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.

Author of The Western: The Greatest Texas Cattle Trail 1874-1886
Member of the Great Western Cattle Assoc. & Fort Dodge/Cimarron Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Assoc.
Owner of The Old Hardware Store in Halstead, KS