During the late 1860s and early 1870s, cattlemen began trailing cattle from Texas to northern pastures. These drives usually took two months. After traveling through South Texas, the cattle would continue northward through Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming. The cattle were usually driven 25 miles a day, and by the time they reached the end of the trail, they would have lost a great deal of weight. It would be difficult to sell them afterward.
The cattle drovers had a crew of about ten cowboys to accompany them. Each crew member had a specific duty. They included the trail boss, a cook, and the horse wrangler. The cook was in charge of medical supplies, and the horse wrangler took charge of the spare horses. These men were not usually the highest social rank, but they were responsible for assisting the cowboys.
The cowboys would ride in a pack of three horses. They would be responsible for making sure the cattle crossed the rivers safely, preventing stampedes. They would also be responsible for jumping on the horses to catch them in case they fell. They would have to do this in shifts. During the day, the cattle would be grazing. At night, the cowboys would be watching for cattle that were spooked. The cattle would then be driven at night in order to avoid stampeding.
By 1893, over six million cattle had been driven to northern pastures. During the early 1880s, the Northern Pacific Railroad extended into the Yellowstone River valley. This meant that the cattle drive could no longer travel along the same routes. In addition, the Texas Trail traffic began to decline. Cattle were no longer being driven north by Texas cattlemen, but by other cattlemen.
In 1878, Corwin Doan opened a trading post on the Red River. He made detailed records of herds moving north. He also maintained records of crossings. His establishment, Doan’s Ranch, was the last “stepping-off point” before entering Indian Territory.
Doan’s Crossing was an important stop on the Great Western Trail. The spring at Soldier’s Spring was a large red sandstone bluff with names cut into it. The spring was also home to a small spring-fed pool. The spring is now broken rocks. The spring was also a place to camp.
Cattle drovers had to be skilled at jumping on the horses in order to catch them. They also had to be capable of jumping on the horses at night. This was because cattle could become spooked and stampede. A cowboy who spent weeks on the trail had an abundance of energy, but he was also vulnerable to problems. If he had trouble in Dodge City, he would be spoiled.
There were minor feeder trails that met the Western Trail at Cow Gap. These trails were important in bringing cattle to the railheads. These trails included the Old Trail, which ran from Castroville to Boerne. It ran through Three Rivers, Beckman, Leon Springs, Santa Rosa and Camp Verde.