The 5 Best Books About Cowboys and Cattle Trails

NOTE: We created this list of books to be featured in True West Magazine, December 2016 issue.

Our passion for years has been to study and share with others the fascinating history of cattle-driving from Texas to all points north.  To us, this short-lived endeavor of cowboy outfits driving herds of longhorns to an outlet, stopping along the way at cattle towns, encompasses the Old West in its purest form.  In this brief fifty-year span, the American cowboy icon was born, which is recognized the world over.  The task of pushing Texas cattle north to a northern destination ended in 1897, but through the years the heritage of that one industry continues to be retold again and again through movies, reenactments, novels and nonfictional accounts such as the True West Magazine.

The most enjoyable reading for us are the cowboy journals.  They do exist, but they are usually buried in library archives or somewhere in a trunk, yet to see the light of day. The following books are some of our favorites.

1. The Trail Drivers of Texas

compiled and edited by J. Marvin Hunter, 1925.

41hcrh0enpl-_sx312_bo1204203200_Current publisher: University of Texas Press, Austin
This volume of over 1,000 pages contains some 300 accounts of trail drivers. In 1917, trail driver and historian George W. Sanders suggested to his fellow drovers at the Old Time Trail Drivers Convention in San Antonio that each one write a sketch of his experiences on the trail. After years of hard work and the enlistment of journalist J. Marvin Hunter, the collection was released in its final form in 1925. These trail drivers reminisce about various aspects on the Shawnee, Chisholm, Arbuckle, and Western trails.

An online copy of this book is available: The Trail Drivers of Texas

2. The Log of A Cowboy

Andy Adams, 1903

51tmkyuoehl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Current publisher: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln
Even though this book may be in the fictional section of the book store or library, this account by trail driver Andy Adams is one of the best. Andy Adams made many cattle drives from 1882 to 1889. At the age of 43, being disgusted with the unrealistic cowboy fiction of his day, he decided to tell his of own experiences on the trail. Because he chose to use fictional characters and names, academia labeled his work as fiction, but his content is authentic. In this book, Adams describes the trailing of a herd for the Circle Dot Ranch up the Western Trail in 1882 from Brownsville, Texas, to the Blackfoot Indian Agency in Montana.

3. We Pointed Them North

E. C. Abbott (“Teddy Blue’) as told to Helena Huntington Smith, 1939

51zwfgtuml-_sx332_bo1204203200_ Current publisher: University of Oklahoma Press, Norman
Starting at the age of nineteen in 1879,Teddy Blue pushed longhorns up the Western Trail from Texas and helped in various other trail drives of a shorter nature before settling down in Montana in 1883. At the age of seventy-eight, he dictated his story to Helena Huntington Smith, who masterfully described Teddy Blue’s early life and his experiences on three different trail drives. A few days after the book was first published, he died.

4. Bob Fudge, Texas Trail Driver, Montana-Wyoming Cowboy, 1862-1933

Jim Russell, 1981

bobfudge Current publisher: News-Argus Printing, Lewistown, MT
Jim Russell, who knew Bob Fudge personally, realized in 1932 that he was the only one who could coax the old cowboy to tell his story. Published years later, this book is a delightful read about a trail driver who went up the trail several times from 1882 to 1895.
Our favorite part is Fudge’s narrative about how he swam with an XIT herd after losing his horse in the North Platte River in Wyoming and almost drowned.

5. North of 36

Emerson Hough, 1923

41ic6vtygpl-_bo1204203200_ Current publisher: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, NY
This is the only fictional book on our list. This novel by Emerson Hough tells about a trail drive to Abilene, Kansas, in about 1868. Hough based his story on actual knowledge about the early trail drives after the Civil War. He explained that the cowboy outfit went to Abilene, Kansas, by way of the Arbuckle Mountains in Indian Territory, which is a different route than the recognized Chisholm Trail of today. Using Hough’s novel, in 1924, Paramount Pictures made a silent film by the same name. George W. Saunders was a technical advisor for the film.

Update on the Point of Rocks Issue

Over the last two months there has been an on-going dialogue between the Kansas Department of Transportation and area historians over the alteration of the landmark Point of Rocks that is
located four miles west of Dodge City. KDOT’s plans to widen U.S. 50 highway from Dodge City to Cimarron in western Kansas involves taking a sizable chunk of the rock which has, since the early 1800s, been a landmark to travelers and cattle drovers. Today, that Point is recognizable to most people because of the cowboy sculpture that sits atop the Point and is a gateway image into the west side of Dodge City.

