Cattle trails crisscrossed Indian Territory 4-28-07

NORMAN, Okla. (AP)
- About 1841, a few Texas cattle ranchers began driving herds of longhorns across Indian Territory to sell in Missouri and points east. The long drives were necessary because there were no good cattle markets in Texas.

The Texans did not realize they were doing things that legends are made of. Their trail drives would later attract writers of dime novels to the makers of modern Hollywood westerns.

The Texans entered Indian Territory at Rock Bluff on the Red River near modern day Preston, Texas. They drove their cattle northeast to Fort Gibson and then followed a military road north along the Grand River before crossing into southwest Missouri.

The Texans called the route the Shawnee Trail.

In the 1850s, another Texas cattle trail evolved following the Shawnee Trail from the Red River to where Eufaula is located, where it branched east to Fort Smith, Ark. There it turned north to where Maysville, Ark. is now located before crossing into Missouri.

After Sedalia, Mo. was founded in 1857, this route was called the Sedalia Trail.

As the Texans crossed Indian Territory, Choctaw Indians charged 10 cents a head for Texas cattle to cross their land. Texans protested but usually paid the toll. The Choctaw tribal council then took over the toll business and raised the toll to 50 cents a head.

Other tribes also charged tolls. The Cherokees demanded 75 cents a head but were willing to accept a live longhorn as payment. Later some tribes charged Texans grazing fees when stopping their herds at night on Indian lands.

Several thousand Texas cattle were driven across Indian Territory in the 1840s and early '50s. The flow of Texas cattle slowed after stock raisers in Missouri noticed that many of their cattle got sick and died after having contact with the longhorns.

Missourians called the sickness Texas Fever. Years later, the sickness was traced to ticks carried by the Texas cattle.

Angry Missouri farmers organized vigilance committees to stop Texans from driving cattle into their state. In 1855, the Missouri legislature made it illegal to drive cattle from any other state into Missouri.

In 1854 some Texans then drove their cattle up the eastern border of Kansas Territory and sold them in Kansas City, Mo. It was not until 1859 that Kansas Territory had legislation that stopped longhorns at its border.

The Civil War halted all Texas cattle drives across Indian Territory. After the war when Texas ranchers returned home, they found nearly 6,000,000 cattle roaming the open ranges. Many were wild and unbranded and worth only one or two dollars locally.

Texans needed money and sought better markets for their cattle.

In the spring of 1866, Texans drove 250,000 head to markets in Louisiana and Colorado, however, most of the cattle were driven north only to be stopped at the Missouri and Kansas borders for fear of Texas Fever.

Meantime, the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific (later the Kansas Pacific), was laying tracks west across Kansas. When the railroad reached the tiny settlement of Abilene, 150 miles west of Kansas City, Mo., an Illinois stockman, Joseph McCoy, decided Abilene would make a good railhead market for Texas cattle.

A hotel and stockyards were built. Cattle buyers were notified and printed flyers were distributed in Texas telling of the Abilene market. In 1867 about 35,000 longhorns were driven across Indian Territory and sold in Abilene.

Texans blazed their own trail to Abilene crossing the Red River north of modern day Gainesville, Texas, and driving their longhorns north. The trail passed just west of what is now Ardmore, east of Oklahoma City, and west of Ponca City before entering Kansas northeast of Wichita and continuing north to Abilene.

The route they followed across Indian Territory was east of present day Interstate 35.

In 1868 even more cattle were driven north over this unnamed trail and sold in Abilene. That year McCoy hired men to mark a more direct route many miles west of where Interstate 35 is now located.

The route followed was a wagon trail between the Red River across Indian Territory to where Wichita, Kan. is now located. It was blazed a few years earlier by Jesse Chisholm, a trader.

It crossed the Red River in Montague County, Texas, and ran north past the future sites Oklahoma towns including Duncan, El Reno, Kingfisher into Kansas and on to Abilene. The route became known as the Chisholm Trail.

Between 1867 and 1871, about 1,500,000 cattle were sold in Abilene. But increasing numbers of settlers opposed the town's cattle trade because of the saloons, gambling and prostitution it attracted.

The Kansas legislature moved the quarantine line many miles west of Abilene thereby ending the town's cattle trade. Longhorns could not be driven overland east of the line.

The cattle trade shifted to other Kansas towns west of the quarantine line including Newton, Ellsworth, Brookville, Great Bend and Wichita. These railroad towns remained cattle towns until 1876 when the north-south quarantine line was moved much farther west.

In 1876, Dodge City, Kan. became a major cattle town.

A new trail was laid out across Indian Territory to Dodge City. From Doan's Crossing on the Red River near what is now Vernon, Texas, the trail ran across western Oklahoma to Fort Supply, a military post established in 1868.

The trail entered Kansas along the northern border of what is now Harper County, Oklahoma about 60 miles south of Dodge City. While some Texans called it the Dodge City Trail, it was better known as the Western Trail.

For nine years, Dodge City remained a major market for Texas cattle. In 1885 lawmakers quarantined the whole state making it illegal to drive Texas cattle overland any where in Kansas.

The Western Trail, the last major cattle route across Indian Territory, faded into history. Nearly 7,000,000 Texas cattle had crossed Indian Territory between 1866 and 1885.

Today, however, the era still lives in history books, novels and Hollywood westerns.