The Great Western Cattle Trail

Artist: Barbara Vaupel; Oklahoma Senate Artwork

When driving between Lone Wolf in Kiowa County and Granite in Greer County, on Highway 9, or west out of Sentinel on Highway 55, even the natives of the area has trouble imagining six million Texas Longhorn cattle with hundreds of trail bosses, chuck wagons, and remudas of 40 to 50 horses ambling through and grazing contentedly in the lush, green grass during the period from 1866 until 1885.

In addition to the many enormous drives, cattle herds also traveled in fewer numbers until 1892 when homesteaders located and began fencing Oklahoma Territory. Local lore and history tells about the Great Western Trail traversing this area with it's origin at Bandera, Texas, just to the NW of San Antonio, about 450 miles south of the Red River, and it's destination of Dodge City, Kansas, about 45 miles north of Indian Territory. Some historians called the trail the old Doan Trail, because it crossed the Red River at Doan's crossing. Others called it the Old Dodge City Trail, because it ended at Dodge City. Some even confused it with the Chisholm or Chisum Trail, which actually lay further east near El Reno. Oklahoma State Highway Department called it the Old Texas Trail on their map published in 1933.

Doan's Crossing was a short distance from Doan's Store, which was the last supply station for those traveling to Kansas by way of the Indian Nation. C. E. Doan kept a perfect record of the herds crossing. 1881 was the peak of the cattle herds with 301,000 head driven through. He kept the name of the trail bosses, the number of cattle, and who they belonged to. One of the largest was the King Ranch, shipping 30,000 head divided into 10 herds in a single season.

The trail drivers could see one of the Wichita Mountains that stood out from the rest and looked like a huge Tepee. This was Mt. Webster, but the named was later changed to Mt. Tepee. Using Mt. Tepee as a land mark, drovers pointed the lead steer to the crossing on the North Fork of the Red River, about 1 1/2 miles south of Mt Tepee. NW of this crossing was a little mountain with a large grove of pecan trees on the south and good grass. It made a good windbreak and the herd bedded down for the night.

The next morning, the herd was headed north through a large sea of grass, 12 miles wide and 20 miles long, stretching from the North Fork of the Red River to Big Elk Creek. As they reached a point on the North Fork of the Red river, called Comanche Spring, where Lone Wolf is, they pointed the cattle east to the crossing on Big Elk Creek. This crossing was a mile north of old Highway #9 west of Hobart. This ford later became known as the Big Four Crossing, so named because it was located on land that was leased from the Kiowa by the Big Four Cattle Co, which was owned by the 4 largest Ranches in North Texas. Their brand was the # 4. After the Big Four crossing, the cattle were allowed to graze the good grass in the fertile bottoms of the twin Elk Creeks, and actually grazed where the present town of Hobart is.

At it's location in the bend of the creek is a most unique red sandstone bluff. It is an exciting and eye-catching formation not yet destroyed by man, floods, or time. Universally, trail bosses hunted and hoped for rock crossings in all creeks and rivers to prevent bogging down and miring of herds of 2,500 to 3,000 head of cattle. A mud crossing became a disastrous quagmire for weak and straggling animals which always trailed at the end of the herd.

Whoever discovered Big Elk Crossing found an ideal place. To the south where the herd entered the crossing, a horseshoe bend in the creek assisted cowboys riding point to direct the leaders. The entrance to the crossing was almost like having a previously built corral in the middle of a gigantic pasture. The bend also aided the swing or flank riders to keep the herd moving smoothly. And finally, the curve made it easier for amateur drag riders to push slow and sore-footed animals across the creek.

After entering Big Elk Creek from the south, the cattle waded upstream on a rock and gravel bed around a small turn in the creek until they reached another rock formation. The exit from the creek bed is also evident where the old cut remains distinctly lower than other parts of the steep bank.

