Early Abilene

Abilene became a thriving city after the Texas cattle began arriving.

Part 1 of a 4 part series

When Joseph McCoy came to Abilene in 1867, it was a small town with very little to offer and an unknown future.

By 1871, Abilene was a thriving city with hotels, general stores, grocery stores, and anything a local citizen or cattle driver might need or want (including numerous bars, gambling houses and brothels). This growth and prosperity largely came through the cattle trade began by McCoy that came up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene from Texas.

Abilene’s growth and prosperity, though, sowed the seeds of the end of the very thing that created it.

As Abilene grew and became more prosperous, more settlers came to Abilene and Dickinson County to seek their livelihoods. Many of these settlers set up farms and planted crops or raised cattle in the open land found throughout Dickinson County.

With the expansion of farming in Dickinson County came increased controversy. One of the main factors that aided the success of the cattle trade was the availability of open grasslands to drive the cattle to the market. The increase in the amount of farmers in Dickinson County, though, decreased the amount of land available to the cattle drivers to take their cattle through to the market. This brought the cattle driver and the farmer much closer together and created tension.

Farmers, naturally, did not appreciate the Texas cattle trampling on their crops. Also problematic for the farmer, was that Texas cattle carried a tick that carried the Texas fever which often killed off much of the local cattle that the longhorns came in contact with. The trampling of their crops and the death of their cattle caused much hardship on the local farmers and this caused farmers to resent the continuation of the cattle trade.

On the other side of the coin, the cattle drivers were just doing their job and, for the most part, did not purposefully try and cause the local farmers too many problems. For the cattle drivers and others involved in the cattle trade (including Joseph McCoy), the continuation of the cattle drives was viewed as essential to their, and Abilene’s, economic success.

Farmers, on the other hand, slowly came to believe that the end of the cattle drives was essential to their, and Abilene’s, economic success.

The Abilene Weekly Chronicle, on Sept. 28, 1871, summed up the controversy when it said: “the farmers say that either they or the cattle trade must inevitably leave the county…” As time went on, this divide between the farmers and the cattlemen widened to the point where it became impossible to ignore, and almost as impossible to solve in a manner satisfactory to both sides.

The controversy over the cattle trade in Dickinson County can first be traced back to 1868, just a year after the beginning of the cattle trade. A group of farmers and citizens, numbering around 50, of the Lyons Creek Valley near Lyona on the eastern edge of Dickinson County, met at the end of July 1868 to discuss the cattle trade up the Chisholm Trail.

According to the Junction City Weekly Union on August 1, 1868 (Dickinson County did not have a newspaper yet), the Lyons Creek Valley farmers were expecting their crops to be a total failure for the year and that the famers did not expect to harvest even a bushel of corn. For many of these farmers, their main economic fallback was the cattle herds, which the disease bearing ticks carried by the Texas cattle threatened to kill off and could financially ruin them.

The farmers of Lyons Creek Valley, through the pages of the Junction City Weekly Union, then issued these resolutions: “Whereas, we, the citizens of Lyons Creek Valley, believing that it is injurious to our native stock, and dangerous to our interests in raising the same, to allow Texas cattle to be driven through the valley; therefore, resolved, that we, the citizens of Lyons Creek Valley, will use all lawful means to prevent them from being driven through this Valley, or within 10 miles of it. Resolved, that we unite to enforce the above resolution.”

It is only natural that these farmers would unite to protect their cattle and livelihood from injury or destruction.

Even though Lyons Creek Valley may not have rested in the direct path of the Texas cattle coming up the Chisholm Trail, the cattle trade did still affect the valley. In many cases, after the Texas cattle arrived in Abilene, the cattle did not immediately enter the stockyards and board a train.

Instead, the cattle drivers would keep the cattle in the surrounding grasslands and let the cattle graze in an attempt to fatten the cattle.

For many cattle drivers, they would have to go farther out in the county to find suitable grass for their cattle herds as the season went on and this brought the Texas cattle in contact with local native cattle on farms all over the county.

This contact between the Texas cattle and the local native cattle meant that local cattle deaths caused by the Texas cattle ticks affected farmers throughout the county. The Texas cattle trade might have centered in Abilene, but the trade’s effects were felt countywide.

While the outcome of the Lyons Creek Valley farmers’ resolutions or whether they were able to prevent Texas cattle from passing through is unknown, this set a precedent that Abilene citizens and other Dickinson County farmers would follow in 1871 in their attempt to end the cattle trade in Abilene for good.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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