On The Trail

The Great Cattle Drives.

  • Throughout the early part of the Nineteenth Century, several extensive trails were forged to drive cattle and horses from the numerous ranches in Texas, to the growing stockyards in Kansas. At the end of the journey they would be sold and shipped east on the railroad.
  • The Chisholm Trail became the most famous of all these overland routes between 1836-1885.
  • It was named after a Scot-Cherokee man called Jesse Chisholm, who began shipping goods from his southern trading post near the Red River to his northern depot in Kansas City.
  • The early trails started out from the Rio Grande or San Antonio.  They usually ended at Abilene in Kansas. But the rowdy drovers soon became unpopular and were encouraged to move further down the track, spawning a string of infamous cow towns like Dodge City.
  • It is estimated that 1 million mustangs, and 5 million head of Texas cattle, were driven along the Chisholm Trail alone.
  • A typical drive moved 2,000-3,000 head of cattle at a time, employing 10 cowboys, a chuck-wagon cook, and a horse wrangler.
  • They covered 8-10 miles per day, allowing the cattle to graze at a leisurely pace along the route as this helped each animal gain 80-100 pounds in weight.
  • The journey took approximately 2-3 months.  Along the way the drovers encountered many dangers and hardships.  These included, crossing raging rivers, harsh weather, rustlers, hostile Native Americans, stampedes, snakes, drought, sickness, accidents, and wild animal attacks.
  • Texas Longhorns became unwelcome in many states because they carried a tick that spread disease to the local  shorthorn cattle.
  •  Once the railroads reached as far as Texas, the great cattle drives were no longer necessary.  By 1885, the golden era of the trail-riding cowboy was over.

Sources:

Fort Worth Stockyard Cowboys Museum. Research trips in 2015 and 2016

Kansas Historical Society, “Chisholm Trail,” at https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/chisholm-trail/17155

Kansas Historic Trails, “Chisholm Trail: History,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chisholm_Trail

Wikipedia, “Chisholm Trail,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chisholm_Trail

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