Cattle Ranching: The Beginnings
As westward expansion continued there was a need for a stable, profitable market to be developed. Many people at the time were homesteaders and did not earn much due to the volatile weather of the west. Cattle Ranching is a staple of the American West and specifically Texas, where it originated. Prior to 1860, Texas was the main producer of livestock in the country, but during the Civil War the Union launched a blockade on most Texas trade routes. Due to this, the populations of Texas longhorns vastly multiplied and while the value of cattle in that state dropped to about "four dollars a head". Cattle ranchers, desperate for profit, decided to push their cattle northward into Missouri and Kansas in the summer of 1866. Despite the entrepreneurial spirit of cattle ranchers across Texas, there was no organization in this market. Infrequent trading routes and times made it difficult for ranchers to establish a true foothold in the mid-west and eastern markets. Something had to be done to transform this potential gold mine of an industry.
The Pioneer: Joseph G. Mccoy
Joseph McCoy truly revolutionized the cattle trading industry through his ideas. McCoy was born on December 21, 1837 in Sangamon County, Illinois. He spent some time at Knox College before getting married in 1861 to Sarah Elpher. That same year, McCoy was introduced to the cattle industry where he immediately saw room for growth and improvement. McCoy explains in his book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade in the West and Southwest, that true wealth was measured by livestock. He draws comparison's to biblical stories claiming that "Noah was an ancient, and extensive live stock shipper". He ,too, saw that cattle were only going for 3-4 dollars a head in Texas. However, "in cities like Chicago they were worth up to around $30 to $40 dollars a head" (Kansas Historical Society). It was a general consensus among homesteaders that the best way to generate wealth was to trade cattle, but McCoy recognized that cattle could be an interesting trading prospect in the Eastern United States as markets in that area wanted high- quality meat.
Cattle Trade: The Revolution
McCoy came to the realization that the Cattle Trade had to be established through organization. Joseph McCoy is credited with the creation of the Texas and Kansas cattle trails. He met opposition in his early career as Kansas did not permit Texas Longhorns in their state as they were immune to the "Texas Fever" disease while mid-western cattle were not. McCoy worked directly with Kansas officials to ease laws allowing large scale longhorn cattle drives along "the first guide meridian west from the sixth principal meridian" (Kansas Historical Society). He first organized a central shipping point in Texas near a railroad. This port connected the north end of roughly established Chisholm trail created by John Chisholm, a frontier stock man. McCoy extended the Chisholm trail through Kansas and bought a small area near the Union Pacific railway. He named it Abilene and developed it into one of America's first "cow towns". Cow towns were mid-western ports that depended solely on the seasonal transport of livestock. The Union Pacific railway was important as it connected western cattle with the eastern United States. From this railway, many cattle were shipped to Quincy, Illinois. From Quincy, cattle could be easily shipped to markets in Chicago.
A lasting Impact
With newfound success came a newfound industry. In it's first year, Abilene saw 35,000 heads of cattle be transported east and 75,000 heads the next year. Joseph G. McCoy was named mayor of Abilene in 1870 while moving over 100,000 heads of cattle through the town. Cow towns like Wichita, Kansas sprung up in the aftermath of Abilene's success. The Federal Government went so far as to recruit McCoy to create an extensive report on the livestock industry for the 11th census. Trails like the Great Western and Sedalia trails expanded from southeast Texas through trading ports in Missouri and Kansas City. The cattle boom ultimately met a slowdown during the mid 1870s. Spanish Fever led to many cattle deaths along the trail and prices fell in most markets. The disease was thought to be incurable to most Texas born cattle. Dead cattle could only be traded using the hides. Disease coupled with a bitter winter that destroyed grazing land greatly reduced the cattle trade. Despite these events, the cattle trade illustrated the true enterprising attitude of the west. Cattle was and will always be the most important staple of the western image