On December 17, representatives from the Fort Dodge/Cimarron Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association and the Great Western Cattle Trail Association as well as the land owner and State Representatives Ron Ryckman and Bud Estes met with KDOT engineers, designers, and a geologist. A two-hour session ensued.

KDOT’s position is that, because they are concerned with safety, a 60-foot median is necessary
between the existing two lanes and the additional two lanes to be added. This plan would cut deeply into Point of Rocks.

KDOT Plans remove large portion of Point of Rocks

Estimation of KDOT’s proposal (red) & Point of Rocks Advocates’ proposal (green)

The consensus of opinion by the historians, land owner, and representatives is that we are not opposed to the widening of the highway from two lanes to four lanes, but we recommend a 16-foot median between the lanes which would save a greater portion of the Point. This 16-foot median construction would be for only the one and one half mile from Highway 400 to Point of Rocks.

On January 7, KDOT engineers met with the Dodge City Commissioners and again presented
the 60-foot median plan. The recommendation voiced by the historians and land owner a few weeks before seems to have been ignored.

Meanwhile, more support in favor of saving Point of Rocks has been received on this website.
There are currently over 2,000 signatures. KAKE TV aired the controversy in December and
The Hutch News and the Wichita Eagle have had articles about Point of Rocks.

The February issue of True West Magazine has this week hit news stands. In their annual “True Western Towns of the Year” feature, Dodge City was selected number one in the U.S.


On the open flat prairies west of Dodge City, Kansas, is an out-cropping of sandstone that rises above the rest of the landscape that can be seen for miles around. This obvious spot was a landmark to early travelers and became known as “Point of Rocks.” To aid travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, two forts were established nearby: Fort Mann (1847-1848) and Fort Atkison (1850-1855). Wagon trains headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory watched for the obvious landmark in order to get their bearings while crossing the wilderness.

Point Of Rocks

Point of Rocks, an important landmark for the Santa Fe and Western Cattle Trails

When the cattle drives started coming north out of Texas in 1874 on the Western Cattle Trail, Point of Rocks was also used as the spot which signaled to the trail bosses that here was where their herds would bypass Dodge City’s west side and turn north toward another cattle town, Ogallala, Nebraska and beyond.

Today, the Kansas Department of Transportation has plans to widen Highway 50 from Dodge City to Cimarron which will destroy Point of Rocks. This landmark, under current plans, will be leveled.

Please help the Santa Fe Trail Association and the Great Western Cattle Trail Association in asking Governor Brownback to not allow KDOT to destroy this site, but to, instead, re-design the highway in that location to spare the landmark.  You can participate by giving your virtual signature on the Point of Rocks Petition Page (  It’s easy. All you need to do is give your name, email address, city, and state, then click “Sign Now.” That’s all you need to do, but an added bonus would be to share with the “Facebook” and “Twitter” buttons below the form.


Edit: Read an update on the situation.

Maps Of The Western Cattle Trail And Other Trail Systems

Gary Kraisinger, who enjoys studying antique maps and creating his own maps, drew over eighty maps for the Kraisingers’ first book, The Western, the Greatest Texas Cattle Trail.
Those maps consisted mostly of township maps, showing the section, range, and township and location of the Western Cattle Trail across western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. Also published at the time of the book, were two poster-size maps showing the entire routes of the Western Cattle Trail—across western Kansas and across southwestern Nebraska.

Gary Drawing Maps

Gary concentrates on an old map, measuring distance, in preparation to creating his own map.
All of his maps are hand-drawn and it takes hours to create one draft.
A blank onion-skin sheet lies in front of him waiting for his input.

After the publication of the 2004 book, friends asked Gary about a map of their state of Texas. “Surely, Gary, you can create a map for us?” It took one year, but in 2006, the “Map of Central Texas Showing the Location of the Western Cattle Trail,” was created by Gary and printed by the Mennonite Press. It shows feeder routes going into the trunk line of the Western Trail at San Antonio and Bandera. That trunk line continues on north to the Red River at Doan’s Crossing. At the same time, the couple published the “Map of North of Ogallala Showing the Location of the Western Cattle Trail.” This map shows the trunk line of the Western Trail going north out of Ogallala, Nebraska, and continuing north into Wyoming and Montana territories. A branch of the trail is also mapped through the Dakotas, going past the Black Hills and as far north as Fort Buford. Both of these 24 inch by 36 inch maps are available in our shop.

