Cowboys, Lawmen and the American Frontier – U.S. Cow Towns and Cattle Trails

When America’s Civil War was over, Texas cattle owners did their best to move their stock north. But as herds of Longhorns moved across Missouri, locals objected.

Missourians disliked the huge numbers of cattle trampling over their land, they worried about the spread of disease to the local herds.

Sensing an opportunity, a businessman had an idea to persuade officials from the Kansas Pacific Railroad to build a cattle siding at Abilene, Kansas. Cowboys could then move the cattle over established trails, reaching Abilene where herds would be sent, via rail, to northern stockyards.

When railroad agreed with his plan he built a stockyard where cattle could be held before loaded onto rail cars. He then urged Texas ranchers to start moving their stock to Abilene.

By 1867, 35,000 cattle were being shipped. Within four years, cowboys were annually driving around 600,000 Texas Longhorns to the Abilene stockyards. Many of the cattle drives were over the Chisholm Cattle Trail.

Abilene became America’s first true “cow town.” From there, stockyard-bound cattle traveled, to cities in the north and east of the country. As more cowboys herded more and more cattle through Abilene, the locals were growing tired of all the noise, wildness and all the smells. They asked Wild Bill Hickok to do his best to tame the town, but he was unable to establish the kind of peace residents wanted. As a result, the people of Abilene decided they’d rather give-up the income from the cattle-drive business in exchange for a better quality of life.

With Abilene’s decision to change its relationship with the cattle-driving business, the Chisholm Trail extended further into Kansas. The Chisholm Trail became so popular that by the time cattle-driving was a thing of the past, around 5 million cattle and around 1 million mustangs—not to mention all the cowboys guiding them—had moved across the dusty earth.

The economic activity, generated by all the cattle drives, helped the South, particularly Texas, in its post-war recovery.

Source: Cowboys, Lawmen and the American Frontier – U.S. Cow Towns and Cattle Trails
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