Wild West Podcast

Joseph McCoy's Legacy: Transforming the Cattle Industry and Reshaping the Course of Western Expansion

September 30, 2022 Michael King/Brd Smalley
Wild West Podcast
Joseph McCoy's Legacy: Transforming the Cattle Industry and Reshaping the Course of Western Expansion
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Prepare for a riveting journey back to the 19th-century cattle industry as we spotlight Joseph G McCoy's game-changing contributions. Ever wondered how the inception of the first cow town in Abilene, Kansas, complete with a pen for a thousand head of cattle, a hotel, a bank office, and a livery stable came to be? Or how the creation of a unique transportation system for the booming Texas cattle trade had an immense impact on the mid-continent regions? We're unpacking all of these fascinating narratives and more, right here.

But our trail doesn't stop at the cattle industry. We're stepping into the larger picture of Western Expansion, digging into the undeniable influence of McCoy's work in shaping this historical era. His revitalization of the cattle industry didn't just birth numerous stock ranges, but also played a crucial role in healing the north-south divide post the Civil War. So, get ready to envisage a different West, one untouched by McCoy's influence, and join us in exploring how this one man changed the course of history.

Stay with us after this episode as we explore the plausibility of the cattle trade and ask the question, what would have happened to the westward expansion if the cattle trade industry had never existed? Join us next time as we explore the Making of the Cattle Trails. Subscribe to Wild West Podcast at: Apple Podcast


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Speaker 2:

