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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Here's a website about Doan's Crossing
at Texas Tech mentions Doan's Crossing in Reference Collection
Red River Valley Museum
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
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Updated August 21, 2006
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