In 1819, Major
Stephen Long explored the area beyond
the Mississippi River calling it the “Great
American Desert.” People in the east, looking
for new places to settle, began moving west to California
in pack trains and wagon trains. The trails they
created became the Oregon
Trail, the Santa
and others. Eventually, railroads took the place
In the early 1870s, the railroads became a major factor
in the economy of Oklahoma. Oklahoma products such as beef,
pork, cotton, corn, wheat, and later coal, could reach
the other U.S. markets, and the products from the rest
of the nation could reach the Oklahoma. Transportation
between Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S. also became easier,
faster, and cheaper.
first railroad in Oklahoma was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas
(1870-1872), nicknamed, Katy. Other important railroads
included the Santa Fe Railroad, which ran north-south through
the middle of Oklahoma, the St. Louis & San Francisco,
which cut through the Choctaw Nation running southwesterly,
and the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, which
was west of the Santa Fe and ran north-south.
1855-1905, Irish, German, and Chinese immigrants along
with Native Americans, freed slaves, and civil war veterans,
laid 260,000 miles of track in the U.S. The first locomotives
burned wood for fuel. Later they were converted to coal.
A single locomotive, also called an “Iron
Horse” cost about $10,000 to build. As trains chugged
across the prairies, large herds of buffalo often held
up the trains for hours. The railroads brought gamblers,
drifters, and law-abiding citizens to the frontier.
Because of Texas Fever brought by cattle to the Native
Americans living near the cattle trails, Joseph G. McCoy
talked the railroads into building a shipping station in
Abilene, Kansas, and convinced the cattlemen to drive their
cattle up through the western part of Indian Territory,
thereby avoiding the Indian settlements. The cattle were
then shipped by rail to Chicago. By 1872, an average of
400,000 head was driven north each year from Texas. The
Indian tribes charged a toll to cross their lands.
stations were eventually built in Wichita, Dodge City
and other places in Kansas. The original Chisholm Trail
(named after Jesse Chisholm, a guide and trader) became
famous as a cattle trail during these years.
Girls served gourmet meals to passengers on the railways
during the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s.
The photo below is a picture of some Harvey girls at
the Vinita depot in the early 1920's. The lady on the
left is Charlotte (Lottie) Hailey. Charlotte is the great,
great aunt of Liz
Eubanks (of Liz's Liszt) who gave me
permission to use this photo..
The reconstruction treaty of 1866 granted the railroads
the right to lay track across Indian Territory. By 1905,
Oklahoma had 5,231 miles of track. The rails brought lumber,
food, clothes, and supplies to the new settlers, resulting
in profitable businesses and a big incentive for statehood.
the Civil War, the North and East had a beef shortage.
Large herds of cattle roamed freely in Texas. The cattle
originated from Spanish stock and fed on buffalo and mesquite
grass. They were half wild, hardy, well-adapted to sudden
storms and long dry summers. Their long horns gave them
the name of “Longhorns.” They could run almost
as fast as a horse.
Before the Civil War, the cattle markets were in New Orleans,
Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama. At the end of the war,
the North was paying higher prices for cattle, so the ranchers
began driving them north across the Red River, then northeast
through Eastern Indian Territory to Baxter Springs, Kansas,
and then on to St. Louis. As the railroads expanded west,
Texans kept cutting new trails through Indian Territory.
The most famous of these trails was the Chisholm Trail,
named for the Cherokee trader Jesse
Chisholm. It ran straight
north-south through central Oklahoma, just west of present
day Oklahoma City.
As trails multiplied in western Oklahoma, cattlemen negotiated
with the plains tribes for grazing and crossing rights.
Unfortunately, the cattlemen also brought a strange disease
(caused by cattle tick) to these Native Americans. A small
number of Native Americans who were not happy about the
amount of money they were paid or the diseases that were
being brought, attacked the cattlemen and seized their
In addition to these problems, Texas cattle were soon
banned in Kansas and Missouri because of the diseases they
carried. Ranchers and farmers settling in the new territory,
fenced their land using barbed wire, which also made the
drives more difficult. And finally, by the1890s, the railroads
reached both Texas and Oklahoma, making the long drives
unnecessary. This was the end of the cattle drives.
Primary Source Document: Cowboy Culture from Texas History Educator's Resources. If this link doesn't work, click on Resources 4 Educators, click "Lessons and Resources", "Primary Source Sets, then Cowboy Culture. (4-12)
page 10-12, “The Cowboys,” “The
Outlaws,” and “Rodeos” in A Look
at Oklahoma. (Instructions inclueded with
The era of the cattle drive lasted about 20 years. Cattle
drives were established to get cattle from Texas, where
cattle was worth $5 to $10 a head, to markets in other
parts of the country that paid five to ten times as much.
Branding with a registered trademark identified the ownership
of the herd. These brands were registered with the county
were divided into groups of 2,000-3,500 and started on
the trail at different times. A herd of 1,000 cattle
would stretch out for up to two miles. Each group was
led by a trail boss and ten or fifteen other men, including
a “horse wrangler” and a cook. Each cowboy
took his turn to watch the herd for two hours per night.