When cattle climbed out of this north exit, a small valley between hills provided grazing with abundant bluestem as high as a man's shoulder. The remuda of horses, usually tended by a young boy, crossed after all the cattle. The cook with his chuck wagon preceded the herd so he would have the meal prepared and ready to eat after every man and animal made the crossing.

At Big Elk Crossing the cook drove his four mules pulling the chuck wagon down the bank at the cattle crossing. He then drove further upstream in the creek bed to a place without rock bluffs and which had a more gradual upward incline, this old wagon exit was located one half mile directly south of Port, which came into being after the big cattle drives ceased.

The wagon exit became the mail freight crossing on Big Elk Creek for that particular area, and an educated guess would be this freight crossing created the development of Port. Many early pioneers used used it for years, entering at the old cattle crossing and pulling out at the wagon exit. Eventually a wooden bridge was constructed at almost the same location where it is now.

A sad incident might be included in the Big Elk Creek Crossing history. Trail Boss John Leonard, brother of early pioneer, Finley A. Leonard, had the unhappy experience of having to bury a young 18 year old at the crossing. The young fellow was making his first trail drive and died during the night while they camped there. His horse fell on him two days south at Briggs Ranch Crossing, injuring him internally. The men cared for him the best they they could. He lay in the chuck wagon as they moved northward, but was too seriously injured to survive.

Next morning the cowboys buried him atop a hill to the east of the cattle trail, wrapped in his blanket and waterproof sleeping tarpaulin tied with a rope. They covered the grave with red rocks with one larger headstone engraved R.I.P. Trail boss John said a few appropriate words, then read a brief passage from his trail worn Testament.

For many years early pioneers who saw the grave believed that R.I.P. were the initials for the name of an outlaw named Pickett, who with his brothers roamed and terrorized the area. The truth was actually not known until the Leonard family moved there in the early 1900's and explained the grave. All traces of it are now erased. R.I.P. stood for "Rest In Peace".

Continuing directly north from Big Elk Creek Crossing of the Great Western Trail, there is a colorful bit of history that is almost lost forever. Located on the Bill Pierce farm was a large red sandstone bluff higher than a man's head. There was spring water gushing from it's face and spilling into a deep pool at it's base.

Soldier Spring was an excellent campsite for the cattle drives even though it had only one lone cottonwood tree at the time. The lowlands along Soldier Creek and Elk Creek provided abundant grazing in the tall bluestem. Night riders could easily guard the cattle as they road the crests of the surrounding hills all night. Two riders usually circled the herd during the evening after the cattle bedded down to sleep. This was the time when so many cowboys sang to keep the animals calm. Many of them had fine voices with a large repertoire of old songs. Their singing had a soothing effect on the cattle and also tended to cover up any unexpected or sharp noises that might create a stampede.

Two more riders relieved them before midnight when some of the cattle moved around to drink and graze. At 2:00 the third shift over and rode watch till daylight. In case of a stampeded the night remuda of horses were saddled and ready. All the cowboy need do was pull on his boots and hat, run to his mount, and attempt to halt the running cattle by making them form a circular mill before they scattered too far.

In early days, before silt, erosion from farming lands, and man's excavations covered it, early settlers read many names and ranks of soldiers carved upon the the bluff and the rocks around it. Thus the location received it's title that is now given on historical maps: Soldier Springs. All that remains visible today, however are a few outcroppings of red rock and one small spring fed pool. There is nothing remaining of the high rock bluff.

No one seems certain when these names were carved on the rocks since they were there when the first settlers arrived in 1892. One plausible solution leads back to the spring and summer of 1886, when soldiers from Fort Supply, Fort Sill and Fort Elliott began patrolling Cheyenne - Arapaho lands to remove all intruders, unauthorized cattle and men. However the most important and dreaded duty of these troops was to safely escort cattle herds traveling north on the Trail.

During these years the Indians became more hostile and belligerent and also demanded a larger bounty of beef from the trail boss than they had in the years past. they were hungary, and their way of life had been destroyed when the government forced them to live on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation. The last of their buffalo disappeared in 1880, so the Indians had little food and skins for making shelter and clothing. The government appropriated only $3.00 a year for each Indian's subsistence. It is easily understood why the Indians harassed and attacked the cattle drives as the herds passed through and grazed the grasslands of their territory.

