Cattle Trails of the Old West
The Chisholm Trail and the Great Western Cattle Trail were famous cattle trails which started in Texas and ended in Kansas.
- People in the Eastern United States started eating more beef in the late 1800s. This meant they needed a way to get the cattle from the ranches in Texas. Texas didn't have any railroads at this time, so people had to take the cattle to railheads in Kansas. A railhead is an end point for a railroad.
- Cattle sold at higher prices in the Northeast, so farmers took their cattle on cattle drives to the railheads and then shipped the cattle to the North and Northeast in order to make more money.
The Chisholm Trail
In the latter half of the 19th Century, cattlemen rounded up longhorns by the millions in Texas, cropped their ears, branded their hides, and drove them north across the Indian Nations into Kansas. Somewhere along the way, without intending to do more than work for a hard day's pay and board, they launched the legend of the American cowboy. The cattle drives followed three major routes through what is now Oklahoma. One of those routes, known as the Chisholm Trail, crossed just a short distance from my back door when I lived in Duncan, Oklahoma. I have moved on, but traces of the trail remain to this day.
The following pages explore the past, discover the present, and anticipate the future of this historic cattle trail. Ride along on this virtual trail, and we'll face cattle stampedes, river crossings and other hazards encountered by the hardy individuals who followed the original trail.
The Great Western
The Black Cowboy
- Many slaves brought into the United States came from African countries such as Ghana and Gambia, which were known for herding cattle. Therefore, slave owners in the Southern U.S. were very much interested in these skilled herders.
- In South Carolina and other sections of the Deep South, slaves used their skills on cattle plantations. A few were mounted, but most used dogs, bullwhips and salt to manage cattle. After the Civil War, ex-slaves became mounted cowboys moving cattle along trails or cowhands on cattle ranches.
- From 1886 to 1896, millions of cattle were driven down the cattle trails by approximately 35,000 cowboys of which 5,000 to 8,000 were black. This is a little less than one fourth of the total number of cowboys known to have worked these trails.
- Black cowboys rode out of Texas along the Chisholm, Western, Goodnight-Loving and other trails in cattle drives to Kansas, the Dakotas, Colorado and Wyoming, usually taking approximately three months to reach their destination.
- Black cowboys brought many skills to the table as herders and contributed much to the cattle industry and the settling of the West.
- Black, white, brown and red cowboys lived, ate and slept together when herding cattle. Due to the dangers and hardships experienced in their lifestyles, they trusted and depended on each other to get the job done.