The Great Western Trail

New Display of Western Trail Information Made possible by grant from the Lakes Trails division of the Texas Historical Commission.

The Red River Valley Museum is planning a 30,000+ square feet expansion to preserve the history of the Great Western Trail. Be sure to see the information about our proposed expansion, The Western Trail Heritage Center.

After the Civil War, Texans were looking for a way to make a living, and there were many longhorn cattle, but no markets. The demand for beef in the Northeast was high, and the railheads were in Kansas thus major cattle trails were established. The Western Trail was longer in length, carried more cattle and horses and lasted two years longer than the Chisholm Trail, but the Chisholm Trail is better known due to poems, songs, and movies written about that trail.

Marking the Great Western Trail

On July 12, 2003, Oklahoma had a dedication ceremony to set the first post to mark the Great Western Cattle Trail across Oklahoma. The post was set near the Red River south of Altus and north of Doan's Crossing in Texas where more than seven million cattle and horses crossed going north from 1876 to 1893. Texas followed suit.

The idea for marking the Great Western Cattle Trail originated when two Altus men, Dennis Vernon and John Barton, both members of the Western Trail Historical Society in Altus, met Bob Klemme of Enid, Oklahoma, at the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas. Bob, who had made posts to mark the Chisholm Trail, offered to donate a metal mold so that the two men could make cement posts to mark the Great Western Cattle Trail, which ran west of the Chisholm Trail, but Hollywood spotlighted the Chisholm Trail in many Western movies making it famous.

At this same meeting, Sylvia G. Mahoney of Vernon, Texas, met the two Altus men and invited them to give a program at the Rotary Club of Vernon in September 2003. Dennis and John offered to donate the first post to start the marking of the Great Western Cattle Trail across Texas from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

The Rotary Club of Vernon voted to make this a Rotary Centennial Project with Sylvia G. Mahoney and Jeff Bearden being co-chairmen of the project. A post would be donated to a Rotary Club in each of the 19 counties south of Wilbarger County. The Rotary Clubs would be invited to mark the Great Western Cattle Trail across their counties with the trail eventually being marked with a post every six miles for the 620 miles spanning the 20 counties from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

Wilbarger County had the perfect place to set the first Great Western Cattle Trail marker in Texas; Doan's Crossing, where a lone sentinel of the trail days still stands, Doan's Adobe. On May 1, 2004, the first post was set in Texas during one of the oldest continous celebrations in Texas, the 121st Doan's May Day Picnic with the crowning of a young queen and king. The picnic originated in 1884 at Watts Grove by Jonathan Doan and C. F. and Lide Doan when some drovers went up the Great Western Cattle Trail leaving their wives behind.

The second marker was set in Bandera County at Bandera on Labor Day, September 6, 2004, with more than 100 wagons and trail riders leaving Bandera headed for Dodge City, Kansas, for a 47-day ride. The third county to set a marker was Shackleford County at Fort Griffin on September 18, 2004, followed by one in Throckmorton County on September 25 when the trail riders passed through Throckmorton and Baylor County on September 27 when the trail riders passed through Seymour. The first post was set in Kansas at Dodge City when the Bandera Trail Riders arrived October 23, 2004.

A Great Western Cattle Trail Resolution was presented on May 16, 2005, in the Texas Legislature by Representative Rick Hardcastle and Senator Fank Madla acknowledging its economic and historical importance. A Great Western Cattle Trail exhibit provided by Mary Ann McCuistion, executive director of the Red River Valley Museum in Vernon, was displayed in the Rotunda of the Capitol for one week.

Cattle Drives and Trail Drivers

Although the first longhorn cattle drives from Texas between 1866 and 1900 may not have been recorded, it is legend that the Western Trail through what is now Vernon was established in 1876 when cattlemen Millett and Irvin came up through Wilbarger County and crossed a herd near Doans Crossing, so called after the establishment of the Jonathan Doan's trading post nearby.

The Chisholm Trail, which went through Oklahoma, had become so crowded that cattle had great difficulty in finding forage along the way. To avoid this, ranchers scouted and laid out a new trail, the Western Trail, which has also been referred to in the past as the Longhorn Chosholm Trail, the Trail to Kansas and the Fort Griffin and Dodge City Trail.

