A Brief History of The Great Western Cattle Trail
In 1874, Captain John T. Lytle and several cowboys left South Texas with 3,500 head of longhorn cattle and a herd of saddle horses. Five years later, the route Lytle cut out of the prairie to Ft. Robinson, Nebraska, had become the most significant and traveled cattle trail in history- The Great Western Cattle Trail.
Though less well known than the Chisholm trail, the Great Western Cattle Trail was longer in length and carried cattle for two years longer than the Chisholm. The Great Western Cattle Trail saw over seven million cattle and horses pass through Texas and Oklahoma to railheads in Kansas and Nebraska – an important factor in developing the cattle industry as far north as Wyoming and Montana.
Established in 1878, Doan’s Crossing was known on the trail as “the jumping off place.” The last place to get mail and supplies before entering Indian Territory, the Doan’s store did a brisk business in Stetson hats, guns, ammo, tobacco, and provisions. At its peak, 300 people lived in the town of Doan’s, which consisted of a two-story hotel with a basement, a restaurant, saloon, drug store, supply house, wagon yard, branding pens with furnaces and corrals, twelve houses, and several families that lived in half dugouts in the hills surrounding the town site. Today, the 1881 adobe building, still standing at Doan’s, is the oldest structure in Wilbarger County.
Traffic on the Great Western Cattle Trail began to decline in 1885 with the introduction of barbed wire and legislation that was passed calling for a quarantine of Texas cattle because of the “Texas Fever,” a disease caused by a parasitic tick. In 1893 the last large cattle drive up the Great Western Trail crossed the Red River heading to Deadwood, South Dakota. By this time an estimated seven million cattle and one million horses had crossed the river at Doan’s Crossing and moved up the trail.
In the 1930’s two markers were set at Doan’s to commemorate the historical significance of the area. In 2003 a project was launched to mark the entire Great Western Cattle Trail with a cement post placed every six miles along the trail from the Rio Grande to Ogallala, Nebraska. Oklahoma set the first post south of the city of Altus near the Red River. The first post in Texas was set in 2004 during the 121st Doan’s May Day Picnic at the Doan’s adobe.
Though the era of the cowboy and great cattle trails was short, historically speaking, the Great Western Cattle Trail embodied the spirit, determination, and grit of the early Texans and remains one of the most romantic and interesting times of our past. So saddle up, partner and hit the trail to the past for a “Great Western” adventure across time and history.
The Great Western Cattle Trail Association