While researching for their second volume on the Western Cattle Trail, Gary and Margaret decided it was time to design a map for each of the four cattle trail systems that came north out of Texas. To see and understand the full picture about the cattle-trailing industry from its beginning to end, one needs to see the movement of the trails, from the earliest to the last. In other words, to understand the Western Trail, one needs to know about its predecessors. Most of the time, these different trail systems are put on one map, showing the trunk lines and branches side by side, causing a very congested map, not to mention a confusing display. (This was done on page 23 of the couple’s first book.) Each system deserves a map to show the entire trunk line and its branches. Therefore, in 2010, a four-map series was published:
#1 – The Shawnee Trail System (1846-1875);
#2 – The Goodnight Trail System (1866-1885);
#3 – The Eastern/Chisholm Trail System (1867-1889);
#4 – The Western Trail System (1874-1897).
These maps are 24 inches by 36 inches and are ready for framing. The four system maps will also appear in the forefront and back-end pages of the new book.

First Western Cattle Trail Book Published

Once it was decided that the many years of research on the Western Cattle Trail really needed to be put in a book, Gary and Margaret committed to working on the project every possible moment. Each was still working full time and blocks of time was not easily attainable. Margaret likes to tell this story: Gary, at the onset of the project, commented, “Oh, this shouldn’t take long. All the research is done. We should be able to do this in a few months.” Seven years later, after eight drafts, the manuscript was finally presented to Mennonite Press of Newton for printing. The couple equate the planning of a book to that of building a house from the ground up. Every word, picture, and map had to be scrutinized. After the initial printing, three proofs were required—where the authors read the copy word by word. (And still there are typo errors in the final copy.)

Gary and Margaret hold first printed page of book at press.

Margaret and Gary Kraisinger stand in front of the large printer at Mennonite Press in Newton, Kansas.
After years of research, writing, and creating maps, the couple hold the first sheet of their book to come off the printer.
April, 2004

After the book was printed, it was sent off to the bindery. An embossed hardcover was created; the pages were folded, cut, and stitched; and a dustcover was added. A total of 5,000 books were ordered. Because of the size of the book (9″ by 12″), each book weighing four and one half pounds, the delivery of books in July came in on eleven pallets. Gary and Margaret were so excited to see the end product. Margaret also said, “We are never going to do that again!”

Gary And Margaret on Palettes of Books

Gary and Margaret sit on top of the pallets that hold their new book, The Western, the Greatest Texas Cattle Trail, 1874-1886.
A ladder had to be used to reach the top of the stack. July, 2004 Mennonite Press, Inc., Newton, Kansas

What Started This Western Cattle Trail Research?

Gary and Margaret were living in Dighton, Lane County, Kansas in 1967, both teaching school. Unbeknown to them, not far away was Route III of the Western Cattle Trail across western Kansas heading toward Ogallala, Nebraska, and beyond.

When a local rancher friend showed them a trail across his pasture, they became curious. What trail was this? He did not know. In those days, there were no personal computers, so questions were posed to old timers in the area. Some thought it might be a cattle trail from the south, but that was only a guess.

Dighton, KS Near Western Cattle Trail

Dighton, KS nearly convered by longhorn on map by Gary of Kansas portion of Western Cattle Trail

Gary and Margaret started looking in books trying to find an answer. In most sources, a cattle trail called the Texas Trail or the Western came into Dodge City, but ended there. Even James Michener in his historic volume on Texas wrote of the cattle drives from Texas and showed the trail ending at Dodge City.  But Dighton was north of Dodge City!

Surely the Kansas State Historical Society would have the answer.  Upon asking the archivist of its historical library in Topeka, Gary and Margaret were told that they had nothing on any cattle trails north of Dodge. “Go back to western Kansas and research for the answer,” they were told.

After more digging, a few maps were found showing a Western Cattle Trail going across western Kansas. But—the trail was like a straight line from Dodge City, Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, as if someone had aligned the two towns with a ruler and then drew a line!  To Gary, who has a degree in geography and cartography, that was unrealistic. “I’ll draw my own map,” he said.

Over the next thirty years, the Kraisingers read everything they could find about the Western Trail through western Kansas. To their surprise, there was not just one route, but a total of five different routes going north out of Dodge City.

In 1997, when the couple started writing their book, they realized that the cattle trail which had gone by Dighton was part of the largest cattle-trailing system to ever come out of Texas. Over the Western Cattle Trail millions of longhorns were pushed to the northern ranges, rail terminals, and Indian reservations. The majority of these animals were trailed north of Dodge City and across western Kansas.