In 1931 George W. Saunders, then president of the Old Trail Drivers' Association and an authority on Texas livestock history, wrote: "The famed Chisholm Cattle Trail, about which more has been written than any other southwestern trail, cannot be traced in Texas for the reason that it never existed in this state."

It was always understood by pioneer cattlemen that they would strike the Chisholm Trail when they crossed Red River at Red River Station at the mouth of Salt Creek in Montague County into the Indian Territory.

From evidence gathered from reliable sources the Old Trail Drivers' Association designated the trail that crossed the Red River at Doans Crossing as the Western Texas-Kansas Trail. The term "trail" has been used in Texas to designate routes used by Indians, buffalo hunters, military expeditions, immigration movements and cattle drives.

Drives to northern markets began after the "rise" of grass in the spring and continued through the summer. During the peak of the season many herds were on the trail at the same time, sometimes only a few miles apart. A herd of 2,500 to 3,000 was considered the most favorable size for long drives. Smaller herds required about the same crew and overhead expense; larger herds faced problems of watering facilities, grass along the trail and general unwieldiness in handling. Daily travel distances were gauged by grass and water, the object being to fatten the cattle en route.

Trail drivers were cowboys who moved cattle from a home range to a distant market or another range. A typical trail driving outfit consisted of a boss, who might or might not be the owner; from 10 to 15 hands, each of whom had a string of from 5 to 10 horses; a horse wrangler (remundero), who drove and herded the cow horses; and a cook, who drove the chuck wagon. A "hoodlum" wagon carried the bedrolls. During the day the men drove and grazed the cattle and at night herded them by relays. Ten or 12 miles was considered a good day's drive. Typical meals consisted of bread, meat, beans with bacon and coffee. The wage was around $40 a month.

One of the early herds to pass by Doans Crossing was the Adams brothers' herd. Whether this was one of the herds Jonathan Doan saw pass the old picket store and house in the spring of 1878 is not known. Records kept by C. F. Doan throughout the entire life of the trail showed 110,000 cattle passed up the trail in the year of 1879. Traffic over the old trail reached the peak, according to Doan's figures, in 1881 when 301,000 head of cattle, 200,000 head of sheep, 192,000 head of horses had crossed Red River after having passed Doan's store and supply place.

"The first among the cowhands to arrive at Doans (established in 1878) each spring were the trail cutters, men who represented the big cattle interests and who were ready to begin cutting out the strays from the big herds. Some of the trail cutters were J. K. Payne, official county trail inspector; Bob Munson, who was taken away by the Texas Rangers and never returned to Doans, and George Briggs of Granite, Oklahoma. The coming of the trail cutters was anticipated with much pleasure by the belles of Doans and Vernon. It meant the social activities would be stimulated. The men would remain as long as possible at Doans before returning to the ranches 'down below'." - The Vernon Daily Record, Oct. 20, 1931.

The coming of the herds meant a time of business activity at Vernon and Doans. It might be likened to a good cotton fall. Here the herds were outfitted for their long trail to the north and 'sow bosom, Stetson hats, ammunition and provisions were sold in carload lots. C. F. Doan & Co. had two stores, one at Doans and one at Vernon, and each employed seven men. Wood & Son at Vernon did a thriving business. This was in the 1880s. Supplies were purchased at Denison, Sherman, Gainesville and later Wichita Falls, and were freighted in.

John Lytle, who with a cousin operated one of the most outstanding trailing firms in Texas, and his secretary would spend a month each year at Doans outfitting his herds and everything would be shipshape when they crossed Red River. Furnaces and corrals were erected at Doans for branding purposes, and other herds were outfitted there.

A few of the men who rode with the herds and later settled down in this area included J. W. Kirk, Christian Schoppa, D. D. McConnell, Taylor Creager and S. L. Mallow.

Kirk at 16 years of age passed through Vernon in 1883 with a herd of several thousand cattle that were gathered from a ranch in Kimble County. He was four months on the trail with the herd which was being driven to Ogallala, Nebraska. He said there was just a hardware store in Vernon then and about all they carried in stock were guns, ammunition, saddles, ropes and blankets. He must have forgotten about George Darby's store, a ledger of which, dated 1880 and 1881, lists blue india soap, pork and beans, axle grease, alum, "segars," spurs, overalls, gloves, boots, combs, pepper sauce, Oil of Apple, Essence of Lemon, molasses, cartridges, postage stamps, oysters and many others.

