Take a road trip along the southwestern cattle trails in my book!
Three cattle trails crossed the Red River during the 19th century: the Shawnee, the Chisholm, and the Great Western Trail. While purists continue to argue the names for the trails and some parts of their routes, they are nonetheless an integral part of the Red River's history. Mosey on up with the Red River Historian as we explore some of the history and places where you can enjoy your own historic road trip!
First, let's go up the Shawnee Trail.
Next, we went up the Chisholm Trail.
Lastly, the trail ended with the Great Western Trail.
The Shawnee Cattle Trail
The Shawnee Trail is also known as Preston Road or Texas Trail or Military Road or Emigrant Trail. Yes, it had a number of names because if there's one thing that western historians can agree on, it's that there are NO official names for any of the cattle trails.
The Shawnee Trail was most likely called the Shawnee Trail by cowboys who talked about the cattle drives in their WPA interviews during the 1930s — many of the early drives passed by Shawnee Town at the Red River (across from Colbert, Oklahoma), which was a settlement of Shawnees. Or, it could have been called the "Shawnee Trail" because the road used by the cattle drivers was also used by the Shawnees as they sought to move away from Missouri. Whatever the reason for the name, this one road served pioneers, stage coach lines (the Butterfield Overland being the most famous), soldiers, Native Americans, and, of course, cattle.
The Shawnee Trail, formed from older Indian paths and military roads that linked forts from Kansas Territory to Texas, gradually replaced the practice of driving cattle to New Orleans to send live stock up river via steam boat. The "official" start of the road dates to around 1843; the cattle drives commenced by the mid-1850s, when a rail head was established in Sedalia, Missouri. This terminus was owned by the same company that would ultimately use the trail to build the first railroad in Indian Territory and also to be the first north/south line to enter Texas - the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway.
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 cowboys would come to call the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys abandoned the Shawnee Trail and routed their cattle instead through Wichita to Abilene, Kansas.
Let's go up the Chisholm Trail next!