The American West was settled by 1900, after the railroads had been built and land speculators had sold their property to farmers. Before then, the American West was a wild place, and settling it proved very difficult. It was the cattle industry that truly helped push people to settle in the west, as beef became a popular food source, and people continued to use the animals for their skins and tallow. As demand for beef grew, so did the demand for western settlers.
Texas Cattle Drives
After the Civil War, Texas had a surplus of longhorn cattle. Because beef was so popular in the east, there was a lot of money to be made shipping the cattle, only there weren’t many railways in the old west. The nearest railroads were in located in Kansas and Missouri. Unfortunately, Kansas had outlawed longhorns in their state because Midwestern cattle were known to catch “Texas fever” from the longhorns.
In 1861, Joseph McCoy began working in the cattle industry. McCoy knew that shipping cattle via railroads would increase his profits exponentially. In the west, McCoy’s longhorn cattle were only worth about 4 dollars per cow. In the east, McCoy could garner up to 40 dollars per cow. In 1867, Kansas began allowing longhorn drives, no longer fearing “Texas fever.” Once the ban was lifted, McCoy and his cowboys began driving cattle across the plains to Kansas, where the closest railways were located. That wasn’t enough for McCoy, who knew that cattle could be driven even faster. That’s when McCoy determined that the Chisholm Trail, a trade route, would be perfect for cattle driving.
The First Cowtowns
Joseph McCoy purchased the small village of Abilene. It was the first cowtown in the American West. Abilene was home to more than 100,000 head of cattle at the height of its success. It was also the model for many other towns that popped up along the Chisholm Trail. Cowtowns encouraged prosperity, population booms, and additional businesses to care for the growing populations.
The Rise of the West
The booming business of cattle caused a population increase, as well as land speculators were pushing hard to sell their western property. The area was promoted as a paradise for farmers, and farmers moved west to settle the lands. The railroad continued to grow, as did the cattle industry, prompting even more people to settle in the west. In the end, it was the cattle industry that kick started this journey west.