Where the Rails and Cattle Trails Meet
A Timeline: The History of the Railroads and the Cattle Drives

1804 - Lewis and Clark explored the Missouri River region from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.

1836 - The first immigrant wagon train leaves Independence, Missouri for Oregon Territory on what became know as the Oregon Trail.

1840s - In the 1840s the plains were considered the Great American Desert and initially the U.S. Government set the land aside as Indian Tribal land. It was in effect illegal to homestead on the plains until well after 1846. Oregon on the other hand offered free, fertile land for the taking, extensive uncut forest for the claiming, the potential of sea ports, and it had a more disease-free climate than did the Missouri or Mississippi River Valleys where smallpox, malaria and yellow fever were common.

1845 - Texas became the 28th state in the United States of America.

1846 - The Oregon Treaty with Great Britain sat the boundary between Oregon Territory and Canada at the 49∞ parallel.

1846 - 1848 - The Mexican American War ends with the signing of the treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo in February 1848. Under the terms, Mexico seceded Alta California Territory to the United States and also gave up its claims to most of the Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico territories. That is all, or part of latter day California, 1850; Nevada, 1864; Utah, 1896 and Arizona, 1912. As well as its claims to the entire state of Texas 1845 and old claims to Kansas, 1861; Colorado, 1876; Wyoming, 1890 and Oklahoma, 1907.

1848 - James W. Marshall discovers gold at John Shutter's Mill near Coloma, California on the American River.

1849 - The California Gold Rush is on " "thar's gold in them thar hills" – and for the 49ers it was "California or Bust." Meanwhile back in Missouri, St. Louis business leaders charter the Pacific Railroad.

1850s - Missouri and the Kansas territories close their borders to Texas cattle being driven to market in response to outbreaks of Texas fever. Texas fever is a tick born disease, also known as splenic fever. In cattle it is almost always fatal. It is characterized by high fever, anemia and emaciation and is caused by a parasitic protozoan (Babesia bigemina) and spread by ticks from an infected area (although the knowledge was not discovered until the 1900s). Nonetheless, some drovers ignored the quarantine laws and armed conflicts with angry farmers and ranchers erupted on the Shawnee Trail route. However, much of the country through which the trail passed, was remote and sparsely settled and some cattlemen deemed the potential profits, as worth it.

1850 - California was admitted to the United States of America as part of the compromise of 1850.

1851 - The Pacific Railroad held groundbreaking ceremonies in St. Louis. The westward march of the railroad tracks began.
     The Treaty of Fort Laramie secured relatively safe passage through Indian country for immigrants on the Oregon Trail.

December 1852 - The inaugural run from the St. Louis depot to Cheltenham completed a distance of five miles.

July 1853 - The run from the St. Louis depot was extended to Franklin, now called Pacific, a distance of 38 miles. (Note: some claim Franklin was the original eastern starting point for the Santa Fe Trail.)

December 1853 - As a result of the Gadsden Purchase (December 1853 to April 1854), the United States purchased the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona from the Mexican government for $10,000,000. The purchase provided planners with a possible improvement on the original plans for a southern route because it made it possible to avoid numerous mountainous areas. The route was not constructed because of the debate on slavery, followed by the Civil War and because of the Comanche Indian War. The Southern Pacific Railroad finally crossed Arizona Territory in 1880.

1854 - 1890 - The Indian Wars. Generally the Indian Wars were characterized by Calvary skirmishes and small battles especially when compared to battles of the Civil War. The cancellation of Indian claims to the land and the extermination of the Indian Tribes themselves, was part of a policy based on the concept of manifest destiny. The Sioux tribes – the Dakotas and the Lakotas – led armed resistance to the waves of settlers invading the northern prairies west of the Mississippi River. In spite of the fact they were ancestral enemies, some of the plains tribes including the Dakota, Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone, Arapaho, Kiowas, Comanches, Pawnees, Blackfoot, NezPerce, et al. occasionally formed alliances. But, generally the tribes fought alone. Sometimes only a small band from a much larger tribe, would fight against the Union troops indpendently. The Indians won a few battles and killed a number of settlers in the raids that they made – but the U.S. Army overwhelmingly won the wars.

February 1855 - The rails from the St. Louis depot were extended to Washington, 18 miles west of Franklin and the line totaled 56 miles.
     In December 1855 the Pacific tracks were extended from Washington to Jefferson City, adding 75 more miles to the line, totaling 131 miles.
     The railroad purchased a fleet of paddle wheel steamboats designed for use on the Missouri River in order to connect their railroad passengers and freight to Kansas City, while construction on the rail lines continued. However, the engineers abandoned the river route and cut across the prairies – a shorter less expensive route.

