The Opelousas Trail

The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 2
Opelousas, Louisiana, during the Civil War

The settlers of Texas were by no means behind their fellow Southerners in herding cattle. Well before the days of the Chisholm Trail, they were driving Texas Longhorns to market along the Opelousas Trail, also known as the Beef Trail.

The trail began near Liberty, Texas, and followed Indian paths to various parts of Louisiana, including the towns of Opelousas, Alexandria, Natchitoches, and New Orleans. From New Orleans, the cattle could be shipped to northern markets by boat.

Sources vary as to when the Opelousas Trail was first used for cattle drives, but it appears to have been sometime in the 1830s under the leadership of Texas rancher James Taylor White. He and other ranchers drove an estimated 75,000 cattle over the trail annually. These drives continued for several decades.

The Shawnee Trail

The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 2

Eventually, however, new markets opened up. Americans were slowly working their way westward as far as Missouri and extreme eastern Kansas. As they arrived, the longhorn herds began to arrive, too.

The route used beginning in the 1840s to supply the markets of the Midwest was known as the Shawnee Trail or the Texas Road. It had long been used for travel, but soon thousands of longhorns were following the trail, as well. They began their journey in various parts of Texas, passed through Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and then took one of the many branches of the trail to their destination:

  • St. Louis, MO.
  • Sedalia, MO.
  • Independence, MO.
  • Westport, MO.
  • Kansas City, MO.
  • Baxter Spring, KS.

Fears of Texas fever and the strife before, during, and after the Civil War could make life on the Shawnee Trail rather difficult. Nevertheless, this was the main route for driving longhorns until the rise of the Chisholm Trail.

The Roots of Cattle Driving: Part 3