Kiburz: Evidence plentiful that Sedalia was country’s first ‘trail’s end’

July 8, 2013

I am writing this on behalf of Friends of Trail’s End co-chairs Mike Brown, Ron Ditzfeld, Barbara Hayden, Gary McMullin, Larry Wilson and the TE committee, headed by Dale Yelton, who are building a lasting “trail’s to rails” tribute in Sedalia, which is destined to become a National Historic Landmark and tourist stop.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide documented support for the claim that Sedalia was the first American railhead to receive cattle from the Texas trail drives.

“At the end of the war in 1865, Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift, in anticipation of an increase in beef demand, built meatpacking plants in Chicago, a growing town linked by rail to Sedalia, Missouri. Ranchers soon learned that cattle which sold for $3-4 a head in Texas could be worth ten times as much in Missouri. Thus the Sedalia Trail (1866-67) following the old Shawnee Indian Trail was born.”  — The Great American Cattle Drives

“Throughout the 1830s, settlers from the United States heading for Texas traveled across present Oklahoma along the Texas Road. When the first herds were taken north, they reversed the trek, opening a trail to the railheads in Missouri. Newspapers referred to the route as the Sedalia Trail or simply the cattle trail.” — Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

“Sedalia was an important railhead for the Texas cattle drive of 1866.” — Encyclopedia Britannica

“In 1866, a large herd was driven from Texas to Sedalia, Missouri, which was then the far western station of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad.” — AP U.S. History

There shouldn’t be any question about whether the cattle reached Sedalia! The only question is, “How many cattle got here?”

“W. H. McVey, who has made a personal study of the cattle drives, says 166,000 did (reach Sedalia, Missouri).” — Missouri Office of Historic Preservation, Roger Masering

“In 1866, Texas cattlemen delivered 260,000 head of cattle to Sedalia, which infected local livestock with tick fever.” — MFA Today’s Farmer, Summer, 2013

The Sedalia Trail had a short life because:

• The railroads progressed westward as a series of boomtowns like Baxter Springs, Abilene and Dodge City moved railheads closer to the open range. The Dodge cow town experience inspired TV’s “Gunsmoke” as Sedalia’s experience led to “Rawhide.”

• “The first (major cattle) drives went to Sedalia, Missouri, because the railroad had arrived there. Sedalia could have gone on to become a large shipping point, if it were not for a Missouri law forbidding Texas cattle within the borders.” — Kansas Historical Society

It is important to note that no other American community, other than Sedalia, is claiming to be the first trail’s end for America’s first cattle drives. This stands in stark contrast to other historical challenges to events like the recent claim that the first flight in this country was not made by the Wright Brothers in North Carolina, but rather by a German immigrant in Connecticut. In the interpretation of historical facts, one can find quotes and statistics to support different sides of a question, but it often comes down to majority opinion, common sense and following the “trail” to see where it leads.

There is nothing mythical about the first major cattle drives that ended in Sedalia in 1866. Even after the cattle trails moved west, Sedalia remained an important stop and a “watering hole” for cattle, cowboys and railroad men with their established stockyards. Next time you visit Colton’s, you can see one of the first western cattle drive maps, which shows the Shawnee/Sedalia trail as the most eastern (earliest) of the cattle drive routes. The Trail’s End Committee (a 501-c3) welcomes questions and discussion and invites a visit to their website:

The Trail’s End Committee is pleased to lift up the American cowboy, the cattle he drove and the railroad that transported them. You can see why America is so enthralled by the cowboy who overcame controversies and hardships like Texas fever, bushwhackers, rustlers, anthrax, cholera, lightning, stampedes, Indian attacks, floods and more to bring in the herd … to the Trail’s End.