History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


More Trails of Kansas

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Ellsworth Cattle Trail – When the city of Abilene told Texas cattleman they were no longer welcome in their town in 1872, primarily due to tick fever, the unruly conduct of the many cowboys, and the destruction that the big herds did to local land, a number of Ellsworth residents went down the old Chisholm Trail to urge drovers to bring their herds to Ellsworth, about 60 miles southwest of Abilene. Though Ellsworth, in 1871, had already attracted many cattle drovers, with some 30,000 head shipped from the town, they clearly couldn’t compete with the Queen of Cowtowns. With Abilene denying their entry in 1872, Ellsworth began to thrive and that year, some 220,000 Texas Longhorns came up the Chisholm Trail to the new shipping point.


A new offshoot of the trail was surveyed by the Kansas Pacific Railway Company, led by William M. Cox, General Livestock Agent for the railroad. The new route, saved the cattle drovers about 35 miles, leaving the original trail in Indian Territory halfway between the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River and Pond Creek.


Cattle at the Smoky Hill river near Ellsworth, Kansas

Cattle at the Smoky Hill River near Ellsworth, Kansas,

 Alexander Gardner, 1867.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!




The trail then crossed the Arkansas River at Ellinwood, Kansas before making its way to Ellsworth. The new route was sometimes called Cox’s Trail or the Ellsworth Trail, but, most of time was referred to as the middle branch of the Chisholm Trail.

In 1867, a Kansas law had established a quarantine, prohibiting southern cattle in the state due to outbreaks of “Texas Fever.” However, because of the high demand for cattle, Joseph G. McCoy, who had established the cattle market in Abilene several years earlier, had convinced the state not to enforce the rule. In 1873, the law was reinforced but

Ellsworth thought itself safe, outside the line of quarantine. However, it was actually a few miles inside the line. The town promoters assured Texans that they would be exempt from the law and this proved to be the case, but mainly because it was not enforced. Locals said that it was violated daily. Like other Kansas cowtowns, Ellsworth earned a wicked reputation with its many cowboys. But the prosperity wouldn’t last and its shipping pens were finally closed in 1875.

Fayetteville Emigrant Trail - This trail ran northwest from the Arkansas Post, the first semi-permanent European settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Located on the Arkansas River in southeast Arkansas, the trail, which was originally an Indian Trail, but as people began to move westward, it began to be utilized to transfer pioneers to the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas.


The trail left Arkansas Post, bearing northwest and passed through Austin, Arkansas a few miles northeast  of Little Rock, before continuing between the Arkansas and White Rivers. The emigrant trail was joined at Fayetteville by a road from Fort Smith on the Arkansas River. It then traversed the northeast corner of Oklahoma, crossing the Neosho River and entered the state of Kansas in  what is now Montgomery County. The path continued on, requiring pioneers to get over the Verdigris River about two miles north of the Kansas state line, went through the present-day site of Coffeyville and continued along the northeast side of Onion Creek before making its way northwest. Finally, it converged with the Santa Fe Trail at Turkey Creek in McPherson County, Kansas. In Kansas the trail crossed the counties of Montgomery, Chautauqua, Elk, Butler, Harvey, Marion and McPherson.


During the days of westward expansion, the trail was widely used, also connecting to the Oregon and California Trails. However, travel dramatically fell off during the Civil War. When the Osage lands in southern Kansas were thrown open for settlement, the old trail was soon obliterated and abandoned and by the end of the 19th Century, only traces of it could be seen.


Fort Leavenworth-Fort Kearny Military Road - In 1848, Colonel Stephen W. Kearney laid out a trail from Fort Leavenworth to the junction of the Independence Road, and the St. Joe Road west of the Big Blue River. That same year, Fort Kearny, Nebraska was established and this trail became part of the Fort Leavenworth-Ft. Kearny Military Road. As the principal U.S. Army base on the Missouri River, Fort Leavenworth was destined to supply a sizable percentage of the traffic headed westward. The road angled northwestward from the fort to a point called Eight Mile House, where the connecting road to Fort Riley and the Santa Fe Trail broke off.


