Marking the Western Trail

The Western Trail is a multi-use trail for pedestrians, horses, bicycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles and snowmobiles.

The route is dotted with towns, shacks and historic sites of the cattle-drive era and passes through beautiful mountain scenery including the Rocky Mountains.

When Jeff Bearden, the director of forensic psychiatric programs at North Texas State Hospital in Vernon and co-chair of the Western Trail project with Sylvia Mahoney, approached his club in 2003 about marking the trail along its entire 620 miles through the heart of Texas, many people doubted that such an ambitious plan could be accomplished. But Bearden, who owned a chuck wagon and appeared in re-enactments as Davy Crockett, had faith and the courage to lead the effort.

Bearden and Mahoney’s efforts paid off, and by the end of 2003, more than two dozen cement markers had been placed on the Western Trail between the Rio Grande and Ogallala. A marker was also erected at Doan’s, the final stepping-off point before entering Indian Territory. A popular stop, Doan’s sold supplies like tobacco, firearms and ammo, provisions, Stetson hats and anything else needed for the long trek across the state.

From Doan’s the trail departed to the west and ran through Waldrip, where it crossed the Colorado River and entered the lands of present-day Coleman County. From there, the trunk trail fanned out across grassy prairies and passed through the sites of today’s Baird, Clyde, Putnam and Albany. At the Clear Fork of the Brazos near Fort Griffin, a feeder trail from Throckmorton and one from Tom Green County joined with the main Western Trail.

The Western Trail branched out toward Dodge City, Kansas; Ogallala, Nebraska; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Miles City, Montana Territory and other locations serving the needs of the drive, including supplying northern ranges. It also was a primary route to railroad shipment of herds to markets east of the Rocky Mountains.

By the time the Western Trail project was completed in 2008, more than 20 different clubs had gotten involved, marking herds from West Texas to Oklahoma and north to the Great Plains. The trail is now designated a National Heritage Trail, and the public may use it on foot, horseback, All-Terrain Vehicles, bicycling or 4-wheel-drive motorized vehicles towing an off-road trailer. It is a popular destination for recreational and educational activities. Its scenic beauty is rivaled only by the rich history that lies along it. Whether you choose to explore it by yourself or with family and friends, your experience on the Western Trail will be both memorable and rewarding. It is a journey back in time, where legends of the past still live on in the hearts and minds of the people who have traveled this way before you. This article originally was published in the Winter 2008 issue of the Western Trails magazine.

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