|An Early Road used by a LOT of Critters
|All in all, it's one road, but with a lot of names - the descriptions depended on who and where one was. This one road served pioneers,
stage coach lines (the Butterfield Overland being the most famous), soldiers, Native Americans, and, of course, cattle. So I'm going to call it
the Shawnee Trail, since I'm going to tell you about the cattle drives.
The Shawnee Trail formed out of older Indian paths and military roads that linked forts from Kansas Territory to Texas. In Texas, this trail
was called "Preston Road," as its official survey from 1843 began at Preston Point on the Red River, then terminated south at Cedar
Springs (now an intersection in downtown Dallas). In Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma), the Shawnee Trail was known as the "Texas Trail,"
as those who took it invariably were either going to, or leaving, Texas.
Before the railroads crossed west of the Mississippi River, Texas cattle were usually driven east to New Orleans through heavy timber and
thick underbrush. But when the Pacific Railroad (later acquired by the KATY) terminated in Sedalia, Missouri, drovers found it easier to take
their cattle north. Using the rails, live cattle could then be shipped to slaughter houses in St. Louis and Chicago much quicker than when
traveling by steam ship.
Texas cattlemen used this road from the late 1840s until a few years after the Civil War. Their drives started in south Texas, wound their
way through Austin and Waco, and crossed the Trinity River near Cedar Springs. The trail then went up to Preston on the Red River, where
cattle crossed into Indian Territory.
|Most cattle trails are quite famous. You've got your Chisholm and Great Western and Goodnight-Loving Trails, all permanently
linked in our minds with fabled images of cowboys, horses, chuck wagons, and, of course, hundreds upon hundreds of cows.
However, there's one cattle drive that has been relatively forgotten, compared to its sisters. Considering this trail's history, it's
quite a shame that this trail is not as prominent. Well, that's about to change! Let me introduce you green-horns to the
Southwest's eastern-most, earliest south-north trail, the one and only:
Shawnee Trail or Preston Road or Texas Trail or Military Road or Emigrant Trail.
In Indian Territory, the trail first entered the Choctaw Nation. It skirted east of Fort Washita and into Boggy Depot, where the drovers
bought, traded, or sold more cattle. The tribe demanded payment from the cowboys for the use of their lands, which irked a lot of the
Texans. In more than one first-hand account, drovers would whine about the "usury" found in the Cross Timbered prairies. After the Civil
War, the tracks of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (KATY for short) paralleled this old road.
The trail kept going near Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation, then ran almost straight north into Baxter Springs, Kansas Territory. This
small town at the southeastern corner of Indian Territory, Missouri, and Kansas Territory became the first true "cow town," with all the vice
and excitement that the title implies: the many brothels, saloons, heavy drinking, and bloody fighting gave Baxter Springs quite a
reputation. Baxter Springs' troubles didn't start with the cattle drives, though - the whole area became a heated battle ground between
abolitionists, who wanted Kansas to enter the Union as a free state, and pro-slavery factions, who wanted Kansas to become another slave
state. During the civil war, Quantrill's guerilla forces ambushed union troops at nearby Fort Blair, leaving over 100 dead - yet another
reminder of this harsh area.
The Shawnee Trail crossed Missouri to Sedalia, but its time as a cow town was short lived. During the Civil War, drives ceased due to the
violent unrest; after the war, most drovers brought their cattle to St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad
terminated. Within a few years, the cattle drives on the Shawnee Trail halted altogether - Illinois cattle trader Joseph McCoy had surveyed
a far-less populated route to the west, which he named the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys abandoned the Shawnee Trail and routed their cattle
instead through Wichita to Abilene, Kansas.
While certainly the most historically interesting, the Shawnee Trail is not the best preserved. Local historians throughout Texas, Oklahoma,
and Missouri are attempting to mark the Shawnee Trail like the Chisholm and Great Western, and are even trying to get the road registred as
a National Trail, but that's slow in coming. Keeping its history in the forefront is important, though, because not only is the Shawnee Trail a
vivid reminder of conflict and prosperity in the mid-19th century, it's also a true link to westward migration. This is one road that has history
written all over it!
|Frisco, a suburb just north of Dallas, sits on Old Preston Road. Its Heritage Museum displays an exhibit on the Shawnee Trail.
|Nothing much remains of old Preston, a trading post and trail crossing point that was drowned by Lake Texoma.
|Dorchester, on Old Preston Road/ Shawnee Trail in Texas, has seen better days.
|The Texas Trail/ Military Road/ Shawnee Trail and Butterfield route in Oklahoma can still be discerned near Boggy Depot.
|The wagon ruts on the Military Road that ran through the grounds of Fort Washita can still be discerned. Drovers on the Shawnee Trail trailed
east of the fort, as their cattle were not welcomed inside the post. The Military Road was initially surveyed by explorer Captain Randolph B.
Marcy, who laid it out as the famous "Gold Road" that took Gold Rushers to California in the late 1840s.
|The original barns for the Pony Express (1858-1861) in St. Joseph, Missouri, have been converted into an educational, and interactive museum.
|Travelers can follow parts of the original route of the Shawnee Trail around Dorchester, Texas.
|Many parts of Fort Gibson in Oklahoma were re-created by the
WPA. The old post hospital (right) still stands.
|Many Shawnee Trail cattle discovered their fates in the Swift Plant along the West Bottoms in Kansas City.
|While the Shawnee Trail took cattle to their doom from Mexico all the way to Missouri, the trail is easiest to follow north of Dallas.
|The West Bottoms in Kansas City once held industry, but now house
|A portion of a 1900 map of Indian Territory shows the "Texas Cattle Trail" and why it was also called the Shawnee Trail - Shawneetown, at
Shawnee Creek, once greeted travelers who crossed the Red River at Colbert's Ferry. (Library of Congress)