In 1867, an Illinois cattle shipper named Joseph G McCoy arrived upon a plan to revitalize the cattle industry. This young man conceived the idea of opening an outlet for Texas cattle. Being impressed with the knowledge of the number of cattle in Texas and the difficulties of getting them to market by the routes and means then in use, and realizing the significant disparity between Texas values and northern prices of cattle, he set himself to thinking and studying to hit upon some plan whereby these great extremes would be equalized. The goal was to establish, at some accessible point, a depot or market to which a Texas drover could bring his stock unmolested and there, failing to find a buyer, he could go upon the public highways to any market in the country he wished. In short, it was to establish a market at which the Southern Drove and Northern Buyer would meet upon equal footing and both be undisturbed by mobs or swindling thieves. Wild West Podcast presents Cattle Drives, cowboys, cattletowns, part 2, joseph G McCoy and the Cattle Industry of the 1800s. Stay with us after this episode as we explore the plausibility of the cattle trade and ask the question what would have happened to westward expansion if the cattle trade industry had never existed? Joseph McCoy was born December 21, 1837 in Sagamon County, illinois, to David and Mary Kirkpatrick McCoy. Mccoy spent a couple of years at Knox College in Galesburg. He married Sarah Epler on October 22, 1861. They had five children. In 1861, mccoy began to work in the mule and cattle industry. At the close of the Civil War, mccoy expanded his enterprise by buying animals in large quantities and shipping them to major livestock centers. After expanding his business to shipping large herds of cattle to slaughter, he quickly recognized flaws in the system. An average of longhorns in Texas caused their value to be only $3 to $4 ahead. In cities like Chicago they were worth $30 to $40 ahead. Mccoy began to develop a transportation system that would send cattle north to more profitable markets. In 1867, he joined a firm that shipped as many as $1,000 cattle a week. Mccoy viewed the livestock industry from a national perspective and recognized the need for better contact between Southwestern ranchers, midwestern feeders and meatpackers. He resolved to build a stock depot west of farming sections on the Great Plains to which cowboys from Texas could drive longhorn herds. Although the railroad builders considered his plan impractical, he finally succeeded in obtaining cooperation from the Kansas-specific railway. Provided he assumed all the financial risks, the cattle would be shipped from his proposed stockyards to Kansas City. He then made an agreement with the Hannibal and St Joseph line, which proved a route to Quincy, illinois. From there the cattle could be sent to Chicago. Between 1860 and 1865, northern cities swelled, with New York becoming the largest. This urban population growth created a strong demand for beef. Mccoy wagered on owning an outlet where Texas cattle could be bought for pennies per pound and then sold for dollars on the hoof in New York City. All he needed was a safe outlet where milled cattle could be bought, sold and transported eastward by rail. In short, it was pointless to drive cattle to Abilene without the growth of these urban markets. It was not long after the project had taken simple shape in the projector's mind before he cast his eye over the map of the western states. Mccoy studied the situation and determined whether the western prairies or the southern rivers would be the better place to establish the proposed depot. Before he had fully decided in his mind, a trip to Kansas City was taken. Soon after arriving in Kansas, mccoy met with particular residents interested in a large herd of cattle from Texas. He expected to arrive somewhere in Kansas, but just where was not known, as no specific place had been designated. After repeat conversations with these parties, a trip up the Union Pacific East Division was determined. At that time the road was completed and operated as far west as Salina, kansas. Junction City was visited and a proposition was made to one of the leading business people to purchase a tract of land sufficiently large to build a stockyard and such other facilities as were necessary for cattle shipping. Still, an exorbitant price was asked. In fact, a flat refusal to sell at any cost was the final answer of the wide awake junctionite. So by that one act of donkey's stupidity, junction City drove from her a trade which soon developed to many millions. In his book Historical Sketches of the Cattle Trade, joseph G McCoy describes his impression of Abilene, kansas, in 1867. After spending a few days investigating Abilene, then as now, the county seat of Dickinson County was selected as the point of location for the coming enterprise. In 1867 was a very small, dead place consisting of about one dozen log huts, low, small root affairs, four-fifths of which were covered with dirt for roofing. Indeed, but one single roof could be seen in the whole city. The business of the burg was conducted in two small rooms, mere log huts, and of course the inevitable saloon, also in a log hut was to be found. Abilene, kansas, was chosen as the site for McCoy's cattle pens. He purchased a 250-acre tract at the edge of this frontier village and made a pen to handle a thousand head of cattle, a hotel known as the Joverse Cottage, a bank office and livery stable. Mccoy built the first cow town in Kansas at Abilene, on the southern branch of the Union Pacific Railroad. The following is McCoy's recollection of the construction of the first cattle yards built in Abilene, kansas. Attractive land adjoining the town was purchased for the location of the stockyards, hotel offices etc. From Hannibal, missouri, came the Pine Lumber and from Lennep, kansas, came the Hardwood, and work began in earnest and with energy. In six days, from July 1, a shipping yard that would accommodate 3,000 cattle, a large pair of Fairbank scales, a barn and an office were completed and a good three-story hotel was well on the way toward completion. Abilene featured holding pens, a market for beef along the railroad tracks, wide streets so the cattle could be driven through town, and a means of entertainment for cowhands. Mccoy also attracted buyers from eastern packing houses to bid on the herds, mccoy having been provided with a means of transporting the cattle from a point in Kansas to the meat packing houses of the east. The question remained only in finding a method of depositing the livestock in Kansas. This was solved by several cattle trails, the most famous of which was the Chisholm Trail. The Chisholm Trail, a cattle road named after a half-breed