1857 - Financial panic and the Border War with Kansas slowed construction on the Pacific Railroad.

July 1858 - The Pacific reached Tipton, adding another 29 miles of track, bringing the total to 160 miles. Tipton was the eastern terminus of the Butterfield Stage Line that provided the first overland mail and passenger service to San Francisco.

1859 - The Pikes Peak Gold Rush caused an influx of miners and settlers to the front range of Colorado.

1860 - In February, a proposal touted by Theodore Judah was written into bill form and shepherded through the House by Iowa representative Samuel Curtis for a transcendental railroad route through the central Rockies from Sacramento east to link with lines coming west from the Missouri River. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.
     In July the Pacific tracks reach Sedalia, Missouri, adding 52 miles and extending the length to 192 miles west of the St. Louis depot. Sedalia would be the end of the line until 1864.
     In November, out in Sacramento, California, the big four of Collis Huntington, Marley Hopkins, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker formed the Central Pacific Railroad. It was their plan to build eastward over the mountains to join up with rail lines coming west. They began to lobby congress for funding.
     In November Abraham Lincoln wins the presidency. The Confederate States secede from the Union following Lincoln's election.

1861 - Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter and the Civil War started in earnest. Construction on the Pacific Railroad halted for the next three years. Since Texas sides with the Confederacy, all work on the plans for a southern transcontinental railroad route were put on hold.

1962-1863 -
Montana Gold Rush

1862 - The Homestead Act was signed by President Lincoln. Anyone who was at least 21 years old and had not taken up arms against the U.S. Government (been a Confederate soldier) or was a freed slave could file an application claiming a federal land grant in the Territories for up to 160 acres. Once filed the claimant had to live on the land for five years, show evidence of having made improvements and at the end of the five years file for deed of the title. At that point the farmer had "free land" The program was much abused but led many an immigrant west.
     In May Congress passes Curtis' second attempt to get the central transcontinental route authorized. The Senate passes his Pacific Railroad Act, June 20 and is approved by President Lincoln as a war measure for the preservation of the Union. The act funded two lines – the Central Pacific building east from Sacramento and the Union Pacific building west from Omaha. Under the act, both lines were required to build 50 miles of track per year. They were given a checkerboard of land grants along their right-of-way and government bonds that they could sell to raise funds for the construction. Clearly Sacramento would be the western terminal but there were four contenders for the eastern connection. Council Bluff, Iowa (the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad via what became the Union Pacific Railroad). St. Joseph, Missouri - (via the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad). Kansas City, Missouri or Leavenworth, Kansas - (via the Pawnee and Western later the Kansas Pacific).
     Lincoln chose the Omaha route owned by his former employer, Dr. Thomas Clark Durant. However the contending lines were also authorized for similar funding as feeder lines to the Union Pacific. For the most part immigrant Irish workers laid the track of the Union Pacific. Chinese immigrants laid the tracks for the Central Pacific.

Note: The Credit Mobillier Scandal involving the Union Pacific Railroad officers comes to light in 1872. The officers were bribing congressmen and employing stock manipulation and speculation to milk the company which resulted in bankruptcy for the line and created a financial panic. Reorganization of the line was completed in January 1880 when the Union Pacific Railroad became the Union Pacific Railway.

1863 - The Bozeman Trial connected Virginia City, Montana and the Montana Gold Fields with the Oregon Trail. The route of the Bozeman Trail passed through Indian Territory and started conflicts with the Lakota, Sioux, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes.
      The Atchison Topeka Railroad chartered in 1859, changed its name to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe in order to more clearly match its grand vision of service from Atchison, Kansas to Santa Fe, New Mexico and beyond to the Gulf of Mexico.
      The U.S. Congress authorized the Union Pacific Eastern Division during the war as part of the Pacific Railway Act of 1862. Its purpose was to create a second, more central branch of the southern transcontinental railroad.
Note: Six years later, in 1869, the Union Pacific Eastern Division changed its name to the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
      In September Union Pacific eastern construction on a main line westward from Kansas City started toward Lawrence, Kansas.

1864 - Union Pacific eastern rails reached Lawrence, about 40 miles west of Kansas City.
      The Pacific Railroad tracks (later the Missouri Pacific) finally reached Warrensburg from Sedalia. At the same time track was laid eastward from Kansas City to Independence, Missouri.
      Confederate General Sterling Price's Raid ravaged the Pacific tracks from Pacific, Missouri, west to Sedalia and they also destroyed the line from Kansas City to Independence. Many bridges and all line of track had to be repaired or replaced.

