Joseph G. McCoy
The heyday of cattle drives began in 1867, the year Joseph G. McCoy set up a shipping yard in the 6-year-old hamlet of Abilene, Kansas. By late spring that year, McCoy wrote in his book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, Abilene was "a very small, dead place, consisting of about one dozen log huts -- low, small, rude affairs, four-fifths of which were covered with dirt for roofing; indeed, but one shingle roof could be seen in the whole city." That was about to change.
McCoy set up a shipping yard that could hold 3,000 cattle at a time, a three-story hotel, a bank and a livery stable. While these were under construction, he sent a man named W.W. Sugg south into Indian Territory, then east to the cattle trail then in use to tell the cattlemen that they now had an alternative destination: Abilene. No more worries from Jayhawkers or Texas fever-fearing farmers.
But wait a minute! What about that law passed in 1867? While it allowed Texas cattle into the state, they had to remain west of "the first guide meridian west from the sixth principal meridian," which ran about a mile west of Ellsworth. That would place Abilene about 60 miles too far east.
Well, the law allowed passage of cattle through the prohibited area to the railroad -- only if the drover posted a $10,000 bond to ensure payment of damages caused by the cattle. Robert R. Dykstra, in his book The Cattle Towns, says McCoy promised area farmers and ranchers that he would make good any losses caused by passage of the Texas cattle, and in 1868 paid out about $4,500 for that purpose.
The first herd to arrive in Abilene, McCoy said in his book, was started from Texas by a Mr. Thompson, but sold in the Indian Nations to Smith, McCord & Chandler.
But what should have been the very first, he said, was driven up by Col. O.W. Wheeler, Wilson and Hicks, who had stopped to rest about 30 miles from Abilene. Their herd "was really the first herd that came up from Texas and broke the trail, followed by the other herds."
McCoy's shipping yard handled about 35,000 cattle that first year.