Indian trader, Jesse Chisholm, had been started a few years before 1867. The trail had run south from his ranch near present-day Wichita, to enable traders to obtain wagon communication with the Indians in Indian Territory. The main trail ran north from Red River Station across Indian Territory and entered Kansas near Caldwell. From here it crossed the Arkansas River at Wichita and continued past the present site of Newton to Abilene. Mccoy sent word south through Indian Territory, which today is known as Oklahoma, to alert Texans that a rail connection could be reached by driving their herds to Kansas. This route avoided the difficulties posed by trails that crossed settled areas of Texas, louisiana and Arkansas. This new cattle market was beyond most of the farm settlements. He invited Texas drivers to bring their cattle to his market by a new and more westerly route. Cattle owners knew they might still embrace conflicts with Native Americans while crossing Indian Territory, but the need to sell their cattle made the risk worthwhile. The following is an excerpt from the Outlet by Andy Adams explaining the conditions of the cattle trade following the Civil War. At the close of the Civil War, the need for a market for the surplus cattle of Texas was as urgent as it was general. There had been numerous experiments in seeking an outlet, but there is authority for the statement that in 1857, texas cattle were driven to Illinois. Eleven years later, 40,000 heads were sent to the mouth of the Red River in Louisiana, shipped by boat to Cairo, illinois, and thence inland by rail. Fever resulted and the experiment was never repeated. To the west of Texas stretched a forbidding desert, while on the other hand nearly every drive to Louisiana resulted in financial disaster to the rover. The Republic of Mexico on the south afforded no relief, as it was likewise overrun with a surplus of its own breeding. Immediately before and after the war, a slight trade had sprung up in cattle between eastern points on Red River and Baxter Springs in the southeast corner of Kansas. The route was perfectly feasible, being short and entirely within the reservations of the Choctaws and Cherokees civilized Indians. This was the only route to the north, for farther to the westward was the home of a hundred cows. At this time all eyes were turned to the new northwest, which was then looked upon as the country that would at last afford the proper market. Railroads were pushing into the domain of the Buffalo and Indian. The rush of immigration was westward and the Texan was clamoring for an outlet for his cattle. It was written in the stars that the Indian and Buffalo would have to stand aside. The first herds arrived in August 1867, an initial shipment to Chicago left Abilene in September. By the end of the year 35,000 head had been driven over the Chisholm Trail to Abilene and in 1868 the number rose to 75,000 head. By 1870, the number doubled as Abilene's leading citizen, mccoy, was elected mayor Rival. Railroad terminal towns further west and south soon diverted trade from Abilene and McCoy moved to the new cow towns. In 1872 he went to Wichita, kansas, where he became a promotion agent for American and Texas refrigerator car. By 1880 he was a commission dealer in livestock in Kansas City and had been employed by the US Census Bureau to report on the livestock industry for the 11th census. For a time he lived in Oklahoma and served as the agent for the Cherokee Nation in collecting land revenues. In 1890 he was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the US Congress. He died in Kansas City on October 19, 1915. Mccoy, the prime instigator of the cattle movement, left a vivid impression of this period of our history and his memoirs Driving longhorns out of Texas to the cow towns of the northern plains, he declared, is one of the most significant and colorful subjects in the annals of the Southwest. The narrative of frontier industry pointed the way to the occupations of a vast empire previously considered a great desert. From the close of the Civil War until the 90s it attracted the attention of the whole nation. It became familiar with the terms cowboy stampede, six-shooter, roundup, lariat, chaps, sombrero and others connected with the trading stock over the open range. George W Saunders, at the reunion of the old-time trail driver's association, read the following At these old-time trail drivers not looked for and found this cattle market. Our vast herds would have died on the ranges and the enormous unstocked ranges would have lain dormant and unproductive. Our ranchmen would have left Texas disgusted and broke and it would have been challenging to re-inhabit the state of Texas and lands to the north. Therefore the development would have been on hold for many years. Possibly no iron horse would have reached the Rio Grande up to this time as the incentive would not have been as attractive. No one knows what would have happened had the northern trail never existed. Still, it is plain that all commercial achievements civilization, good government, christianity, morality, our school system, the use of all school and state lands making them revenue bearers, the expansion of the stock business from the Rio Grande to the British possessions, which is producing millions of dollars, the building of railroads, factories, seaports, agricultural advancement and everything else pertaining to their prosperity can be traced directly to the achievements of the old-time trail drivers. Traveling up and down the trails also helped to heal the animosity that the abolition movement in the Civil War had engendered. Dulce of G McCoy observed in 1874 that the cattle trade was a means of bringing about an era of better feeling between northern and Texas men by bringing them in contact with each other in commercial transactions. The feelings in the breasts of men from both sections today are better than they were six years ago. At its second annual convention in 1899, the National Livestock Association conferred Joseph McCoy an honorary lifetime membership. He was recognized for pioneering work in opening Abilene, kansas, as an outlet for a large cattle shipping business. His biography, as published in the convention's proceedings, recounted how his project was ridiculed as a wild, visionary, chimerical scheme that could not possibly succeed. But a trail was established to Texas and it remained in use for 20 years, until 1887, and over it came fully 10 million head of livestock moving northwards seeking a market, and it became a source of supply, of breeding or, if you will, seed cattle to replace the buffalo on the vast plains, and thus became the basis of thousands of herds now located upon stock ranges in mid-continent regions.

