Western Trail

Western Trail is a fast-paced strategy game that places players in the shoes of rival cattlemen on a 19th-century American frontier. The objective of the game is to herd cattle from Texas to Kansas City and then ship them via train. The winner is the player who best manages their herd, hires capable staff, and masters the opportunities and pitfalls that arise along the way.

Thousands of people traveled the trail each year, sometimes in companies that numbered hundreds of wagons. Diaries kept at Forts Kearny and Laramie tell of seeing hundreds of wagons pass on a single day or of hundreds or even thousands of emigrants encamped at the same time near the forts. Wagon ruts were left behind in the soft sandstone of the plains, and some can still be seen, especially in Oklahoma, where they may be over six feet deep.

The western trail was used by a variety of different groups, including emigrants going west and Mormons heading to Utah. Emigrants and Mormons both took a great interest in travel guidebooks, which helped them plan their route and provide information on distances, grazing areas, major river or stream crossings, road conditions, and sites of historic importance. Guidebooks also offered specifications for a suitable wagon to be used on long treks and instructions for outfitting it with items such as chuck boxes (cupboard-like structures on the back of a wagon for storage), bridles, saddles, and the preferred draft animals to use.

Cattlemen, who drove herds of cattle to markets in northern states and Canada, favored the Chisholm Trail. By the end of the cattle-drive era in 1884, railroads had replaced oxen as the main means for shipping livestock. As a result, the Great Western Trail became less important, but it remained a vital thoroughfare for herds traveling to Dodge City and other points north.

A cattle drive usually consisted of contract drivers, cowboys, and a handful of wagons and teamster horses. Typically, two-thirds of the company were “waddies,” youths aged twelve to eighteen who rode the herd and helped the wranglers or ramrods in guiding the cattle and preparing camp. The remaining members were called the leaders or “bosses.” They provided general leadership and supervised the men tasked with herding and driving the cattle.

The horn spread of a herd was a primary indicator of its quality. A herd of old steers with unimproved genetics would have unusually wide horn spreads, while the spread of a herd of young calves would be much narrower. This led to the widely held belief that the herds of cattle on the Great Western Trail had unusually long horns.

In 2003, Rotary District 6360 and Vernon’s RI Foundation started a project to mark the Western Trail with cement markers. The idea grew into a cooperative, international effort when other clubs in the Great Plains states of Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana as well as in Matamoros, Mexico, and Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada contributed markers to the project. In addition, Rotary dignitaries in those countries joined with those from the United States to participate in marker-laying ceremonies.

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