Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out!

linda-sig.jpgDo you have the theme song to Rawhide running through your head yet?

Who can forget Clint Eastwood and the show that launched his career?

But, that’s not my topic. Just wanted to get you fired up. Cattle drives are on my mind, that period in American history when cowboys drove large herds from Texas to points north. Though most people know that trail drives lasted from 1867 to 1881, few are aware that cattle were driven to markets in Kansas and Missouri as early as the 1840’s over the Shawnee Trail.


The Shawnee Trail began in San Antonio, Texas. It ran northward through Austin, Waco, and Dallas and crossed the Red River near Preston, Texas at a place called Rock Bluff. The trail divided north of the Red River with part of it veering sharply eastward through Arkansas while the other branch ran due north. The final destination led to rail heads in Baxter Springs and Westport in Kansas and Kansas City, Sedalia, and St. Louis in Missouri. The route passed by a Shawnee village in north Texas and went near the Shawnee Hills in Indian Territory. Many settlers traveled this road in their migration west. At times it was referred to as the Texas Road. But in the 1850’s farmers in Missouri became angry when the herds of Longhorns infected their cattle with a tick-borne disease called Texas fever. The farmers began turning back the drovers and left them with few choices. They could either take them elsewhere or back home to Texas. In 1859 and 1860 violence erupted when drovers encountered stiff resistance and tried to push through the blockades anyway. Then, the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 stopped traffic on the Shawnee Trail north of Indian Territory.


Once the war was over, Jesse Chisholm blazed the Chisholm Trail and herds were taken up from Texas to the Kansas cow towns of Dodge City, Caldwell, Wichita, Newton, Ellsworth, and Abilene. More than half the cattle driven north followed the Chisholm Trail. It was by far the best known and probably the longest at 1,000 miles.

The Goodnight-Loving Trail was developed by Texans Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. Larry McMurtry brought their lives to the big screen in Lonesome Dove. The Goodnight-Loving Trail started in central Texas, headed due west across the Pecos River into New Mexico and Colorado before reaching a destination in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The Texas/Western Trail started in San Antonio and headed due north through Texas and Indian Territory in Oklahoma to Dodge City, Kansas. Eventually it continued north to Ogallala, Nebraska. There it split into the Texas Trail with one branch continuing to Dakota Territory and other extending west to Cheyenne before turning north again past Fort Laramie through the Powder River Basin and on to Montana Territory.


A lesser-known route was the Chisum Trail that was established by John Chisum. It began in central Texas and traveled west into New Mexico ending at Fort Sumner.

A herd could easily travel 15 miles a day. Any farther than that and the Longhorn would lose their weight. A normal trip lasted three to four months.

The average size of a herd was around 3,000. And with the going price per head at $40 that was quite a hefty profit. Even after paying the fifteen to thirty cowboys it took to drive the Longhorns to the rail head a cattleman came out way ahead. By the way, an ordinary cowboy only earned about $40 to $50 a month on the cattle drive. Sometimes they received a bonus though at the end of the trail if the drover felt they’d earned it.

Here are some surprising statistics:

In 1867, 35,000 head of cattle went up the trails.

By 1869, that figure increased to 350,000.

The peak year was 1871 when cowpunchers moved 600,000 head. Wow!

The last major year was 1881 when 250,000 longhorns were moved out of Texas so that was quite a decrease and was attributed to significant expansion of the railroad.

Cattle had a road brand burned into their hip for the trip so cowboys could tell which herd was whose, since many herds followed the same trails at the same time. At the end of the drive, cattle owners rebranded cattle with a permanent brand if they weren’t to be slaughtered.

Can you imagine spending 6 months of a year away from home and on the road? That’s what the drovers and cowpunchers spent on an average cattle drive-three months there and approximately three back home. Their families probably missed them terribly. And just think about all the things a man got left out of. I’m a homebody down to my bones and wouldn’t want to go through this experience. It’d be too tough. What about you? Are you adventuresome?


