From Texas to New York
Another major cattle drive was carried out by a young man named Thomas Candy Ponting. Ponting had grown up herding cattle in his native England. When he came to America, he continued in the trade, but soon found his plans growing beyond what he had originally expected.
Ponting heard that longhorn cattle could be bought in Texas for anything between $8 and $12 per head. He also heard that, with a little fattening, the same cattle could be sold in New York for about $80 to $100 per head. The next step was obvious.
In 1853, Ponting and his partner Washington Malone went to Texas and bought a herd of 800 longhorn cattle. Over the next four months, they gradually worked their herd up to Moweaqua, Illinois. It was here that the cattle were wintered on corn to help prepare them for market.
Ponting sold most of his longhorns and took only an efficient 150 head to New York the next spring. Fortunately, they did not have to be driven the entire way, but caught a train in Muncie, Indiana. This carried them to New York City, where they arrived early in July 1854.
The event received quite a bit of attention in New York City, since longhorns had never set hoof in that city before. But this drive did more than attract publicity for the Texas cattle. It proved conclusively that there was a market for them and that they could be sold at a significant profit when taken to a railhead. It also demonstrated the hardiness of the longhorn when on the trail.
To the Confederate Lines
There are many more instances of pre–Chisholm Trail cattle drives that we could mention. However, we will conclude this series with one other major example.
The Civil War significantly altered the demand for Texas longhorn cattle. Since Texas was a Confederate state, its cattle were not too likely to travel to Union markets. This meant that northbound trails, such as the Shawnee Trail, were for all practical purposes shut down during the war years. However, the Confederate troops needed food, so more southerly trails such as the Opelousas Trail were still in use.
From these short drives, the Texans learned several things. For one thing, they proved to the satisfaction of all involved that a longhorn hurried up the trail was tough and unpalatable, but that the same steer, when allowed time to gain a little weight, was good eating. For another thing, these grueling drives verified the hardiness that Ponting had taken advantage of.
But the Civil War cattle drives did not last long. David Farragut captured New Orleans early in 1862, and the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, resulted in Union control of the Mississippi River. Texas was practically cut off from most of the Confederacy.
With no markets to go to, the longhorns stayed home during the rest of the war. But they were by no means idle. Instead, they reproduced themselves until they numbered in the millions. A supply was created, and, when the war-ravaged nation was reunited, the demand arose once more.
The result: the Chisholm Trail.