hoofs, were being driven to the shipping center at Abilene.

Allison On the TrailBy 1871 the number had increased to 600,000 or more and as many as 5,000 cowboys were being paid off during a single day. Abilene soon became known as a rough town in the Old West. McCoy lived in Abilene, where he served as mayor, until 1873. When rival railroad terminal towns began to be developed father west, this soon diverted the trade from Abilene and  McCoy moved to Kansas City, Missouri. McCoy authored a book entitled Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, which was first published in 1874. 

In 1881 he was employed by the the Cherokee Indians as an agent to collect the revenue on outlying lands belonging to that tribe and moved to Wichita, Kansas. In 1890 he was appointed superintendent of the range cattle department by the United States census bureau, a position for which he was well fitted by his long connection with the cattle trade.

Joseph McCoy died in Kansas City, Missouri on October 19, 1915. One story about the cattle baron alleges that McCoy bragged before leaving Chicago that he would bring 200,000 head in 10 years and actually brought two million head in four years, which led to the phrase "It's the Real McCoy." 



Loading Texas Cattle in Abilene, Kansas

Loading Texas Cattle in Abilene, Kansas, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1871.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November, 2012.



Also See:


Abilene - Queen of the Kansas Cowtowns

Kansas Cowtowns - Lawlessness on the Prairie



Abilene, Kansas 1875

Abilene, Kansas 1875.


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