Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Great Western Cattle Trail

After getting Ibi loaded back on the Ram, I decided to drive down to Lake Carl Vincent. On the way, we passed through the town of Fargo, OK. Like a lot of Plains towns, it appears time has left Fargo behind. According to one report, it has never fully recovered from the Dust Bowl years, but at one time it sat center stage.

If location, location, location was really the secret to success, Fargo should be a bustling city by now. Instead, in the 2010 census, it had only 364 proud residents who still called it home. It had been a transportation hub for a long time. The Fort Supply-Fort Elliott Military Road went through here. The Fort Reno and Fort Dodge Trails went through here. The Great Western Cattle Trail went through here. The Southern Kansas Railway, later the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, went through here. The town included three churches, telephone service, two banks, two grain milling companies, a public school, three general stores and other retailers in town, but then a fire leveled half the town in 1909, and it never seemed to regain traction.

The U-shaped notch through the field is still evidence of the passing
of 11 million Texas Longhorn cattle.

For me, one of the most interesting periods in its history had to have been when Fargo was a regular stop on the Great Western Cattle Trail. Beginning in 1874, Texas Longhorn cattle were gathered and driven from Texas, across the Red River, and to the railhead in Dodge City, Kansas. From there they were carried by rail to meat markets as far as Canada and the U.S. Northeast, and to stock our country’s newly opened rangelands. Herds of 3,000 cattle would be driven at a time by ten to twelve cowboys accompanied by a chuck wagon. Besides driving the cattle, each cowboy would lead a string of ten to twelve saddle horses. The trail would have been laid out by scouts, but once a couple trips had been made by the huge herds, the trail could have probably been followed blindfolded. A couple reasons are given for why the cattle drives ended in 1885. One is because Kansas enacted an embargo against Texas cattle in an effort to stop the spread of Texas Fever, transmitted by ticks. The other is attributed to the opening of the Cherokee Strip to homesteading, which suddenly put thousands of private properties in the way. In all, over 11,000,000 of these huge animals had traveled the trail, and had left a series of permanent depressions in the earth the length of the trail that are still visible today in spite of a century of tilling, planting, and harvesting the land.

A shaded Boggy Creek.

Boggy Creek still flows just on the east edge of Fargo. When a herd reached Fargo, the 3,000 cattle would be watered in the creek and bedded down nearby before the cowboys took turns visiting the town’s version of watering holes.

No comments:

Post a Comment