|An Early Road used by a LOT of Critters
|All in all, it's one road, but with a lot of names - the descriptions depended on who and where
one was. This one road served pioneers, stage coach lines (the Butterfield Overland being the
most famous), soldiers, Native Americans, and, of course, cattle. So I'm going to call it the
Shawnee Trail, since I'm going to tell you about the cattle drives.
The Shawnee Trail formed out of older Indian paths and military roads that linked forts from
Kansas Territory to Texas. In Texas, this trail was called "Preston Road," as its official survey
from 1843 began at Preston Point on the Red River, then terminated south at Cedar Springs
(now an intersection in downtown Dallas). In Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma), the Shawnee
Trail was known as the "Texas Trail," as those who took it invariably were either going to, or
Before the railroads crossed west of the Mississippi River, Texas cattle were usually driven
east to New Orleans through heavy timber and thick underbrush. But when the Pacific Railroad
(later acquired by the KATY) terminated in Sedalia, Missouri, drovers found it easier to take
their cattle north. Using the rails, live cattle could then be shipped to slaughter houses in St.
Louis and Chicago much quicker than when traveling by steam ship.
Texas cattlemen used this road from the late 1840s until a few years after the Civil War. Their
drives started in south Texas, wound their way through Austin and Waco, and crossed the
Trinity River near Cedar Springs. The trail then went up to Preston on the Red River, where
cattle crossed into Indian Territory.
|Most cattle trails are quite famous. You've got your 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.
In Indian Territory, the trail first entered the Choctaw Nation. It skirted east of Fort 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 for
short) 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
The Shawnee Trail crossed Missouri to Sedalia, but its time as a
cow town was shortlived. 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 he named the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys
abandoned the Shawnee Trail and routed their cattle instead
through Wichitato Abilene, Kansas.
While certainly the most historically interesting, the Shawnee
Trail is not the best preserved. Local historians throughout
Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri are attempting to mark the
Shawnee Trail like the Chisholm and Great Western, and are
even trying to get the road registred as a National Trail, but
that's slow in coming. Keeping its history in the forefront is
important, though, because not only is the Shawnee Trail a
vivid reminder of conflict and prosperity in the mid-19th
century, it's also a true link to westward migration. This is one
road that has history written all over it!
|Frisco, a suburb just north of Dallas, sits
on Old Preston Road. Its Heritage Museum
displays an exhibit on the Shawnee Trail.
|Nothing much remains of old Preston, a
trading post and trail crossing point that
was drowned by Lake Texoma.
|Dorchester, on Old Preston Road/ Shawnee Trail in Texas, has seen better days.
|The Texas Trail/ Military Road/ Shawnee
Trail in Oklahoma can still be discerned
near Boggy Depot.
|The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, or
MKT (KATY in Texas), has a storied past
that greatly reflects Red River History.
Chartered in 1870, it acquired the route
from Sedalia to the vicinity of Baxter
Springs. Then, the company won a
competition to be the first railroad to
build through Indian Territory, today's
Oklahoma. When it arrived in Texas, the
KATY built the terminus town of Denison.
Its entry into Texas marked the state's
first north/south rail connection. The
KATY eventually crossed most of the near
Southwest. In 1988, after a series of
receiverships and mergers, the MKT /
KATY was bought out by Union Pacific.
|The wagon ruts on the Military Road that
ran through the grounds of Fort Washita
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 Captain Randolph B.
Marcy, who laid it out as the famous "Gold
Road" that took Gold Rushers to California
in the late 1840s.
|The original barns for the Pony Express (1858-1861) in St.
Joseph, Missouri, have been converted into a fun, educational,
and interactive museum.
|Travelers can follow parts of the original
route of the Shawnee Trail around
|Many parts of Fort Gibson in
Oklahoma were re-created by
the WPA. The old post hospital
(right) still stands.
|Many Shawnee Trail cattle discovered
their fates in the Swift Plant along the
West Bottoms in Kansas City.
|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 West Bottoms in Kansas
City once held industry, but
now house trendy lofts.