Historical Details

Texas Trail born with mass exodus to the north

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 07/09/1997

By Dee Johnson
Staff Writer

The year was around 1864 and thousands of unbranded cattle were roaming Texas.

Colonel Maverick returned from the Civil War to the Lone Star State to find these cattle grazing on his estate.

He ordered a round up of the animals and coined a new term: maverick.

The cattle were worth $3-$6 in Texas, but as much as $40 more in northern markets.

Some of the cattle were sold for beef to Indian agencies, others were shipped to eastern markets, some were exported, and still others made the long journey north to Wyoming and Montana.

In 1864, Nelson Story took the first herd of 3000 cattle north from Texas to Montana.

There is no set Texas Trail, as there were many trails across eastern Wyoming.

Scores of trails from all parts of Texas came together as the Texas Trail headed north. It narrowed and widened as the herds grazed their way to their destination. Grass and water availability usually determined the route.

Destinations were also very different. Abilene, Texas, was an established shipping point or the cattle might be driven on to Junction City, Kan., Garden City, Kan., Hayes City, Kan., Dodge City, Kansas, Ogallala, Neb. or Cheyenne.

It is estimated that nearly 10 million longhorn cattle passed over the trail in 15 years.

According to Mae Urbanek's Ghost Trails of Wyoming, Pine Bluffs was a good watering stop. After a long dry drive the cowboys went to the store and bought soap and new long-handled underwear.

Then they bathed in the creek and left their old underwear for homesteaders.

The next water was on Horse Creek. Herds swam the Platte River near the mouth of Rawhide Creek, went north to Running Water where Lusk was to sprout; and on north to Moorcroft and Montana.

The crew fell into a routine after a few days on the trail.

They would have breakfast at daylight while the cattle grazed.

The horse remuda and mess wagons pulled out next, and then the herd would string along for a half mile or more.

The pointers were the cowboys at the front of the herd, two more rode the swing; two on the flanks; and the drag drivers would brings up the rear. The trail boss located water and a camping area a day in advance.

A few of the cattle were lost at river crossings, but the greatest danger was from stampedes.

Heat, rain, cold, herds of buffaloes, irate land owners with crops and hay, a lack of water, quicksand, Indians and thunderstorms were other obstacles.

Cowboys constantly circled the herd bedded down at night.

They sang to help keep the cattle calm. A stampede occasionally started at night and the cowboys would risk their lives to try to throw the leaders into a circle. A stampede would sometimes get 10-15 miles away from the original camp.

"The drive usually went 10-15 miles per day, with some travel at night. Cattle would not swim a river if wind rippled the water or the sun was in their eyes," according to Urbanek's book.

The cowboys lived on beans and raisins and were paid $30-$40 plus their keep.

The Texas Trail Monument is located at the Lady Bird Rest Area. The monument was dedicated in 1940. Russell Thorp delivered an address and he concluded it in this way: "The Texas Trail was no mere cow path. It was the Course of Empire."

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Thorp, Russell (07/23/1877 - 10/26/1968) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (08/07/1927 - 10/27/1977) View Record
Obituary Thorp, Russell (10/22/1844 - 09/03/1898) View Record
Historical Texas-Montana Trail View Record