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

27 thoughts on “Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out!”

  1. good morning Linda!

    Personally-I could never be that adventuresome! I love being home with my family! Im sure it was hard on all the people who went on cattle drives-probably worse at night-when you would get to settle in for a little bit…..giving time for thoughts of home and loved ones to creep into your thinking!

    Along with the hard work and homesickness though-Im sure they had some fun times and made good friends and great memories! They were brave and hard working-and that’s something to be proud of!

    Hope you have a lovely rest of the week Linda!

    P.S. Geralyn Dawson said to say hello to all the fillies….(she commented on something I asked on Facebook and I told her I missed her here….)

  2. Great blog, Linda. I always thought that Chisolm and Chisum were just two different spellings! Thanks for clearing up the confusion.

    I’m probably more adventurous than most and have done some interesting things. But I love my little house with its comforts and kitties. A six-month cattle drive isn’t my idea of fun.

  3. Great subject, Linda. If it hadn’t been for cattle drives and Amarillo eventually becoming a railhead, I’d have no home town. Interesting subject. Like Elizabeth, I always interchanged Chisolm and Chisum. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I live in western, central Texas, right in the middle of all those trails and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to participate in a drive. But I’m a homebody, too. Not only could I not leave my husband and kids for that long, but all that dust, hard ground to sleep on, and exposure to the elements would get old real fast, I’m a-thinkin’.

  5. Good morning Melissa!

    So glad you had a chance to drop by. I know your mornings are awful hectic getting the kids off to school. Hope you’re liking your new house.

    Seems we’re not the type to go gallivanting off with a bunch of cows. LOL! We’re more the stay at home type and keeping the home fires burning for those who venture off. It really must’ve been something for a cowboy to go on a cattle drive.

    Thanks for letting us know that Geralyn is thinking of us here. Hope you have a wonderful day!

  6. Oh,I think that’s what makes the cowboy so majestic, his stoic ability to get the job done. The smell alone must have been horrific. I just have two cows in the back yard and some of those warm summer days .. well… you just don’t hang out clothes.

    Sleeping on the ground might be ok when dry but wet, yuk. I know they had some oil cloth that might have helped keep the dampness away but wow.

    Great pictures by the way love that longhorn. Awesome post today. Loved it.

  7. Hi Vickie!

    You’re an adventuresome soul. Wow! I can see you as a pioneer blazing a trail to a new life. I hope you get a chance to go on a cattle drive. They still have those down here in Texas. Of course, you have to pay for the chance. Might be fun though once I got past the dirt and stench. Ha!

  8. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m so glad you enjoyed my topic and that I could help clear up some confusion with the two different trails. One of my favorite movies is Chisum featuring John Wayne as John Chisum. John Chisum was such a larger-than-life character and needed someone like JW portraying him. I’m sure there were movies about Jesse Chisholm but I can’t think of them off hand.

  9. Hi Phyliss!!

    So happy you got a chance to stop by today. It’s always great to see you. Hope you’re having a wonderful day. If you see Jodi tell her hi for me.

    Yes, Amarillo definitely benefited once the railroad arrived. It gave ranchers a shorter distance to take their cattle. I’d sure have hated to think about driving those herds of longhorns over a thousand miles. It took sheer guts and lots of blood and sweat.

  10. Hi Karen and fellow Texan,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. If I’m not mistaken you’re right smack in the middle of where those trails meet. So many stories have been set in Texas and with good reason. Texas played such an important role in the settlement of the West. Hope you have a wonderful day!

  11. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post today. I can’t think of too many topics that embody the spirit of the West like cattle drives. It sure took a lot of daring to take thousands of cattle up those trails. In the early days, those cowboys had to fend off Indians in addition to all the other perils they faced. Those cowboys were tough through and through. They had to be.

    Hope you have a great day!

  12. Hi Tracy,

    You’re right. That constant swirling dust must’ve really given the cowboys fits. There wasn’t much they could do to keep it from getting into their lungs. What a difficult job those drovers had and for so little pay. These days you can’t hardly get a man to walk across the street for $40! LOL!

