Before the Civil War, Baxter Springs, Kansas, and Sedalia, Missouri, were end of the trail towns. They never handled the large numbers that the later towns like Abilene did after 1867. Abilene grew quickly when it became an Overland Stage Station. Horace Greeley mentioned it in 1859 as the last place he got a square meal before heading west. In 1867, Joseph McCoy stopped there to look for a suitable railhead to take cattle in 1867. There were only a dozen families there at the time. There was also a post office, a store, and a saloon. On September 5, 1867, the first trainload of Texas cattle was shipped to Chicago from McCoy's pens. The first season, 35,000 cattle were driven here. In 1868, 75,000 were driven here.
In 1869, almost 160,000 were driven here. By then, residents of Abilene wanted to clean up their town. In 1870, Marshall Tom Smith calmed down Abilene somewhat by passing a gun ordinance. But it wasn't enough. Citizens wanted the "fleshpots" moved out of town to the Devil's Addition. Saloons stayed on Texas Street. By 1870, they were 500 people in town. By 1871, the town had ten saloons, five general stores, two hotels, and two brothels. That was its last year as a cow town. It later became a prosperous wheat growing area.
The Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe railroad built its rails to Newton, Texas, south of Abilene, that summer, so it became the new trail end. But it was very short lived. In 1873, the Wichita & Southwestern Railroad had reached Wichita. Next the Kansas & Pacific Railroad reached Ellsworth, and 100,000 cattle passed through there in 1872. But to avoid the lawlessnewss problem that Abilene had had, it hired a police force and confined the "soiled doves" to the Smoky Hill bottoms outside of town. But the police basically ignored that area, plus they were corrupt and cheated the cowboys with bogus fines. 1873 was its biggest years because the railroads began competing for the business and building more convenient stations.
At Wichita, 400,000 cattle came through in 1872. This was where cattle were bought for the northern Indian reservations. By 1873, it was the main cow town. Jesse Chisholm's trading post was nearby so this was the farthest the original trail would be used. 1872-76 were the town's peak years. Buyers were ranchers from Colorado and the Dakotas looking to restock, feed lot owners from the corn belt states, and packing house agents who wanted fat cattle.
By 1876, farms and fences cut off the route to Wichita so the cows went to Dodge City. It remained a cow town until 1885-86, the longest of any of the cow towns. There was a saloon there for every 50 people. The town had an earlier history as an outfitting stop for buffalo hunters and a shipping point for buffalo hides. The Santa Fe tracks came here in 1872. In 1884, the quarantine law came into affect. This meant that Texas cattle couldn't cross the border between March 1 and December 1, so the herds stopped going that way. By 1886, the quarantine had put an end to business in Dodge City. Dodge City was the site of the original Boot Hill cemetery. They also had th Cowboy Band, which had promited the city.
Caldwell was the last of the Kansas cow towns. The railroad reached it in 1880, but since the winter of 1873-74 had been used as a supply center and recreation area. Herds were sold to Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Ogallala, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, became cattle centers. Eventually the farms and fences and the abundant stock now in the northern ranches led to the decline of trailing herds. Places like Fort Worth began to do their own shipping and also their own meat packing by Swift and Armour.

-Copyright 2000 by Beth Gibson