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Overland Trails

Here is some interesting reference material gathered during creation of the "Memoirs of Capt Kirk"

  When emigration over the Ore
gon Trail began in earnest in about 1836, for many settlers Fort Hall Idaho became the last stop on the Oregon Trail where they could get supplies, aid and help before starting their homestead. Fort Vancouver was the main re-supply point for nearly all Oregon trail travelers until U.S. towns could be established.
As the trail developed it became marked by numerous cutoffs and shortcuts from Missouri to Oregon. The basic route follows river valleys as grass and water were absolutely necessary.
  While the first few parties organized and departed from Elm Grove, the Oregon Trail's primary starting point was Independence, Missouri, or Westport, Kansas City (Missouri), on the Missouri River. Later, several feeder trails led across Kansas, and some towns became starting points, including Weston, Missouri, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Atchison, Kansas, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska.

The Oregon Trail's nominal termination point was Oregon City, at the time the proposed capital of the Oregon Territory. However, many settlers branched off or stoppe
d short of this goal and settled at convenient or promising locations along the trail. Commerce with pioneers going further west helped establish these early settlements and launched local economies critical to their prosperity.


Initially, the main "jumping off point" was the common head of the Santa Fe Trail and Oregon trail—Independence, Misso
uri/Kansas City, Kansas. Travelers starting in Independence had to ferry across the Missouri River. After following the Santa Fe trail to near present day Topeka, Kansas they ferried across the Kansas River to start the trek across Kansas and points west. Another busy "jumping off point" was St. Joseph, Missouri—established in 1843. In its early days, St. Joseph was a bustling outpost and rough frontier town, serving as one of the last supply points before heading over the Missouri River to the frontier. St. Joseph had good steamboat connections to St. Louis, Missouri and other ports on the combined Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi River systems. During the busy season there were several ferry boats and steamboats available to transport travelers to the Kansas shore where they started their travels westward. Before the Union Pacific Railroad was started in 1865, St. Joseph was the westernmost point in the United States accessible by rail. Other towns used as supply points in Missouri included Old Franklin, Arrow Rock, and Fort Osage.

  Kansas City, KS is other side of border from Independence MO
Abilene is 150 mi west of Kansas City. St. Louis MO (on the Mississippi) is 250mi due east of Kansas City.

   Independence was founded on March 29, 1827, and quickly became an important frontier town. Independence was the farthest point westward on the Missouri River where steamboats or other cargo vessels could travel, due to the convergence of the Kansas River with the Missouri River approximately six miles west of town, near the current Kansas-Missouri border. Independence immediately became a jumping-off point for the emerging fur trade, accommodating merchants and adventurers beginning the long trek westward on the Santa Fe Trail.

  Independence saw great prosperity from the late 1830s through the mid-1840s, while the business of outfitting pioneers boomed. Between 1848 and 1868, it was a hub of the California Trail. On March 8, 1849, the Missouri General Assembly granted a home-rule charter to the town and on July 18, 1849, William McCoy was elected as its first mayor. In the mid-19th century an Act of the United States Congress defined Independence as the start of the Oregon Trail

  John Calvin McCoy, who is considered the "father of Kansas City", had a hand in establishing settlements in both locations. In 1833, he opened a trading post in the hills three miles south of the river. McCoy named it "West Port" because it was the last place to get supplies before travelers went into Kansas Territory on the California Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and Oregon Trail. McCoy got supplies from boats that docked at a rocky outcropping on the river at what is Main Street and the river; the area was called "Westport Landing." McCoy's landing and Chouteau's trading post were to drive traffic to the last outpost before settlers traveled up the Kansas River or Missouri River. The road connecting Westport with the trading post and Westport Landing followed Broadway. In 1834, the steamboat John Hancock, which was laden with goods for McCoy, became the first steamboat to dock at the Westport Landing and opened up a new era of communication and transportation for the area

  In 1871, the Kansas City Stockyards boomed in the West Bottoms because of their central location in the country and their proximity to trains. They became second only to Chicago's in size, and the city itself was identified with its famous Kansas City steak. In 1899 the American Hereford Association hosted a cattle judging contest in a tent in the stockyards. That event soon became the annual American Royal two-month long livestock festival. The Kansas City stockyards were destroyed in the Great Flood of 1951 and never fully recovered.

   In case of an emergency, flour can be bought at Fort Hall, and Fort Bois, two trading posts of the Hudson's Bay Company, at twenty dollars per hundred; and by forwarding word to Spalding's mission, on the Kooskooskee, they will pack out flour to Fort Bois, at ten dollars per hundred, and to the Grand Round at eight dollars, and will take in exchange dry goods, groceries, &c.; but at Forts Hall and Bois, the company will take nothing in payment but cash or cattle. At Dr. Whitman's station, flour can be bought at five dollars per hundred, corn meal at four dollars, beef at six and seven cents per pound, potatoes, fifty cents per bushel. It is proper to observe that the flour at Spalding's and Whitman's stations will be unbolted. Emigrants however, should be cautious, and lay in a sufficient supply to last them through.

