Following the Great Western Trail
If we want our steaks, chili, and smoked briskets, we've got to take cattle to the slaughter house somehow. Today, we let truck drivers do
it, and try not to think about poor Bessie as we bite into a warm, moist cheeseburger.

Cattle didn't always get to market in a ventilated trailer, however. They used to walk there themselves, and their hooves carved deep
scars along trails that stretched for thousands of miles. The Great Western Trail, an offshoot of the Chisholm Trail, was one of these
roads.  

The Great Western Trail, blazed by rancher and trail driver John Lytle, was the last great northern cattle trail. Running from Kerrville to
Dodge City and points northward, it had many functions in its relatively brief lifespan (ca. 1875-1885, give or take a few years). Trail outfits
could take cattle to sell to the Comanche, Kiowa, Apache, and Cheyenne reservations in western Oklahoma Territory;  cattle could be
shipped to the processing plants in Kansas City after boarding in Dodge City; or the longhorn could be taken all the way to the Dakotas in
order to stock the new ranching empires.

Cowboys who took to the trail tended to call it the Chisholm Trail - just about every single trail they rode on in Texas they called the
Chisholm Trail - but the Great Western was actually quite distinctive. The terrain was decidedly more rugged and  parched, and
formidable barriers, such as  the canyons in Texas, the Wichita mountains in Oklahoma Territory, and the Great Basin in Kansas, made the
trail drivers really earn their keep.

This territory was also the last domain of the southern buffalo herds. Histories from Plains Indians tell how the cattle chased  the buffalo
off their traditional lands,

As railroads started to venture into Texas, barbed wire became all the rage on the range, Texas fever caused stricter quarantine laws,
and the taste for  longhorn ebbed, the Great Western Trail succumbed fairly quickly to the wiles of progress. Today, it's a little known trail
save for its importance in the history of Dodge City. It can be followed, though, with a good map and a small guide, which I've laid out here!
Doan's adobe store near the Red River Crossing. Built in the 1880s, this little building has seen a lot of activity, including visits by Santata,
Quanah Parker, an English Lord, and hundreds of cowboys.
The deep, icy waters of St. Jacob's well inside the Big Basin has quenched the thirst of man and beast alike for thousands of years. At times,
this would have been the only water source for miles along the trail.
Access to water was vital to the drives into the Great Plains. Cattle would bed alongside the Boggy Creek in Fargo, Oklahoma, near Fort Supply.
Most of old Dodge City burned, and urban renewal in the 1960s also took away much of the authentic character of the town.
Along the trail, the traveler can find calabooses: here's Leedey's (Ok) little prison.
Western Trail Places

Texas
Fort Griffin Flat - Now a ghost town, it's where the bad
elements that hung around military forts lightened the
wallets of cowboys.

Doans - Only the old adobe store remains from this
important river crossing town.

Oklahoma
Fort Sill - Though not on the trail, it's worth a stop for
the many illustrious folks buried in the post cemetery.
Fort Sill is the only Indian War fort still active.

Fort Supply - Great Western trail drivers sold cattle to
Cheynnes and Arapahos here. he fort is now inside of
a prison! Fun, fun, fun. Make sure to lock your car.

Kansas
Big Basin - You'll cross over the most haunting
landscape I've ever seen - the Big Basin. A natural sink
hole in the middle of flat prairie, the basin is wind
swept, treeless, and unbelievably harsh.

Dodge City - Unfortunately, the authentic parts of
Dodge City's western past were razed to make way for
broader streets and more parking (for tourists - oh, the
irony!)  The old train depot on Front Street houses the
tourist office, with walking tours and maps.
Take a road trip up the
Great Western Trail
(and the
Shawnee and
Chisholm Trails) in  
Traveling History Up
the Cattle Trails!
The Great Basin in Kansas, just south of Dodge City, leaves visitors with a grand view of the Great Plains.
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
At the border of Oklahoma and Kansas
Lone Wolf, Oklahoma