Speaker 3:

Brad, at the end of this I have a question for you. What do you think would have happened to the Westward expansion if Joseph McCoy would not have provided a cattle market for ranchers in Texas?

Speaker 2:

Well, all of the things being equal, you still had the same problem that you had with or without Joseph McCoy, that of the tens of millions of cattle all over the southern ranges. What Joseph did was streamline and simplify the process that had begun well before him. They were already bringing cattle to northern markets just to get them out of the south, to make money, get them to people who needed them. And so the Westward expansion, especially during the Civil War, while the north and south were being torn apart, east and west were being drawn together and people from the east were leaving for the western frontier. They were coming out, they were making homes, building towns, finding farms, finding new land. Manifest destiny was in full bloom as the American population moved west and, has also been said, an army marches on its stomach. They needed the food. That's where the, of course, the buffalo was a huge part of Western expansion, but then, as the buffalo thinned out, they still needed that beef. So the markets would have been there, but without Joseph McCoy I think you still would have had the same problems that they were having. Southern and Texas ranchers would not have been getting wealthy like they were. They would have been continuing to probably lose money just getting getting the cattle out there, I think you would have had a few, probably isolated pockets of great success, but not in the way that we found, as history did in fact lay out. Also, I think the legendary western towns that existed just beyond the boundaries of grungian civilization, towns like Abilene, ellsworth, wichita, dodge City and other cattle towns in and around Kansas, further to the north and even to the west, would, if they did exist, they would not be at least in their current form, and probably most of them would not have lasted as we one of or more of the countless ghosts down to have existed all over the West.

Speaker 3:

So, basically, what you are saying is that the cattle drives may have accelerated Western expansion due to the timing that it occurred in 1867. A lot of development, new homes, farms, schools, communities, all of those things became accelerated within, I'd say, about 10 years, wouldn't you?

Speaker 2:

Oh, certainly within 10 years, if not less. I say a lot of the cattle towns of Kansas and surrounding areas existed prior to the arrival of the cattle, but once that industry made landfall, so to speak, the economy boomed. When you've got that much money changing hands in any local economy, it naturally will just explode for good or ill. And when the economy is strong it will bring people into that economy even though they may not be drawn by the initial causes of it. The cattle trade brought many people who saw the growth of these Western communities and arrived to take advantage of the resources that were there, even if they may have had absolutely nothing to do with the cattle industry itself. Places like Dodge City, specifically, was very well timed. After the Buffalo trade was dwindling virtually overnight, the cattle trade sprung up and I think that Dodge City may have continued to exist, but certainly not in its current form. Places like Dodge have never really gotten out of that cattle economy. The logistics have changed, but Dodge specifically has had the exact same economy since 1875. Places further east, like Wichita, for example, after the cattle trade itself dried up and moved out westward, they found new success in the growing aviation industry. Many other cattle towns were Not as lucky. That's it for now, as we close with a special announcement. In the fall of 2022, wild West Podcast will proudly present an all-new series entitled Trails, cattle Drives, cowboys and Cattle Towns. This new series will explore the early cattle trade, relive the challenges of a trail drive, describe the character of the cowboy and retell the stories of individuals who endured the hardships of the cattle trails of the 1800s. The podcast series will provide interesting sketches of early cowboys and their experiences on the range and on the trail during the days that tried men's souls. In addition, the podcast provides true narratives told by real cowboys and the men who fathered the cattle industry. So make sure you subscribe to our podcast, listed at the end of the description text of this podcast, to receive notification on all new episodes. You can also join us on Facebook at facebookcom slash Wild West Podcast to review excerpts and historical accounts of this new series entitled Trails, cattle Drives, cowboys and Cattle Towns. Thanks for listening to our podcast.

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