Just a year later, surveyor and civil engineer, Captain Howard Stansbury was sent out to make an exploration and survey of the Great Salt Lake. In May, Captain Stansbury, along with 18 men, five wagons, and 46 horses and mules, left Fort Leqavenworth, along the same trail as Colonel Stephen W. Kearney. For some distance, the path followed the Oregon-California Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri, by way of the Blue River, describing it as "already broad and well beaten as any turnpike in our country."


Near Maryville, the trail crossed the Big Blue River and joined the Oregon Trail, which then followed the Little Blue River as far as possible towards Fort Kearny, Nebraska.


In 1849-1850, Brigham Young led thousands of exiled Mormons across portions of the same trail. Two years later, the old Military Road was lined with emigrants and gold seekers. It finally became on of the most important stage and freight wagon roads in the country. On April 3, 1860, the Pony Express began to use parts of the old Military Road. It eventually became one road with many names -- The St. Joe to California branch of the Oregon Trail, The Pony Express route, and the Overland Road to California.


Great Western Cattle Trail - Utilized in the 19th century for movement of cattle to markets in the East, the Great Western Cattle Trail ran west of and roughly parallel to the Chisholm Trail. Beginning at Bandera, Texas west of San Antonio, it traveled northward, passing near Buffalo Gap and Abilene in West Texas before ending at Dodge City, Kansas. The trail crossed Oklahoma from the southern border with Texas to the northern border with Kandsas. Today, U.S. Highway 183 generally follows the path of the Great Western Trail taken by cattle drovers that passed through the Wichita Mountains and continued north through Clinton, Woodward and Buffalo, before moving on into Kansas.


As the railroad pushed westward, this trail developed to lead cattle to Dodge City, branching off of the Chisholm Trail, which had been the earlier route into Kansas. Dodge City became a boomtown, with thousands of cattle passing annually through its stockyards. The peak years of the cattle trade in Dodge City were from 1883 to 1884, and during that time the town grew at a rapid pace. In 1880, Dodge City got a new competitor for the cattle trade from the border town of Caldwell. For a few years the competition between the towns was fierce, but there were enough cattle for both towns to prosper. Nevertheless, it was Dodge City that became famous, and rightly so because no town could match Dodge City's reputation as a true frontier settlement of the Old West. Dodge City had more famous (and infamous) gunfighters working at one time than any other town in the West, many of whom participated in the Dodge City War of 1883. It also boasted the usual array of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels established to separate a lonely cowboy from his hard-earned cash, including the famous Long Branch Saloon and China Doll brothel. For a time in 1884, Dodge City even had a bullfighting ring where Mexican bullfighters imported from Mexico would put on a show with specially chosen longhorn bulls.

Traffic on the Great Western Trail began to decline in 1885 with the introduction of barbed wire and a quarantine against cattle moving to Kansas because of splenic fever. Consequently, the Great Western Trail was all but shut down. By 1886, the vast majority of cowboys, saloon keepers, gamblers, and brothel owners moved west to greener pastures. The last large cattle drive up the Great Western Trail crossed the Red River, headed to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1893. By this time an estimated six million cattle and one million horses had left Texas, crossing the Red River into Oklahoma, as it continued up the trail.


Army train on the Santa Fe Trail

An Army train crossing the plains, Harper's Weekly, April 24, 1868


Kaw Trail – Another old Indian Trail that connected with the Santa Fe Trail, the Kaw Trail was first utilized by the Kanza Indians who traversed it regularly during their hunting expeditions. When it began to be utilized by American pioneers, the trail began at Big John, on the Kaw Reservation, near Council Grove and passed through the counties of Morris, Chase and Marion, to present-day Florence. From there, it went to what was known as Big Timbers on Turkey Creek, where it intersected with the Santa Fe Trail. By the end of the 19th Century only traces could be found on the rising ground west of Florence and on Diamond Creek in Chase County.




© Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.


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