1865 - General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox and the Civil War came to an end.
      In September meanwhile back on the Pacific line, the tracks coming east from Kansas City and going west from Warrensburg are connected.
      Phillip Danforth Armour opened a large meat packing plant in Chicago, known as Armour and Company.
      Baxter Springs in the southeast corner of Kansas became the dividing point on the Shawnee Trail route north. Some herds move on north toward Kansas City and St. Joseph, some will turn northeast toward Sedalia. Over the next few years Baxter Springs built stockyards capable of holding 20,000 head of cattle, to be fed and fattened and provided access to range land with plenty of grass and water for herds. Baxter Springs a wild and generally lawless cow town, was the first cow town in Kansas.

1866 - The era of large-scale cattle drives from south Texas to the railheads in Missouri and Kansas began in earnest and in that year drove an estimated 260,000 head of cattle up the trail for shipment east.
     Nelson Story also drove a herd of 1,000 cattle over the Bozeman Trail to stock his ranching operation in the Gallatin Valley.
     The Union Pacific Eastern Division Railroad's (later the Kansas Pacific) tracks reached Junction City, Kansas, near Fort Riley, Kansas.

1867 - Back east, the Chicago and North Western Railroad reached Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha.
      Joseph McCoy opened his Great Western Stockyard at Abilene, Kansas. The Kansas Pacific Railroad linked Abilene to Kansas City and connections with the Pacific Railroad heading east.
       Abilene, Kansas, becomes the end of the Chisholm Trail and one of the most famous Kansas cow towns. The Chisholm Trail was named after a half-blood Cherokee Indian and trader named Jesse Chisholm. The trail had been a wagon route that Jesse used to trade with the Indians. The trail extended 220 miles south from what became Wichita to his trading post on the North Canadian River. The Chisholm Trail then headed due south to a crossing on the Red River at Red River Station, Texas. From there it followed the old Shawnee Trail south. This route, which went through the central part of Indian Territory (inhabited by the more civilized tribes, Cherokee, Choctaw, et al.), was relatively safe. Some tribes expected the herds to pay a small toll but the Chisholm Trail was a shorter route to the railhead than going around the eastern edge of the territories avoiding conflicts with the former Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers who settled the eastern side of Kansas and western side of Missouri after the war

1868 - The first successful barbedwire fencing material was introduced.
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1869 - The first American Transcontinental Railroad connection was completed at Promontory Point, Utah. The route of the Union Pacific Railroad had followed the Platte River westward from Omaha, Nebraska and joined with the Central Pacific Railroad coming west from Sacramento, California.
      Back in Missouri the Pacific Railroad was busy changing its tracks from 5-6 gauges to the more standard 4-9 gauges in order to someday make direct connections with the eastern railroads, if ever a bridge is built over the Mississippi River.
      The Chanute Bridge over the Missouri River connects Kansas City to St. Joseph (via the Hannibal and St. Joseph) and routes east. Kansas City beat out Leavenworth, a town at that time was twice its size for this strategic bridge. The Pacific Railroad is located south of the river. So Kansas City now had service from two railroads going east.

1870 - The Missouri Kansas Texas (K-T was the symbol on the stock exchange) the ìKatyî as it is known, was incorporated. The Katy immediately purchased the Union Pacific southern branch, the Labette & Sedalia Railway Company, the Neosho Valley & Holden Railway Company, the Tebo & Neosho Railroad Company, the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railroad Company and the Hannibal & Central Missouri Railroad Company; combining them into the Katy system.
In May 1870, the Missouri Kansas & Texas railroad reached Baxter Springs.
In June of 1870, Katy workers laid the first rails across the Kansas border southward into Indian Territory, ultimately reaching Dallas, Texas in 1886. This connected the line from Sedalia to deep within Texas.
     Wichita, Kansas was incorporated. The Union Pacific reached Wichita that same year and Wichita became a cow town at the railhead for the shortened Chisholm Trail. Kansas' legislature enacted a quarantine line for Texas cattle, banning them east of the Arkansas River to prevent the spread of Texas fever. Baxter Springs loses its place as the preferred railhead just as the Katy tracks get there.

