The Great Western Trail is an old road in the eastern United States that was used for moving horses and cattle to markets in the northern and eastern states. Today, it’s a popular hiking destination for backpackers. Its historic and scenic landscapes and numerous wildlife have made it an ideal location for a family outing. During its construction, the Western Trail became a major transportation route for many different groups of travelers. But before you head out, take a few moments to learn more about the history of this popular trail.
Cattlemen needed a crew of at least ten cowboys to pull a herd. Each cowboy had three horses. They worked in shifts, watching cattle 24 hours a day and avoiding stampedes. Other crew members included a trail boss, a cook, a horse wrangler, and a horse. A horse wrangler was responsible for the spare horses. The cook was an especially respected member of the crew. He was also responsible for food and medicine, and had a working knowledge of practical medicine.
The proposed trail may cross the Madrean Sky Islands, mountain ranges separated by valleys that inhibit movement of species. Near Tucson, it would cross Butterfield Road, a former stagecoach and wagon route used by the Mormon Battalion. While it’s not officially part of the Coconino Plateau, it will cross the Little Colorado River Gorge and be an important stop along the way. It’s also home to the largest stand of Ponderosa pines in the world.
The Great Western Trail eventually crossed the Colorado River at Waldrip and continued to Coleman and Putnam. North of Albany, the Potter and Bacon Trails diverged to the Llano Estacado pastures. In Fort Griffin, the Western Trail crossed the Clear Fork of the Brazos, and the Butterfield-Military Road joined it. In the end, the Western Trail travelled through many towns in the southern United States and Canada.
The Western Trail became a prominent transportation route for the cattle trade. It was the result of the longhorn herding boom that took place after the Civil War. During this time, the Western Trail covered more than 150 miles of the Texas-Kansas railheads, and Abilene, Kansas, became the main cattle market. By 1887, the trail was extended north of Dodge City to Ogallala, Nebraska. In 1884, the Union Pacific Railroad linked up with the Western Trail and helped create a bustling cattle trade.
Despite the many challenges of creating a public trail, the Great Western Trail was a huge undertaking. In early 2005, Jim Aneff, the district governor for Rotary’s 5790 district, invited Mahoney to set up a display of the Great Western Trail in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mahoney packed maps and photos and set up her booth in a hallway of the hotel where many district governors from different states gathered.
In 1885, the traffic on the trail started to dwindle. Barbed wire fences and quarantines of Texas cattle were some of the causes of the decline. Meanwhile, an outbreak of Texas Fever caused herds to disappear in the north. During this period, Rotarians from Canada and Mexico attended the first trail marker ceremony in Montana, and it was a great success. The event is still celebrated every year and is held in memory of the cattle drivers.