Blazing the Trail

In 1857, General George R. Smith founded “Sedville.”
A name derived from his daughter Sarah’s nickname
“Sed.” The name of his proposed new prairie town
would later be refined to the more lyrical name of
Sedalia.

In 1860, when the Pacific Railroad chose to
locate a depot on General Smith's proposed new
town site — “Sedalia, Queen City of the Prairies”
was officially born. The destiny of Sedalia has
always been linked to the railroad.

A Border War between Kansas Jayhawkers and the Missouri Bushwhackers had been escalating for three years prior to 1860, making the railroad connection difficult. The attack on Fort Sumter and the session of the Confederate States launched the Civil War in earnest, just as the rails reached Sedalia.

Because of the war, western extension of the railroad was forced to halt at Sedalia. Sedalia was the “end of the line,” and remained the end of the line until the late stages of the war. The railroad reached Warrensburg in 1864, and just as the rails reached Kansas City in 1865, the war ended.

With the end of the war, civilian commerce flourished once again in Missouri. There was a huge pent-up demand, a hunger for beef back east and there was a vast supply of maverick longhorn cattle roaming the open ranges of Texas. To get them to market, the cattle drive was born in 1866.

Some of the first cattle drives headed north along the eastern edge of the Indian Territories along what was know as the Sedalia Trail. Sedalia was the goal and destination to which the drovers pushed their herds. Once they reached Sedalia, the longhorns could be loaded on “cattle cars” and shipped by rail to the stockyards of St. Louis, Chicago and points further east. As the railroad extended west across Kansas, other towns such as Abilene, Dodge City, etc., quickly usurped Sedalia’s position as the preferred choice of railhead.

Even after its role as “end of the line” had long passed, Sedalia was still connected to the shipment of cattle to the east. The extension of the Katy Railroad from Sedalia to deep into Texas, resulted in Sedalia becoming a major watering and rest stop for the endless stream of live beef headed east to the packing houses. It could be argued that Sedalia was the original “cow town.”

The period of the trail drive was short-lived, only lasting about 20 years, but the heritage of the “cowboy” and the “cattle drive” will live forever in books, movies and in the minds of independent, freedom loving people the world over.

Today’s Sedalia, with its friendly people, stately homes and majestic buildings, schools and churches, art and performance centers, ragtime tradition and historic state fairgrounds, all came about because of General Smith’s vision and the railroads which brought it to fulfillment and made cattle, cowboys and cattle drives an important part of Sedalia’s heritage.

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