The Western Trail

The western trail was a long, treacherous route that cattlemen took to move their stock from south Texas to railroads in Kansas City. This was a job for the hardy, skilled cowboys of the era, and it was an important step in opening America to commercial livestock trading and settlement.

Amid the arduous journey, herders traveled with hundreds of head of cattle and their remuda – herding horses that had to be fed, groomed, trained, and cared for as they moved onward. The work was often dangerous, with cholera and smallpox the chief causes of death along the trail. There were also a variety of other problems, including insufficient food and water, bad weather, poor roads, sand storms, and crowded trails with wagon trains, army units, hunters, missionaries, and sightseeing tours.

At some point on the trail, a herd would rest at one of many designated camps. The herders chose the name of the camp based on its location or the next supply point, such as Griffin, Doan’s, Fort Griffin, Camp Supply in Indian Territory, Dodge City, or the railhead at Kansas City.

In the 19th century, the Great Western Trail was the main cattle-trading route for shipping beef from southern Texas to eastern markets. It ran west of and roughly parallel to the better-known Chisholm Trail into the state of Kansas, where herders could load cattle onto a rail car for shipment to Chicago. From Kansas City, herds could continue on the trail to reach open-range ranches in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and two Canadian provinces.

As the trail grew in popularity, cattlemen began to use barbed wire fences and to breed their herds to be heavier and more resistant to diseases. By 1885, though, the trail had begun to lose its importance due to improvements in shipping, rail service, and increased competition from the broader range of livestock markets.

Today, a monument marks the site of the first marker at Doans. The Vernon Rotary Club made it its mission to mark the trail in every county across Texas, reaching out to other clubs and civic groups, such as county historical commissions, to secure their participation. Over the years, scores of new markers were added to the trail.

A good western trail horse should be able to negotiate the course faultlessly, while also displaying grace and precision, maneuverability, and agility. The judge will consider how well a horse carries itself, exhibiting attentiveness to the obstacles, pointing its ears, and demonstrating an interest in what it is doing.

In the game of Western Trail, you play rival cattlemen in 19th century America, herding your herd from Texas to Kansas city where they are shipped off by train, earning you money and victory points. The winner is the player who can best manage his herd, hire capable staff — cowboys to improve their herd, craftsmen to build their cattle posts, and engineers for the railroad line — and master the opportunities and pitfalls of the Great Western Trail.

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