Enriching our history are many trails and roads which passed through this area. But not all these pathways were for the movement of people.
The Great Western Trail is a major trail through Dodge City that far more cattle than humans used.
It started in the 16th century when explorers brought longhorn cattle from Spain to south Texas aboard their ships. Their plan was to have herds of cattle in place for potential settlers.
The mass of settlers didn't materialize, but the cattle left behind flourished. By the end of the Civil War millions of "feral" cattle inhabited the land nearly 1,000 miles to our south. They belonged to no one and were free meat for the taking.
However, that was not as wonderful as it sounds. First the cattle had to rounded up, branded and well-fed for the arduous trip north to the railheads in Kansas. And it took about 12 cowboys to herd 3,000 longhorns.
At first, cowboys brought cattle up to central Kansas on the Chisholm Trail, but a problem developed. The longhorns carried, a tick-borne disease "Texas Fever" which was fatal to domestic herds in eastern and central Kansas. In 1874, the government responded to this threat by establishing a north-south quarantine line east of Dodge City. This quarantine encompassed the Chisholm to the east.
The Great Western Cattle Trail, replaced the Chisholm. Also known as the Western Trail, Fort Griffin Trail, Dodge City Trail, Northern Trail or Texas Trail, it was used for next 11 years for the major migration of longhorns coming from Texas.
In 1874, Captain John T. Lytle was the first to herd cattle up the Trail. He brought 3,500 longhorns from southern Texas. But he continued on from Dodge City to Nebraska.
Within five years the Great Western was the most heavily traveled trail in the United States. It passed through Dodge City where the longhorns either continued to points north or were placed on railcars. Either way, they were processed to fill the plates of hungry eaters.
The trip difficult for the longhorns and it was not easy for the cowboys who accompanied them. It consisted of weeks filled with long dusty days in the saddle away from the comforts of home. It was usually boring, with unappetizing food, no booze and no female companionship.
However it was worse when it wasn't boring. The routine was disrupted by stampedes, violent storms, high water, rattlesnakes, illness, injury and, on rare occasions, Indian attacks. As the years passed, run-ins with farmers and ranchers increased as the west was settled.
Settlement lead to the ultimate demise of the drives. Conflicts with homesteaders and fences threatened the drives. The deathblow came in 1885 when the quarantine line, meant to prevent the spread of Texas Fever to settlers herds, moved west to the Colorado border. This stopped the drives through Kansas. Drovers attempts to establish a trail through eastern Colorado failed, thus ending the era of longhorn cattle drives.
Today, ruts left by over four million longhorns mark parts of the Great Western Trail. The Trail roughly follows US Highway 283 from Dodge City through Oklahoma into most of Texas. Various civic groups and organizations including the Great Western Cattle Trail Association have placed markers and monuments along the Trail.