, the means of transcontinental transportation used for two centuries of American history. The covered wagon was fundamentally a wagon box with a framework of hoop-shaped slats over which a canvas tent was stretched to make a "covered" wagon. Each wagon was drawn by several teams of horses, mules, or oxen. Many were boat shaped with oarlocks so they might be floated over streams, the animals swimming across.

Although derived from the Conestoga wagons built in Lancaster, Pa., in the early eighteenth century, the covered wagon used by emigrants on the Oregon and California trails differed in size, design, and purpose. Conestoga wagons were primarily designed to haul heavy goods for trade along the eastern coast, while smaller covered wagons were the vehicle of choice for emigrant groups headed to western destinations.

Emigrants using covered wagons assembled at such points west of the Missouri River as Independence, Mo., and Council Grove, Kans., and organized into caravans—called wagon trains—for companionship and protection. Emigrants usually took between four and six months to make the two-thousand-mile trek that lay between the Missouri and the Pacific Ocean. Although the threat of Indian attack was small, emigrants would often draw their wagons into a circle to serve as a corral for their animals and post sentinels to guard against livestock raids. Covered wagons remain in museums, including the Conestoga wagon original at Pittsburgh, Pa., and Ezra Meeker's prairie schooner at Tacoma, Wash.
Santa Fe Trail History - William Becknell, 1821

The Santa Fe Trail (aka, Santa Fe Road) was an ancient passageway used regularly after 1821 by merchant-traders from Missouri who took manufactured goods to Santa Fe to exchange for furs and other items available there. Mexican traders also provided caravans going to western Missouri in this international trade.

For many years after the Santa Fe Trail was opened, Council Grove was the only trading post between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Council Grove was the rendezvous of westward bound travelers and freighters and traders who were crossing the plains. The region from Council Grove to near Santa Fe was the most hazardous part of the trail, which was about eight hundred miles long when Westport or Independence, Missouri were the jumping-off-places.

In western Kansas a Santa Fe-bound caravan had the choice of two routes:

The Mountain Route (Long Route) of the Santa Fe Trail was the 230 miles of unprotected campsites between Fort Larned and Fort Lyon in Colorado. It followed the Arkansas River into Colorado before turning south.

The Jornada Route was the water less (dry or desert route) stretch cutting southwest at Cimarron Crossing and other Arkansas River crossings. This route saved ten days and would carry 75 percent of all future trade

1860s Santa Fe Trail was shortened at its eastern end, and with the coming of the Santa Fe Railroad, the trail was virtually deserted. Wagon caravans picked up goods at the railhead, decreasing the length of the trail as the railroad increased.

1866 The long wagon trains that previously formed at Council Grove now formed at Junction City and moved westward over the Smoky Hill route. The Stage Company moved its entire outfit from Council Grove to Junction City.

Early Freighter

Only those who have gathered figures on the industry can realize the immensity of the early freighting business across the plains.

Hand-in-hand with romance, for no more romantic phase of pioneer days was to be found than freighting, went sound business methods.

Men grew rich from freighting. Some of the big fortunes of the west were founded on the ability of men to make a success of hauling freight across the plains.

At one time, when the freighting business was as its height, there were more than 15,000 wagons, some 25,000 mules, 100,000 oxen and cattle and more than 15,000 men engaged in the business.

The great trails across the state were alive with long trains of dusty covered wagons loaded with shipments from the river towns of the far west.

The golden era of the freighter came in the 60s before the Union Pacific railroad was constructed.

During 1865 old records indicate that 100,000,000 pounds of freight was moved westward that year.

Overland Trail

During those days the Overland trail was 200 feet wide and often the wagon trains would travel two abreast.

The usual train consisted of 26 wagons, each carrying 7,000 pounds of freight, 4,000 in the wagon proper and 3,000 on a trailer. They were drawn by five or six yoke of oxen or cattle.

The bullwhacker was in his glory when he mounted to his wagon seat, his 20-foot bullwhip in his hand, his gun by his side.

The wagon trains moved with military precision and were commanded by a wagon-master and assistant, who rode mules.

The greater portion of the Nebraska trade from the Missouri river west was with Denver and Colorado points after gold had been discovered near Pike's peak.

Canned goods, coffee, sugar, flour, chewing tobacco, cigars, salt, powder, soap, crackers, bacon and liquor formed the major part of the freighter's cargo.

The usual price was $1 a 100 pounds for each 100 miles, or about $5 a 100 pounds between the Missouri river and Denver.

