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 the 1850s. Legend says that cattle ranchers met at the Menger
Hotel in San Antonio to formulate a plan to move cattle to railroads in Missouri, as
Texas hadn't established a viable railroad yet.

By the mid-1850s, the cattle drives commenced 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.

In Indian Territory, the trail first entered the Choctaw Nation. It skirted east of
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) 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 cowboys would come to call the
Chisholm Trail.
Cowboys abandoned the Shawnee Trail and routed their cattle instead through
Wichita to Abilene, Kansas.
Most cattle trails are quite famous. You've got
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.

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
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 Texas Trail/
Military Road/
Shawnee Trail and
Butterfield route in
Oklahoma can still
be discerned near
Boggy Depot.
Dorchester, on
Old Preston
Road/ Shawnee
Trail in Texas,
has seen better
Travelers can
follow parts of
the original route
of the Shawnee
Trail around
The wagon ruts on
the Military Road
that ran through
the grounds of
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
Randolph B.
who laid it out as
the famous "Gold
Road" that took
Gold Rushers to
California in the
late 1840s.
Take your own road trip with
the book, Traveling History up
the Cattle Trails
A portion of an
1877 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 (LOC).
Nothing much
remains of old
Preston, a
trading post
and trail
crossing point
that was
drowned by
Lake Texoma.
The path of the old
road - which served
as an emigrant,
stagecoach and
Civil War trail  - is
visible north of
Many Shawnee
Trail cattle
discovered their
fates in the Swift
Plant along the
West Bottoms in
Kansas City.
The original barns
for the Pony
(1858-1861) in St.
Joseph, Missouri,
have been
converted into a
Shawnee         Chisholm         Western   
Fort Worth Stockyards         Buy the Book