1871 - The Kansas City Livestock Exchange and Stockyards were opened to provide a market other than that offered by the railroad cattle buyers. The facility grew from 14 to 55 acres and would become at its peak, the second largest livestock market in the United States, second only to Chicago. The stockyards were connected to the Kansas Pacific and brought cattle from the west and the Pacific tracks (Missouri Pacific), taking them east. Kansas City became known for quality steaks all over the world.

1872 - The Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City became the trails end of the Great Western Cattle Trail or simply the Western Trail. The Western Trail which split off of the Chisholm Trail avoided conflicts with the eastern settlers over Texas fever.
      The Katy Railroad reached Dennison, Texas. Cattle could now be shipped directly from deep inside Texas all the way to Sedalia and points east.
      The Credit Mobillier Scandal (the Union Pacific Railroad reorganizes in 1880) caused a panic in the financial market. The financial panic of 1872 forces the reorganization of the Pacific Railroad, as well and it became the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

1874 - The Eads Bridge at St. Louis crossed the Mississippi River allowing direct railroad connections between railroads on the west side of the river and those on the east side. The construction of railroad feeder lines explodes across the western plains.
      In 1874, the Comanche Indians and other of the more war-like western plains tribes had been pushed onto smaller reservations in what is often called the Oklahoma Territory near Fort sill and other locations even farther off the trail route. Diseases such as smallpox and cholera had reduced the Indian numbers and the killing of buffalo eliminated the southern plains Indians way of life.       Driving herds up the Western Trail became safer as well as shorter than going up either the Chisholm or Shawnee Trails. Dodge City then became the cow town of choice.

1875 - 1878 - The Black Hills Gold Rush occurred in the Dakota Territories
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1879 - Jay Gould bought control of the Missouri Pacific and added it to his network of rail lines known as the Southwest System.

1880s - The railroads were the Kings of Prairie Commerce and dictated prices and which towns survived.

1881 - By 1881 the southern herd of American Bison had been commercially market hunted to the point of extension.
     The Southern Pacific became the second American Transcontinental Railroad to cross the plains, this time by the southern route. Having started westward from California in 1877, the Southern Pacific linked up with the Santa Fe Railroad at Demingo, New Mexico, in 1881. The Southern Pacific was built from what was originally the San Francisco Railroad and owned by the same big four investors that built the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific was the railroad that joined with the Union Pacific at Promontory Point to complete the first Transcontinental American Railroad route across the northern prairies.

By 1883, Huntington's group had gained control over a large number of smaller railroads and had named this Second Transcontinental Railroad route the Sunset Route. The Sunset Route extended from California across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to New Orleans. Huntington and his cohorts controlled over 85% of California's overland shipping. The Southern Pacific Railroad empire termed the Octopus, dominated much of the California economy for years to come.

By 1884, the northern herd of buffalo was also near extension and the Plains Indians' horse culture, bison based hunting and free roaming life style was subjugated to reservations and reduced to handouts of government cattle allotments for survival.

1885 - Kansas closed the state to Texas cattle.

1886 - The MKT or Katy reached Dallas. By this time, widespread use of barbwire to fence off rangeland and the Texas fever quarantine brought the era of the large-scale Texas cattle drive to an end.
     Two strand barbwire fencing reached the market in 1868, however it wasn't until 1874 when Joseph Glidden introduced the Winner,- the first truly successfully wire fence material, that this highly effective tool begins to change life in the west. Wooden fences were expensive and difficult to acquire on the western plains where few trees grew. Large numbers of settlers and farmers brought west by the railroad and the promise of free land from the government Homestead Act of 1862 were settling on the plains during the 1870s and 80s. Homesteaders were able to make widespread use of barbwire fences to secure their claims and that created a mass market for barbwire fencing. In some areas settlers had to use stone fence posts to support the wire but they were committed to carving the prairies into farms and small ranches and barbwire was cheap. Even large ranches used barbwire to protect their claims to water and grass. Conflicts often occurred between those claiming ownership rights to range land and fence cutters - such as drovers and free grazers who sought open pasture, water, or free passage across the prairie. In 1884 Texas passed laws making it a felony to cut a fence. Soon after, the other prairie states followed their lead. Despite the lament of many a cowboy, the open prairies were being fenced in and the era of the cattle drive was brought to an end.

1888 - Katy becomes part of the Union Pacific.
 
Although cattle drives still moved stock from pasture to pasture within large ranches and from ranch to local railheads, those drives were of short duration, generally involved much smaller herds, and only covered a few miles compared to those from the heyday of the cattle drives – 1866-1886. Some drives are still held to this day, and the romance and the indomitable spirit of the cowboy and the legend of the cattle drive will live on forever.

 

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