Nebraska City, where the well-known company of Russell, Waddell & Majors had headquarters, and Omaha, were the main starting points of the freight trains from the upper Missouri. They followed the Platte river across the state.

Indians continually molested the freighters as they journeyed over the prairie.

The latter part of their journey toward Denver was the more dangerous. Many a bullwhacker or muleskinner was killed and scalped in spite of every effort to make the trail safe.

At one time the military forces took virtual charge of the Nebraska trail and would not permit freighters to start unless they had at least 100 wagons or 60 men in the train.

Romance and danger walked hand-in-hand with the freighter as he drove his 18 to 25 miles a day. He consumed a month in going from Omaha to Denver and traveled no farther in a day than the motor truck will travel in an hour.

Yet he sang and whistled at his work.

At night he sat around campfires on the prairie, his wagons arranged in circle form, and swapped stories of other trips and other days. Occasionally the freight trains would camp near immigrant trains.

When that happened, and it was in any way possible, a dance was hastily arranged to give the drivers an opportunity to meet and dance with white women. It was a great life and there was no lack of drivers.

By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon train had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared further and further west, eventually reaching all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.


CHISHOLM TRAIL. The Chisholm Trail was the major route out of Texas for livestock. Although it was used only from 1867 to 1884, the longhorn cattle driven north along it provided a steady source of income that helped the impoverished state recover from the Civil War. Youthful trail hands on mustangs gave a Texas flavor to the entire range cattle industry of the Great Plains and made the cowboy an enduring folk hero.

When the Civil War ended, the state's only potential assets were its countless longhorns, for which no market was available—Missouri and Kansas had closed their borders to Texas cattle in the 1850s because of the deadly Texas fever they carried. In the East was a growing demand for beef, and many men, among them Joseph G. McCoy of Illinois, sought ways of supplying it with Texas cattle. In the spring of 1867 he persuaded Kansas Pacific officials to lay a siding at the hamlet of Abilene, Kansas, on the edge of the quarantine area. He began building pens and loading facilities and sent word to Texas cowmen that a cattle market was available. That year he shipped 35,000 head; the number doubled each year until 1871, when 600,000 head glutted the market.

The first herd to follow the future Chisholm Trail to Abilene belonged to O. W. Wheeler and his partners, who in 1867 bought 2,400 steers in San Antonio. They planned to winter them on the plains, then trail them on to California. At the North Canadian River in Indian Territory they saw wagon tracks and followed them. The tracks were made by Scot-Cherokee Jesse Chisholm, who in 1864 began hauling trade goods to Indian camps about 220 miles south of his post near modern Wichita. At first the route was merely referred to as the Trail, the Kansas Trail, the Abilene Trail, or McCoy's Trail. Though it was originally applied only to the trail north of the Red River, Texas cowmen soon gave Chisholm's name to the entire trail from the Rio Grande to central Kansas. The earliest known references to the Chisholm Trail in print were in the Kansas Daily Commonwealth of May 27 and October 11, 1870. On April 28, 1874, the Denison, Texas, Daily News mentioned cattle going up "the famous Chisholm Trail."

The herds followed the old Shawnee Trail by way of San Antonio, Austin, and Waco, where the trails split. The Chisholm Trail continued on to Fort Worth, then passed east of Decatur to the crossing at Red River Station. From Fort Worth to Newton, Kansas, U.S. Highway 81 follows the Chisholm Trail. It was, Wayne Gard observed, like a tree—the roots were the feeder trails from South Texas, the trunk was the main route from San Antonio across Indian Territory, and the branches were extensions to various railheads in Kansas. Between 1871, when Abilene ceased to be a cattle market, and 1884 the trail might end at Ellsworth, Junction City, Newton, Wichita, or Caldwell. The Western Trail by way of Fort Griffin and Doan's Store ended at Dodge City.

The cattle did not follow a clearly defined trail except at river crossings; when dozens of herds were moving north it was necessary to spread them out to find grass. The animals were allowed to graze along for ten or twelve miles a day and never pushed except to reach water; cattle that ate and drank their fill were unlikely to stampede. When conditions were favorable longhorns actually gained weight on the trail. After trailing techniques were perfected, a trail boss, ten cowboys, a cook, and a horse wrangler could trail 2,500 cattle three months for sixty to seventy-five cents a head. This was far cheaper than shipping by rail.

The Chisholm Trail led to the new profession of trailing contractor. A few large ranchers such as Capt. Richard King and Abel (Shanghai) Pierce delivered their own stock, but trailing contractors handled the vast majority of herds. Among them were John T. Lytle and his partners, who trailed about 600,000 head. Others were George W. Slaughter and sons, Snyder Brothers, Blocker Brothers, and Pryor Brothers. In 1884 Pryor Brothers contracted to deliver 45,000 head, sending them in fifteen separate herds for a net profit of $20,000.

