|Following the Great Western Trail
If we want our steaks, chili, and smoked briskets, we've got to take cattle to the slaughter
house somehow. Today, we let truck drivers do it, and try not to think about poor Bessie as
we bite into a warm, moist cheeseburger.
Cattle didn't always get to market in a ventilated trailer, however. They used to walk there
themselves, and their hooves carved deep scars along trails that stretched for thousands
of miles. The Great Western Trail, an offshoot of the Chisholm Trail, was one of these roads.
The Great Western Trail, blazed by rancher and trail driver John Lytle, was the last great
northern cattle trail. Running from Kerrville to Dodge City and points northward, it had
many functions in its relatively brief lifespan (ca. 1875-1885, give or take a few years). Trail
outfits could take cattle to sell to the Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, and Cheyenne
reservations in western Oklahoma Territory; cattle could be shipped to the processing
plants in Kansas City after boarding in Dodge City; or the longhorn could be taken all the
way to the Dakotas in order to stock the new ranching empires.
Cowboys who took to the trail tended to call it the Chisholm Trail - just about every single
trail they rode on in Texas they called the Chisholm Trail - but the Great Western was
actually quite distinctive. The terrain was decidedly more rugged and parched, and
formidable barriers, such as the canyons in Texas, the Wichita mountains in Oklahoma
Territory, and the Great Basin in Kansas, made the trail drivers really earn their keep.
This territory was also the last domain of the southern buffalo herds. Histories from Plains
Indians tell how the cattle chased the buffalo off their traditional lands,
As railroads started to venture into Texas, barbed wire became all the rage on the range,
Texas fever caused stricter quarantine laws, and the taste for longhorn ebbed, the Great
Western Trail succumbed fairly quickly to the wiles of progress. Today, it's a little known
trail save for its importance in the history of Dodge City. It can be followed, though, with a
good map and a small guide, which I've laid out here!
|Doan's adobe store near the Red River
Crossing. Built in the 1880s, this little building
has seen a lot of activity, including millions of
heads of cattle, visits by Santata, Quanah
Parker, and an English Lord, and hundreds of
|The deep, icy waters of St. Jacob's well inside the
Big Basin has quenched the thirst of man and
beast alike for thousands of years. At times, this
would have been the only water source for miles
along the trail.
|Cattle would bed alongside the Boggy Creek in
Fargo, Oklahoma. Fargo sits along OK 15 south
of Fort Supply.
|This old hotel in Dodge City has been replicated
in the open air museum/ gift shop that replaced
the actual old town. Urban renewal hit Dodge City
very, very hard.
|Dodge City duplication project.
|Along the trail, bad guys and girls could sober up and promise to never, ever, ever be bad again
inside these little calabooses: on the left, Fort Griffin Flat's (TX) calaboose; on the right, Leedey's
(Ok) little prison has a toilet inside.
Western Trail Places
Fort Griffin Flat - Now a ghost town, it's
where the bad elements that hung
around military forts lightened the
wallets of cowboys.
Doans - Only the old adobe store
remains from this important river
Fort Sill - Though not on the trail, it's
worth a stop for the many illustrious
folks buried in the post cemetery. Fort
Sill is the only Indian War fort still active.
Fort Supply - Great Western trail
drivers sold cattle to Cheynnes and
Arapahos here. he fort is now inside of
a prison! Fun, fun, fun. Make sure to
lock your car.
Big Basin - You'll cross over the most
haunting landscape I've ever seen - the
Big Basin. A natural sink hole in the
middle of flat prairie, the basin is wind
swept, treeless, and unbelievably harsh.
Dodge City - Unfortunately, the
authentic parts of Dodge City's western
past were razed to make way for
broader streets and more parking (for
tourists - oh, the irony!) The old train
depot on Front Street houses the
tourist office, with walking tours and
|The Great Basin in Kansas, just south of Dodge
City, leaves visitors with a grand view of the