  13. Hi Linda,

    I am a homebody too. I would hate to think about being away from my family for that amount of time. Your post was very interesting.

    Walk in peace and harmony,


  14. Hi Linda, what a terrific post. And yes, the instant I saw your title, the Rawhide song swirled in my brain.

    I know cattle-driving was hot, dusty work but I love heroes who are point riders LOL.

    I also now know the diff between Chisholm and Chisum. Thank you. And I’ve always thought “Goodnight-Loving” is so romantic 🙂

    I am very much a homebody. I love my own bed. Not adventuresome at all. I fear I am the most boring person on the planet.

    Thank you again for this great information. oxoxoxox

  15. Hi Melinda,

    Glad you enjoyed my post. We’ll just stay at home and wave to the ones who have wandering fever. Maybe that explains why the biggest majority of the drovers were young and single. They didn’t have anything much tying them down.

  16. Hi Tanya,

    I’m thrilled that you got something from my post. I enjoyed researching this bit of history. Nothing says Texas like cattle drives. The sight must’ve really been awe-inspiring. I’m sure 3,000 head of cattle stretched for miles. Must’ve truly been something to see.

    Hope you have a great day!

  17. Hi Linda,
    Oh, I sooo remember Rawhide and the song! It’s playing in my head now.

    Great blog on cattle drives. I learned a lot. The numbers you quoted are staggering.

  18. Hi Linda,
    Loved Rawhide and also the song. Your blog was very interesting and loved the pic of the longhorn. Where I live, (in California), one ranch still has a cow drive. It is only about 45 miles and takes 3-4 days. Lots of dust and heat. But for the kids and adults, it is an adventure. Don’t know about 6 months. You gotta love those old cowboys. They had to be pretty rank after all that time.

  19. Charlene,

    I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. I learned some things too. It’s always nice to run across things like this when I’m researching for a book. I’ve discovered some unusual facts that I’ve used to blog about.

    Yes, Rawhide was one of my favorite westerns. Rowdy Yates made a wonderful hero. Speaking of that, in my third single title called “Redemption” I named my hero Brodie Yates, sort of a take on Clint Eastwoods’ character.

  20. Hi Pat, glad you stopped by. It’s always wonderful to see our regulars. I agree about six months being a little long to be away from home. Shoot, a week for me would be enough. Before my husband passed away we bought a motor home. His plan was to sell our house and take off across country in it. I told him no way. I need my roots. I wouldn’t make a vagabond.

  21. Hi Mary J,

    Glad you enjoyed my blog. Yes, I’m sure by the time those cowboys got to the end of the trail they stunk to high heaven. I’m sure a bath was the first order of business. Most of the Madams insisted that man bathe before he came around for a little pleasure. Don’t blame them there.

  22. Having been a military wife during Viet Nam, I know what it is like to have your husbands gone for months at a time. The spouses now have it even worse. If I had been a young wife with no children at the time of the cattle drives, I would have gone with my husband. Not a picnic, I know, but all the same it was part of the ranching job.
    We are in Texas on vacation at the moment. Have spent the past week in Cherokee territory in OK, then down to Ft. Worth/Dallas, and now we are staying in the Hill country. Went to the LBJ Ranch today and will go to Austen and San Antonio the rest of the week. It is nice country, and the longhorn are still out there.

  23. Enjoyed your article on Trail Drives. I live in Sedalia MO where a lot of drives ended. I work for a museum located in the Historic Katy Depot that used to be the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad Depot. Next year we are thinking about doing a display on Rawhide and cattle drives. Can you share with me your resources for this article?

    Thank you.

  24. Linda,
    I live in Muleshoe, Bailey County, Texas, the county that the Stinson Cattle Trail enters Texas. Would you give me your resources for the Cattle Trail map? There is infomation on the trail in N M but not much on the Texas trail,
    Thank you,

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