After the Plains tribes were subdued and the buffalo decimated, ranches sprang up all over the Plains; most were stocked with Texas longhorns and manned by Texas cowboys. Raising cattle on open range and free grass attracted investments from the East and abroad in partnerships such as that of Charles Goodnight and Irish financier John Adair or in ranching syndicates such as the Scottish Prairie Land and Cattle Company and the Matador Land and Cattle Company. Texas tried to outlaw alien land ownership but failed. The XIT Ranch arose when the Texas legislature granted the Capitol Syndicate of Chicago three million acres for building a new Capitol.

The Chisholm Trail was finally closed by barbed wire and an 1885 Kansas quarantine law; by 1884, its last year, it was open only as far as Caldwell, in southern Kansas. In its brief existence it had been followed by more than five million cattle and a million mustangs, the greatest migration of livestock in world history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Wayne Gard, The Chisholm Trail; with Drawings by Nick Eggenhofer (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954). Wayne Gard, "Retracing the Chisholm Trail," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 60 (July 1956). Joseph G. McCoy, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest (Kansas City, Missouri: Ramsey, Millett, and Hudson, 1874; rpt., Philadelphia: Porcupine, 1974). Jimmy M. Skaggs, The Cattle-Trailing Industry: Between Supply and Demand, 1866–1890 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1973). Donald E. Worcester, The Chisholm Trail (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1980).

Donald E. Worcester


The Gila Trail

The story of the overland route from Texas, Blanco County by wagon to California told by T. J. Casner, eighty one and one half years of age. He used to be called little Tommy Casner.

We started the journey from Western Texas about the middle of May 1868, just a little while after the civil war. I was twenty-one years of age. There were four families in the caravan. Mr. Littlepage's family of five, my brother-in-law, Cal Putman's family of three, my brother Martin Vanburin Casner and family of three, our family Martin Casner, wife and three children.

We started with twelve hundred head of cattle and several horses. The women baked up a lot of bread, we had about a thousand pounds of bacon and everything else according. When my father started he hired the best gunmen he could get. There were twelve of us men all together. At night, three at a time would keep guard. We crossed the State Plains, came to the Pecos River at the Horse Head crossing but traveled about three hundred miles up the river, struck the New Mexico line, went through New Mexico near the White Mountains, along here we found a big saw mill, went on through Mexico until we came to the Rio Grande River. All the cattle and wagons had to be ferried across. The second night of our journey nearly all our horses ran away and went back to the head of a stream called Conclro. The country was full of Indians but I and another young fellow went back and got the horses.

From the Rio Grande we went to Tucson, Arizona. Along here we ran out of anything to feed our horses so father bought flour, paying five dollars a sack, mixed it with water and fed the horses. We also ran out of bacon and payed a dollar a pound for it. We killed a calf every evening until they got so poor they weren't fit to eat. Then we traded two poor ones, or three, off to the Indians for one fat one. After leaving Tucson we next came to the Gila River. Near here we came across a wagon train where the Indians had killed every one but two little children who had wandered away during the fight and some people found them on what was called the Salton Flats. The wagon wheels were still hot. The people had been buried by the soldiers who were stationed along the route about every fifty miles. When they heard shots they came as fast as they could but were often too late to do any good. We were not supposed to fire our guns unless we needed help. Some of the boys with us shot a snake one day and here came the soldiers and gave them an awful calling down.

We traveled down the Gila River until we came to Fort Yuma, Arizona. We came to the Colorado River and were ferried across. We next came to Indian Wells which is now Imperial Valley. Just before we came to the Wells we came to a little valley where there was a lot of careless weed growing. Our cattle were so hungry they ate a lot of this weed. They bloated up and we lost forty head all in a bunch. We knew nothing to do for them at that time.

I stayed at Indian Wells for two months to let the cattle fatten up a little. The rest of the train went on to Warner ranch in San Diego County. There was a bunch of Root Digger Indians (Cahuilla Indians) at Indian Wells. They were harmless but very dirty. They would come to my camp every night and sit around my camp fire. After two months my father, brother, and brother-in-law came back and we drove the cattle, only about one hundred sixty head left, to Warner ranch.
Just before we came to Tucson, Arizona we came across a family where the Indians had taken their horses and everything but the wagon. We fixed them up a team and brought then to some mines. Their names were Chilson and they now live at San Bernardino.

We stayed at Warner ranch until spring then father bought land at Ballena Valley. All the rest of us took up government land near there. I built a house on my land and was married to Texanna Lester in the year 1870 in a little town called Julian City. From there we came to Ventura County in the year1872.

I drove twenty five head of cattle through what is now the main street of Los Angeles. At that time there were only a few buildings, no street cars or railroads. The first railroad came to Los Angeles in 1875."

Los Angeles 1887