Final part of a 4 part series
While some may have mourned the loss of the trade, others were celebrating all across the county.
On Feb. 29, 1872, the Abilene Weekly Chronicle reprinted an article from the Solomon Weekly Times that congratulated Abilene emphatically for finally ending the cattle trade. According to the Solomon Weekly Times: “our Abilene friends deserve credit for the effective manner in which they are clearing out the town of vagabonds, cut-throats, and prostitutes that have infested it in the past.
They have never been tolerated by the citizens of Abilene, but flocked in there on account of the great number of Texas cattle drivers that have made Abilene their headquarters. It is now an orderly, respectable city, filling up with the best of law abiding citizens. The Texas cattle trade is among the things of the past, and the Abilene of today is not the Abilene of the past.”
Abilene could now move on from its rough past and begin anew.
Some critics of Abilene’s decision to leave the cattle trade, though, predicted a bleak future for Abilene. According to the March 21, 1872, edition of the Abilene Weekly Chronicle, some people were predicting the decline of Abilene now that the cattle trade had moved to Ellsworth.
The Abilene Weekly Chronicle, on the other hand, argued that Abilene could now base its future on permanent settlers in the county and that it could now “be a substantial, prosperous, and moral town.” Abilene would now be the location of “true civilization, refinement, and religion.”
Even with the cattle trade gone, the newspaper argued that local businesses were still seeing brisk business and that Dickinson County had a large enough population to support a town like Abilene.
For the Abilene Weekly Chronicle, “permanent citizens and permanent growth are far better for the real prosperity of a town or country, than a business which flourishes only for three or four months in a community, and leaves every enterprise flat for the remaining months of the year. Give us the Abilene of the present and future, and we’ll gladly go forward, forgetting the trials of the past in the glad work of building up one of the finest and best towns in the great Central State.”
One final article in the Abilene Weekly Chronicle on July 18, 1872, painted a picture of a hopeful future for Abilene and the benefits reaped by ending the cattle trade. The writer began by stating that during the cattle trade period, Abilene was a place of “hungry, lawless pack of thieves, cut-throats, gamblers, prostitutes…” and that “the local authorities were either powerless or too corrupt to enforce the law and drive out the vile characters.”
This has all changed, according to the writer, now that “hell is sixty miles away; Abilene is a quiet, orderly, and respectable town.” While there might be less money floating around the town than before, the article states, there is also “less ‘hell’ than formerly.”
Abilene might have lost some of its excitement and bustle, but it also lost the “cut-throats, thieves, murders, and every description of outlaws … it is safe for women and children to attend Sunday Schools and churches without risking life or character, for there are no stray bullets flying around from revolvers in the hands of drunken men. …”
“The town has assumed more respectable, permanent appearance. The buildings going up this season are better than ever before — no blow-down shanty shells designed for temporary uses, but substantial, neat, tasty, modern style residences. …” According to the author of the article, “anyone who likes bad whiskey, bad women, and ‘glories’ in deviltry in general, must go elsewhere to find such things.”
A new period in the history of Abilene had begun, and it had earned a firmer, more moral, foundation that would allow it to continue to grow and prosper.
The year 1871 proved eventful for Abilene. While that year witnessed the largest flow of Texas cattle up the Chisholm Trail into Abilene, that year also marked the growth of opposition to the cattle trade. The defenders of the trade argued that the cattle trade benefited Abilene and the county, and that these benefits outweighed the lost crops and the death of native cattle experienced by the local farmers.
For the opponents of the cattle trade, though, these benefits were largely seen to benefit people who lived outside of the state and that the trade brought all types of moral decay and crime.
By the end of 1871, the opponents had gained enough support to end the cattle trade for good and set Abilene, along with the rest of the county, on a new path.
Unlike the predictions of some that Abilene would slowly die as a town, Abilene continued to adapt and to prosper to become the town it is today.