|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 leaving, Texas.
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
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 Rocky Point 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 area.
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 Wichita
to 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
|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 Dorchester, Texas.
|Many parts of Fort Gibson in
Oklahoma were re-created by the
WPA. The old post hospital (right)
|Many Shawnee Trail cattle discovered their fates in
the Swift Plant along the West Bottoms in Kansas
|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.