McConnell assisted Hige Nail in driving the first herd of cattle from Texas, starting at Waxahachie, to the northern markets in the spring of 1868, crossing Red River at Preston Bend. About 10 years later Hige Nail drove the first herd to Dodge City, Kansas, and crossed Red River at Doans.

Creager, who came as a settler in 1888, first went through with a herd of cattle in 1885 on his way to Mobeetie. His herd was watered on Paradise Creek south of Vernon while the men got water and supplies at Condon Springs (the present-day site of Hillcrest Country Club). The cowboys had to get off their horses and wade out in the river to drive the cattle off sand bars to cross Pease River.

Mallow, who became a frontier cowboy when he was a 12 year old boy, "went up the trail" with a big herd through Vernon and Doans several years before coming back in 1886 to settle in this county.

Pease Flats would sometimes be covered with cattle for miles if the river was too high for the cattle to ford. Walter Lorance, who for many years was chief horse wrangler for Waggoner Ranch, once noted that in early days thousands of cattle were gathered on the prairies around Harrold waiting for shipment to market when that was the terminal of the Fort Worth and Denver Railway.

A narrative of one of the longest cattle drives in history can be found in "The Log of a Cowboy" written in 1903 by Andy Adams, a writer who spent 10 years in Texas and eight of those in trail driving.

"A herd of 1,000 she cattle, three and four years of age, and 2000 four and five-year old beeves" were gathered to fill a million pound beef contract set for delivery on Blackfoot Indian Reservation in the northwest corner of Montana, nearly 3,000 miles distant. The five-month drive averaged 15 miles a day under the leadership of foreman Jim Flood, boss foreman for Don Levell, cowman and drover.

"The herd crossed at Doans, the crossing which had been in use but a few years at that time. A new ferry had been established for wagons.

"Red River, this boundary river on the northern border of Texas, was a terror to trail driver. The majestic grandeur of the river was apparent on every hand - with its red bluff banks, the sediment of its red waters marking the timber along its course, while the driftwood, lodged in trees and high on the banks, indicated what might be expected when she became sportive or angry. The crossing had been in use only a year or two when we forded, yet five graves, one of which was less than 10 days made, attested her disregard for human life. It can safely be asserted that at this and lower trail crossings on Red River, the lives of more trail men were lost by drowning than on all other rivers together."

Adams' account continues. "The country (in No-Man's Land across Red River) was as primitive as in the first day of its creation. The trail led up a divide between the Salt and North forks of Red River. To the eastward of the latter stream lay the reservation of the Apaches, Kiowa and Comanches.

"Antelopes came up in bands ... while old solitary buffalo bulls turned tail and lumbered away to points of safety. Very few herds had ever passed over this route, but buffalo trails leading downstream, deep worn by generations of travel, were to be seen by hundreds on every hand."

Several monuments have been erected in the years since to mark the old cattle trail and commemorate those old-time cattlemen who created one of the most colorful eras in the history now being recorded. P.P. Ackley, a man of that day who served as a deputy trail brand inspector and was later a member of the Old Trail Drivers Association, spearheaded the trail marking movement. He worked at getting two markers in each county through which the trails pass, and was successful in doing so in Wilbarger County.

On July 21, 1931, the first marker in Texas, reportedly, on the Western Trail was erected in the northeast corner of the C. S. Smith farm near Northside. The Particular spot is where once an old cow-beaten path is now crossed by Highway 283. The marker, made and erected at Ackley's expense is a large granite slab taken from a quarry near Granite, Oklahoma. The inscription was designed by Mrs. W. F. Palmeter and was made ready for use by her husband. It shows the head of the longhorn steer and beneath it an arrow now pointing toward Doans on Red River where the trail crossed over into Oklahoma. It is inscribed, "Going up the Chisholm Trail, 1878, P.P Ackley."

