The Last Cattle Drive Into Dodge City, Kansas

The great cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kanas shaped the towns and westward movement of people as the railroads extended their tracks across the Great Plains. Each time the railroad would add track, the herders could cut miles off of the drive and thereby save time and weight loss off of the cattle they were rounding up and bringing north to the stockyards.

Texas had an abundance of wild cattle ranging throughout the brush and wild and rugged country within its territory and those cattle were in demand in the markets of Kansas City and Chicago for a nation growing by leaps and bounds. Not only were they valued for their meat but also for the hides they provided as the belts that drove industrial machinery were all made of leather in those days before rubber and synthetics were discovered.  

So the cowboys, many just young boys, would round up a herd of from several hundred to several thousand head and move them slowly north over the uninhabited plains to the nearest rail road. Abilene, Kansas was one such place early on and the wild demeanor of that town from so many young and restless cowhands arriving at once is well known. Wichita also had its heyday with the cattle drives and suffered through the growing up period until the railroad established a point farther west thereby drawing the herds and cowboys away from that town.

The primary reason for the moves of the cattle drives farther and farther west was that the cattle arriving from Texas had tick fever or at least carried the ticks responsible for that disease. The legislature made a law denying access to any areas in the eastern part of the state to keep the disease out of the domestic herds. So Dodge, way out west in no mans land, was a perfect place to take the herds to load on the trains for market.  But also, the settlement of Eastern Kansas and Oklahoma by people wanting to farm, made it more difficult to move large herds across the landscape without conflict on farms along the way. So the drovers moved their trails west to avoid the growing populations and Dodge City, being out on the edge of nowhere, was a good stop for them to load cattle for shipment.

There were countless cattle drives into Dodge and most of the time, the herds would stage up some miles from town until the railroad was ready to load them. That might take a week or two and so the herd had to have grass and water during the time they waited for the train cars to arrive. Finally, even the great drives began to dwindle and the day came that the last cattle drive arrived in Dodge City. 

The year was 1894 and my grandfather was 5 years old at the time. He had some older brothers and between them they were responsible for the town herd. My great grandfather had a section of land in what is not the center of Dodge City but in those days was still prairie. It was fenced and the town herd was kept there by agreement. The Kirkpatrick boys would go out each morning before school and collect the milk cows owned by each person in town and deliver them to the houses to be milked. Then they would round them up and take them back to the pasture for the day so they could graze. In those days, if you wanted milk, you had your own cow and of course it supplied butter and cheese to the more industrious owners.  

I cannot imagine having to round up those cows and take them to each house. Then wait for the return trip all before school.  

So anyway, on this day in 1894, the last trail herd arrived in Dodge and somehow they got put in the same pasture as the town herd of milk cows. Imagine the boys surprise in the morning when they went to gather the milk cows and there were 2,000 angry wild longhorn steers and cows mixed in with the herd. My grandfather always told about how scared he was sorting those cows out as the longhorns were virtually wild beasts having lived most of their lives on the range. They did their job as there was no getting out of it back in those days and the rest, so the say, is history.  

Longhorn statue in Dodge City where front street used to be.

Longhorn statue in Dodge City where front street used to be.