The Washita River Crossing near Edwardsville Rock was the main headquarters for the soldiers assigned to patrolling the Cattle Trail. Soldier Springs was a likely bivouac for these troops while they monitored the trail in the particularly dangerous area. In 1888 Fort Sill troops met the cattle herds at Doan's crossing at the Red River, then escorted them north to the Washita River. Going on from the Washita River, Fort Elliott and Fort Supply troops continued with the escort. Fort Elliott abandoned it's participation in 1890 and Fort Supply became responsible for all the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation. After the Run in 1892, Fort Sill guarded the Trail as far north as the Cherokee Outlet. It can be presumed that any or all of these troops may have carved names at Soldier Spring.

Also, Fort Supply soldiers patrolled and traveled throughout the area using the old Fort Supply Road which followed the Cattle Trail from Doan's Crossing to Fort Supply. As the name denotes, Fort Supply was responsible for providing Indians and soldiers with necessities of food, supplies, and ammunition. The ghost town of Yandell, which began in 1888 east of Altus, was the division point for this old supply route. Here horses were exchanged for the return trip.

However, even before the Army troops were necessary to conduct cattle drives safely through the Indian Lands, Soldier Spring was the evening destination after leaving Big Elk Creek Crossing in the morning. Cattle grazed northward along the distance which cut through the grassy hills parallel to Big Elk Creek. Curly mesquite and buffalo grass covered the rolling red uplands and lush bluestem grew in the sandy lowlands of the creek.

Bands of Cheyenne-Arapaho hunted and camped throughout the bottom lands of Little Elk and Big Elk Creeks on both sides of the Trail. None of the Indians were ever known to be hostile to the early cattleman. These Indians supplemented their wild game, fruit and fish diets with Texas Longhorn Beef from the trail herds after the white man destroyed their antelope and buffalo. At that time the trail drivers anticipated giving the hungry Indians beef, a cheap toll charge for the repayment of excellent grazing as they passed through Indian Territory. Usually the Indians asked for 7 or 8 head, but no trail boss was ever that generous. He bargained with the Indians and then gave them 3 or 4 thin, weak or lumpy jawed animals, which would die on the trail or fail to bring a good price at Dodge City. Later drives that came through during a season would pick up the strays from the herds that went before, and these cattle were given to the Indian for their toll.

If the Indians did not receive beef from the trail boss, they stampeded the cattle during the night. A stampede created misery for both cowboys and cattle, and a much greater loss resulted than from peacefully giving the Indians 2 or 3 beef.

A stampede is well-remembered by an early settler whose parents homesteaded in 1892, 3 miles NW of Soldier Spring. Two thousand head of full grown Longhorn steers rushed through their yard and field and destroyed everything in their path. Luckily, the family had just moved into their sturdy new frame home. Every family member was safely inside as the maddened animals surged by on all sides of the house. The dugout the family had previously lived in was completely demolished as were the few things they left stored in it. Had it not been for the new house, the entire family would have been killed. As it was, the only loss was all the family's clothing which was hanging on a clothes line. The day of the stampede had been wash day. They never found one piece of clothing, not even a tattered rag! Kind neighbors shared with them as no one had money to buy anything new.

Early settlers never actually knew if Indians stampeded the herd or if they spooked at some unusual noise. The night before the stampede had been stormy, and cattle were always more nervous during unsettled weather. The cowboys rounded up cattle for days. No one ever knew if they found all of them. It is likely that the Indians managed to dispose of any that may have been left behind.

The Texas Longhorn was tough, cunning and mean. He was on his own from the minute he was born, and after living several years in the brush, he did not take kindly to being roped. hog-tied, road branded and thereafter held loose herded until the drive got underway.

