Texas Cattle Drives: Moving Longhorns To Northern Markets

Cattle drives moved 9,000,000 Texas longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail and other cattle trails to shipping points created by Joseph G. McCoy after the Civil War.

The years immediately following the end of the Civil War saw saw the emergence of a new kind of workingman on the American scene--the cowboys. Their attitude toward life and their job on the great trail drives to the northern cattle markets exemplified the best aspects of the American character. They were men who honored the simple virtues of courage, loyalty, and steadfastness. Like the pioneers of an earlier America who made the wilderness into a land of farms, the cowboy turned the Great Plains into an empire of cattle.

When the Texas cattlemen returned home after the years of conflict, they found their herds had not only survived the long period of neglect, but had increased in number because few roundups hand been held. It is estimated that in 1866 there were about 6,000,000 cattle in Texas, mostly longhorns.

The Texas longhorn had its origen in the stock Columbus brought to Santo Domingo in the 1490's. They went from the Caribbean Islands to the mainland of Mexico with the Spanish colonists. Over the next three centuries they extended their range northward and interbred with many different types of European stock, as the cattle industry expanded into Mexico. When they crossed the Rio Grande River, there was further interbreeding with American cattle. The longhorn developed into a breed unlike any other on earth. The adapted themselves to all types of terrain and climate and at one time ranged from Mexico to Canada.

Although the Texas cattlemen had millions of longhorns, they did not have anyplace to sell them. The pre-war markets of eastern Kansas and southeastern Missouri were closed because the land had become more settled, and the farmers were afraid of the Texas Tick Fever that some longhorns carried. There was an urgent need for a new outlet for Texas beef.

Joseph G. McCoy, a young cattle shipper from Springfield, Illinois solved the problem. McCoy conceived the idea of a shipping point along the railroad that was steadily moving west. He chose the village of Abilene, Kansas for his enterprise. In the space of a few months he talked the Kansas Pacific Railroad into furnishing stock cars. He built shipping pens and a hotel in Abilene, and then he sent word to Texas that he had the facilities to ship all the cattle they could bring to him.

The year 1867 saw the beginning of the great trail drives up the Chisholm trail and other cattle trails as the cattle shipping towns moved westward with the railroad. In time expansion of the railroad system made the long cattle drives unnecessary, but before that day came over 9,000,000 left Texas for the north, with an approximate value of $108,000,000. Not all the cattle were sold for beef. Thousands of longhorns were used to stock new ranches throughout the Great Plains states and territories. They spread from the Dakotas to Utah, and from Texas to Canada.

For over one hundred years the cowboy and his way of life have been a proud part of our American heritage. Although it is easy to exagerate the personal qualities of the working cowboy during the years of the cattle drives, they did develop a code of conduct and an attitude toward their work that seems to idealize those traits of character that we like to think of as American. Courage, loyalty, perseverance, pride, and competence in the performance of one's job were what the cowboy admired and whatever the color of your skin, if you could show those qualities you could be accepted.

The legend of the cowboys lives on the the thousands of novels, stories, songs, movies and television series that have kept their way of life fresh in our collective memory. Several generations of boys dreamed of running away to be a cowboy. The Hollywood western movie idealized their way of life. At one time, most of the series on television were westerns. Compared to the drivel we see now days they were first class entertainment Maybe the time will come once again when we will hear the magic words from the television screen, "Head them up and move them out!"

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