Cattle-Driving Era (1866-1899)
During the civil war many men left their families and went to battle. Often
their ranches deteriorated and cattle escaped. Throughout Texas a mixed breed of
cattle, imported from Mexico and descended from Spanish breeds emerged as the
dominant herd animal. These "Longhorns" were well adapted for wild foraging,
even in the dryer parts of Texas. At the end of the civil war millions of
these cattle were running loose from Mexico to Oklahoma. There was an extreme
shortage of beef in Eastern markets caused by the war. Rail systems did not
exist from the wild herds to the packing plants in Kansas City. This classic
distribution problem was evidenced by stunning price differentials from South
Texas ($3 to $4 per head) to Chicago ($30 to $40 per head). Montague County
links with other points along an 800-mile journey from South Texas to Kansas.
Most authors outside Montague County refer to the Texas segment of the trail as
the Western Trail; beyond that it is called the Chisholm Trail.
The average number of cattle in each drive was between 2,000 and 3,000 head.
Usually an experienced drover and 5 to 10 boys, many as young as 14, would
round-up the cattle and head north. A great fortune could be made in the cattle
business with a successful drive. Some drovers made over $250,000 in their short
careers. That translates into millions of current dollars and explains why even
today the drives are romantically remembered.
Red River Station was the most famous Montague County stopping-off place. Within
five years, almost 2 million head of cattle crossed this way toward northern
buyers. Red River Station served as the last place to stock up on supplies
before the journey’s end. The development of railroads and determined
homesteaders ended most of the drives.