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The Texas Road and the Cattle Drives

The route through eastern Oklahoma which is now U.S. Highway 69 was once known as the Texas Road.  In True Grit, Mattie Ross describes it as “broad and packed clear and hard from cattle herds and freighter wagons.” 

The Texas Road was the oldest road in Indian Territory and served as a major trade and emigrant route to Texas beginning in the 1820’s. Entering Oklahoma near Baxter Springs, Kansas, the road passed near the present towns of Fort Gibson, Eufaula, McAlester, and Durant and entered Texas north of what is now Denison.

The road was used by settlers seeking Mexican land grants in Texas and later became part of the southern route to the California gold fields. By the late 1850’s more than one hundred thousand wagons per year were using the Texas Road to cross the Indian Territory.

When the drives of Texas longhorn cattle to the railheads in Kansas began in the 1840’s, the earliest and eastern-most cattle trail, known as the Shawnee Trail, followed the route of the Texas Road. These drives north were very lucrative for Texas cattlemen, but ticks carried by the longhorns infected the native cattle with “Texas fever” and farmers began trying to turn back the herds.

Traffic on the Texas Road continued after the cattle drives stopped during the Civil War. The road was of strategic significance to both Confederate and Union forces and the two armies faced each other on the Texas Road in the Battle of Honey Springs.

After the war, Texas was overflowing with surplus cattle in need of markets. The drives on the Shawnee Trail began again, with more than 200,000 longhorns moving up the trail in 1866. But resistance to the trail drives intensified and the herds were turned west to the Chisholm Trail through central Oklahoma and then to the Great Western Trail into the areas that would become Woodward and Harper counties. In 1886 the Kansas legislature barred all Texas cattle from Kansas and the days of the great cattle drives came to an end.

The route of the old Texas Road had a long life ahead, however. The tracks of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad and, eventually, U.S. Highway 69, would follow the road that had once been taken by emigrants to Texas and by longhorn cattle to the railheads in Kansas.

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