The cowboys that came up the Great Western Trail behind these herds were a tough breed. They contributed in no time at all to the new Boot Hill Cemetery of Dodge City, some of them occupying lots themselves, and others adding Dodge City names to the grave markers, and..... sometimes.....a town marshall. The main street of Dodge City became a Hell's Highway, charged with six shooter smoke, bad whiskey and wild women.

The cowboy who rode up the Western Trail was spoiling for trouble and in Dodge City, it didn't take long to find it. The guns he packed were those he fetched home from the Civil War. They may have been the Confederate Griswold and Gunnison, the Union Colt model 1860, or a Remington 1856. Remington made more than 140,000 of these big revolvers during the Civil War, and many of them ended up in Texas and later, Dodge City. The cowboy strapped on his gun belt when he put his pants on in the morning. Many of them carried a pair and could use each equally well. The first thing a Texas cowboy did to a calvary holster was to cut the flap off and swing the but to the rear. The soft leather didn't hold the shape very well and soon they were made of thick rawhide, which made the guns easier to draw. A working cowboy also needed a rifle, and these were either a Spencer, a Henry and later a Winchester, which was carried in a scabbard under the stirrup leathers.

Cattlemen played an important part in developing the western prairie, but it was the homesteader who really brought civilization. The railroad made this possible by eliminating the need for cattle drives and opening nationwide markets to both the cattleman and the farmer.

Some of the cowboys who drove the herds over the Great Western Trail later became citizens of Kiowa County. Perry Jones was born in 1861, 9 miles south of Greenville, TX in Hunt, Co. He moved to Indian Territory and worked on the Jim Knox Ranch. In 1888, he went back to Texas and married Beckie Riley. In 1890, they moved back to the Territory 25 miles east of Duncan till 1901, when they moved to their Kiowa Co. claim.

Jess Lynn also moved cattle from Texas over the Trail. He worked as an "outside man". meaning he owned his horse and gear and traveled to ranches in a hundred mile radius to work. In 1901/02, he worked for Hezakiah Williams' Tumbling A Ranch. He took a claim 3 miles south of the old Barton Store, that had a grove of 300 paper shell pecan trees. Another early cowboy was Dick Holly. You can read more about him on The Prairie Tales page.

Other cowboys who drove the herds through and came back to live were Samuel Parson, who came to the Nations at 13, and worked for Edd Louder, until he got a claim in 1901 on North Fork of the Red River. J.B. Haley started working cattle when he was 13. By the time he was 16, he was making the drives. He became a foreman on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation working with large herds belonging to Texas cattleman. In 1893, he filed for land in the Cheyenne-Arapho Reservation and brought his new wife Effie there. When the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache lands opened, his wife filed for and got land in NE Comanche Co, where the beginnings of the Lazy H Ranch began to develop.

Cattleman, Cowboy and Farmer took this land and turned it into Kiowa County, while still remembering the people that lived here before. This information is part history, and part stories I heard growing up in Kiowa County. With the fields of cotton, wheat and alfalfa planted along the bottoms of Big Elk and Little Elk creeks, It's hard to imagine, a sea of Texas Longhorns Moving across the prairie where there were no fences, cotton and wheat. Where the bluestem was as high as a man on a horse. And just to realize this happened only 100 + years ago. From cattle drives and raging Indians to jet planes in the skies..... You've come a long way, Baby!!!!!!

Today, Doan's Crossing consists of the original 1881 store, some abandoned residences and a granite historical marker in bronze relief. Doan's Crossing is at the juncture of Farm to Market Road 2916 and Farm to Market Road 924 in northern Wilbarger County.

Here's a website about Doan's Crossing

The library at Texas Tech mentions Doan's Crossing in Reference Collection

Red River Valley Museum

Handbook Of Texas Online has information on Wilbarger Co. TX, and Doan's Crossing.

The Museum of the Western Prairie Located in Altus, OK has some info on Doan's Crossing.

Music - The Winds

Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation
Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation
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Updated August 21, 2006

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