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The Texas Trail

The Union Pacific Railroad fostered the development of many western Nebraska towns. In 1867, Ogallala was nothing more than a section house and a water tower at the edge of the newly laid railway. [link] In 1868, two brothers, the Lonergans, came to the area as construction workers for the railroad and decided to stay and develop the town. Louis Aufdengarten arrived with the U.S. Army the same year and became Ogallala's first merchant. The three men helped lay the foundation for the future growth of the town. [link]

Due to Texas fever quarantines in 1873 in Abilene, Ellsworth, and Wichita, Kansas, new cattle trails were forged in the west. In 1874, famous cattle drover, John Lytle, forged the Western Trail from Bandera, Texas to Dodge City, Kansas. [link] By 1876, most Texas cattle drives had abandoned the Chisholm Trail and adopted the Western Trail leading to more prolific markets in the northwest. [link]

Dissatisfied with the Kansas Pacific Railroad, many Texas cattle drovers looked to the Union Pacific for less expensive rail shipment to Chicago. While anxious for the increase in business, the Union Pacific first had to establish the best shipping point on their line. In 1870, after vying with Columbus, the village of Schuyler became the first cow town in Nebraska. However, settlers flooded into the Blue Valley the following year utilizing herd laws to press the cattle drovers out. In 1871, the cattle trail moved further west to Kearney. As more settlers encroached on the plains of Nebraska, the trail's end was ultimately moved west to Ogallala in 1873. Ogallala became known as the cowboy capital of Nebraska for the next decade [link] (187).

Several factors contributed to the extension of the Western Trail to Ogallala, Nebraska. First of all, an influx of farmers and ranchers to Kansas and Nebraska caused cattle driving to be pressed further west. Various trespassing and quarantine laws were enacted to keep Texas cattle out of the area. Ogallala became a promising new cow town due to the stringent laws enacted in the east. [link] In addition, the town was located in an ideal spot for cattle shipping. Ogallala was located at the edge of the Union Pacific railway approximately 300 miles north of Dodge City. After the Western Trail was extended north to Ogallala, it was commonly known as the Texas Trail. [link] In 1874, the Union Pacific constructed cattle pens just west of Ogallala to attempt to regain the former business enjoyed at Schuyler and Kearney. [link]

Furthermore, high demand for cattle in northwestern Nebraska facilitated the Texas Trail's end to terminate at Ogallala. Many new cattlemen opened ranches near the cow town in order to get in on the Texas cattle boom. The Bosler Brothers, notable cattle barons, purchased Texas cattle in great abundance each year, as they were contracted to supply beef to the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Indian Agencies in northern Nebraska. [link] The success of the Boslers and others enticed many to start ranches along the Texas Trail.

Military subduing of the Native Americans on the plains also influenced the Texas cattle business to take a more northwesterly route to Ogallala. In 1873, the Ogallala and Brule Sioux were removed from the Platte River to new agencies in northern Nebraska. While the removal eliminated most of the depredations, some Sioux continued to molest cattlemen and settlers on the plains. In 1876, General Crook and Colonel Miles led several military campaigns against the Sioux, strictly confining them to their reservation and allowing safe passage to Texas cattle drovers. [link]

The Texas cattle business boomed at Ogallala in 1876. Increased demand caused 75,000 to 125,000 cattle to be driven to Ogallala each year until 1884 [link] (92). While the Indian agencies required approximately 25,000 head per season, the Black Hills Gold Rush of '76 increased the demand for Texas cattle in western Nebraska [link] (94).

Approximately seventy-five thousand head of cattle were driven to Ogallala in 1875 and increased to over 100,000 the next year [link] (187). The 1880 census showed the permanent population of Ogallala to be 114 people. However, from early spring until late fall, the Cowboy Capital hosted a multitude of cowhands, cattle barons, saloon operators, gamblers, dance hall girls, and tradesmen. Ogallala has been labeled as a rough and tumble, wild-west town, perhaps due to the 17 violent deaths recorded during the cattle boom [link] (97).

The Texas Trail was not a clearly defined road. It often spanned over twenty miles wide, running from the Red River northward, with various branches, all ultimately leading to Ogallala. [link] The Western Trail started at Bandera, Texas crossed the Red River, then pushed on to Dodge City. The trail angled north and west to Buffalo Station on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, about sixty miles west of Hays [link] (188). Prior to 1880, the main route of the Texas Trail entered Nebraska fifty miles east of Haigler. After 1880 eastern quarantines moved the trail further west, four miles east of Haigler. This area was known as the Texas Trail Canyon and became a checkpoint for incoming cattle in 1883. [link] Finding water was the foremost concern of the drovers while crossing northern Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. Only a few major rivers provided stable water to the men and cattle, while smaller streams often dried up. The last day's trip from Stinking Water Creek to the South Platte was the longest, driest stretch of the journey. After reaching Ogallala, cattle bosses and barons would agree on a price per head and the cattle were either shipped to various points along the Union Pacific. [link]

Several factors caused the Texas Trail to fall into disuse. The consolidation of ranches into large cattle companies in the early 1880s signaled the decline in the industry [link] (106). However, the most significant factors in the decline of the Texas cattle business were angry homesteaders and Texas fever quarantines. After extremely abundant rainfall in western Nebraska in the early 1880s, farmers pressed into the Republican River Valley convinced of agricultural success. The nesters, as settlers were often called by cattlemen, charged fees for cattle passage across their land or on occasion usurped fees for the release of trespassing cattle. Texas drovers found it difficult and expensive to maneuver their cattle around the new "nesters" property [link] (106). In addition, Kansas legislature passed a law in 1884, moving the cattle quarantine line west of Dodge City. The following year, the entire state of Kansas was closed to Texas cattle from December to March. Furthermore, a Texas fever outbreak in 1884 caused severe cattle losses in western Nebraska. Several smaller ranchers blamed larger corporations like Rankin Live Stock Company for shipping in the diseased cattle. Ranchers fearing the loss of expensive blooded bulls that they had added to their herds demanded that Texas cattle be quarantined from the state of Nebraska. The range cattle business sharply declined after 1884 due to the newly enacted laws. A few more drives crossed the Texas Trail in the late 1880s, but never again to achieve the magnitude of the Ogallala Cattle Boom days [link] (107).





Mahnken, Norbert. 1945 "Ogallala-Nebraska's Cowboy Capital," Nebraska History 26(2): 85–109.

Olson, James C. 1966 History of Nebraska. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.