Explore this exhibit: Cowboys and Longhorns
From the prairies to railheads in Kansas.
Texans began to drive the longhorns across open range and the Indian Territory to railheads in Kansas for shipment to eastern markets. Hundreds of herds of cattle were driven up trails to the existing railheads, as a Texas steer worth $3 could be sold at a railhead for $30. Cowboys were paid well for the hard, dangerous trip and herd owners often amassed fortunes. In less than 25 years, cowboys drove millions of cattle out of Texas over the cattle trails.
Cattle trails were the primary means of moving Texas cattle to market in the late 19th century.
In the 1840s and 1850s Texas cattle were taken over the Shawnee trail to Iowa, Missouri and Ohio to be slaughtered for local markets. During the Civil War, Texas cattle were driven to railheads in Kansas to be shipped to the East. There were no railroads in Texas, and cattle brought a higher price in the East. The best-known era of the great cattle drives was from 1866-1890, when millions of cattle were driven over the Great Western and Goodnight Loving trails. But by 1890, the availability of nearby railroads, the spread of cattle disease (tick fever) and the fencing of the open range ended the trail driving business.