Ackley and N. C. Basham of Elk City, Oklahoma; Mr. And Mrs. C. S. Smith of Fargo; Mrs. Bertha A. Doan Ross, president of the Pioneers Association of Wilbarger County, and her husband, A. S. Ross, of Vernon, witnessed the erection of the marker which can be seen today in the Texas State Highway Park at that location some eight miles north of Vernon.

A second, much larger monument was erected a few months later and dedicated October 21, 1931, on the site of the old Doans store, the last place where supplies could be bought until the Kansas line was reached. J. Frank Dobie, editor and secretary of the Texas Folklore Society then, was among those present for the dedication ceremony.

The monument is of gray Llano granite and weighs 12,000 pounds. It is measured 18 inches thick, 10 feet six inches high, and 5 feet 4 inches wide. A bronze plate of which the design was drawn by H. D. Bugbee, noted Western artist of Clarendon, was molded at Atlanta, Georgia and finally cast at Jamestown, N. Y. The bronze panel is 48 by 30 inches. Nineteen steers, one for each year the trail ran through the county, and two figures on horseback with Doans Crossing in the backgound are shown. The marker which faces east bears on its back the brands of men who made the long trip to Kansas. P.P. Ackley posed for the mounted man in the foreground and the plate bears his name as well as that of the artist. His donation of $1,000 initiated public donations which made the monument a reality. Will Rogers, world-wide humorist and visitor to Wilbarger County, added $50 to the fund as one of many contributors. (His note that accompanied the donation is on display at the Red River Valley Museum).

Below the bronze panel on the marker is the inscription; "In honor of the trail drivers who freed Texas from the yoke of debt and despair by their trails to the cattle markets of the far north, we dedicate this stone, symbol of their courage and fortitude, at the site of the old Doan's Store, October 21-22, 1931. The Western Texas - Kansas Trail, 1876 - 1895. This monument erected by Texans."

On the backside are carved 61 cattle brands listed in honor of the men and women whose cattle passed through the crossing on their way to northern markets. Some of the brands are of early Wilbarger County ranchers. The names include C. F. Doan, J. Doan, A. S. Ross, J. H. Watts, Millet, Jim Reed, John Camp, Mrs. Rabb, C. T. Word, W. S. Ikard, J,. C. Sumner, J. R. Sumner, Eph Harrold, Bill Butler, T. D. Bugbee, B. L. Crouch, J. K. Pay6ne, W. H. Meyers, W. B. Worsham, John T. Lytle, Richard King, Meyer Halff, Doc Burnett, Ike T. Pryor, M. A. Withers, Jim Ellison, T. M. Hoben, H. H.Wheeler, Newman Brothers, Charley Neal, John R. Blocker, J. P. Hamilton, Hindes & Oden, Thomas O'Connor Shanghai Pierce, C. C. Slaughter, C. T. Herring, Eddleman Brothers, R. L Castlebury , Lee & Reynolds, S. B. Burnett, Lee Kokernot, St. Andrew Myers, Bud Matthews, C. W. Word, R. B. Masterson, George Littlefield, Mrs. Amanda Burks, J. G. Ayers, J. R. Ross, Millet & Irvin, Ellison & Deweese, Lytle & Schreiner, Mitchell & Presnall, Nutter & Neville, D. Waggoner & Son, Adair & Goodnight, Gudden, Warren & Sanborn and S. B. Scoville.

A third monument of granite stands a few hundred yards to the east of the Trail Drivers stone. It stands on a slight elevation above what was then the river bed and overlooking the old trails beaten down by the millions of cattle and horses of that legendary time. Placed there in 1936 it is thus engraved: "Doan's crossing on Red River - by herds on the Western Texas - Kansas Trail, 1876-1895, six million cattle and horses crossed here." Added to that is a quote by Will Rogers, "You don't need much monument if the cause is good; it's only these monuments that are for no reason at all that has to be big. Good luck to you all anyhow." And the words "Dedicated to George W. Saunders, president of the Old Trail Drivers Association, who kept the trail records straight."

An anniversary re-enactment of the initial longhorn cattle drive, the second such production, was staged in 1976. The drive originated in San Antonio, and former Gov. Preston Smith, then lieutenant governor, was on hand for the crossing of Red River near Doan's.

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last updated August 19, 2008
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