The cowboys would sing songs to quiet them if they grew
restless. Occasionally, lightning or noises would cause
the cattle to stampede. It often took many days to gather
a herd after a stampede.
cowboys’ jobs also included breaking wild horses,
branding the cattle, and protecting the herds from rustlers.
Rodeos and wild west shows developed because the cowboys
liked to compete with each other to see who was the best.
The most famous wild west shows were Buffalo
Bill Cody’s and Pawnee
Bill’s. Other famous cowboy entertainers
from Oklahoma were Tom Mix, Bill Pickett, May Lillie, Lucille
Mulhall, and Will Rogers.
cook was the most important member of the crew other
than the trail boss. He was in charge of the chuckwagon
invented by Charles
Goodnight in 1866. The chuckwagon carried
food, utensils, water, tools, and bedding. Food was prepared
on a fold-out counter, supported by hinged legs. Cowboys
collected water and wood for the cook. The usual menu was
fresh beef or bison steaks, stew, “chuckwagon chicken” (bacon), “Pecos
strawberries” (beans), and “sourdough bullets” (biscuits).
rest stop was available at the Red Fork Ranch near the
mouth of Turkey Creek. Cowboys would gather at the trading
post and write letters, eat ginger “snaps,” and
sing to a fiddle or banjo.
Illnesses were treated with a variety of home remedies.
Coal oil was used to combat lice, prickly-pear poultices
were used to treat wounds, bachelor button flowers were
used to cure diarrhea, salt and bison tallow were used
for piles, and bison-meat juice was drunk as a general
The Dodge City Trail became the principal route north
after 1876. The trip from Texas to Dodge City usually took
between 25 to 100 days, depending on weather, stampedes,
Prairie Indian attacks, cattle thieves, and other problems.
When the cattle arrived in Kansas, the owner began taking
bids on the herd. Then they were shipped to California.
Once in California, thee cattle was worth $100 to 200 per
The end of the Civil War resulted in a breakdown of law
and order in Indian Territory. Outlaws, whiskey peddlers,
horse-thieves, and other criminals from neighboring states
robbed and murdered at will. They could hide easily and
the Indian governments had no control over them. A robber
would rob a bank in a neighboring state and then race back
to Indian Territory to hide in cabins or rock caves.
Criminals like Jesse
James, Belle Starr, William Quantrill,
John Wesley Hardin, the Daltons, and Doolins were destructive.
The Frontier Police and vigilante groups tried to enforce
laws but were mostly unsuccessful.
1875, the Federal Government established a federal court
at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and gave Judge
Isaac Parker the power to crack-down on criminals. Judge Parker believed
that people were responsible for their actions. He became
known as the “hanging judge” because of the
numerous death sentences he passed. Famous lawmen who helped
Parker tame Oklahoma were Bass Reeves, Heck Thomas, Bill
Tilghman and Chris Madsen. After 1883, U.S. criminals of
Indian Territory were tried in Wichita, Kansas and Paris,
West. Using a blank Oklahoma map (pdf included
draw in the major trails west. Mark Three Forks on
the map. Place in notebook. (4-12)
in Oklahoma. Using a blank Oklahoma map (pdf
included in subscription), draw in the major railroad lines
of Oklahoma. Place in notebook. (4-12)
the Trail - draw three cattle trails that passed through
Indian Territory, using a written description of the trails.
Click on the letter H. (3-12)
the Point - read about cattle drives and measure the
width of the horns on drawings of longhorn cattle and then
convert the measurements from inches to centimeters and
from inches to feet. Click on the letter G. (2-12)
Railroad (Life in the Old West) by Bobbie Kalman. 32
pgs. Children will learn about the hard-working people who
built the railroads from sea to sea, and how railroads changed
the face of western North America forever. ISBN 0778701085.
Starr and the Wild West by Carl Green. 48 pgs.
Illustrated. The story of Belle Starr, one of the outlaws
of the west. Buy used or borrow.. (4-8+)
Cowboy (American Pastfinder) by Robert Klausmeier, Richard
Erickson. 48 pgs. ISBN 0822529750. A great read aloud for
all ages. Covers the history of cowboys, cowboy life, music,
recipes, and much more. Nice illustrations. (4-12)
Read a few tall tales such as Paul
Bunyan. Write one of
your own. If your child is really in tall tales, you might
like Tall Tales Literature Pockets by Evan-Moor. EMC 2732.
Write a descriptive essay about one topic studied in this
lesson. Example: A description of a cattle drive as told
from the point of view of young cowboy on first drive, the
sight of the first train going through Indian Territory as
seen by a Native American child, or the recollections of
a bank robbery as told by a child in a bank/stage coach at
the time. (4-12)
like these included in curriculum!
Glossary. Add the words from this unit and write out the
you are in a Wild West Show. Pick a talent and “perform” it
for your family. (all ages)
for gold. Hide small rocks in sand. Punch holes in aluminum
pie pan and "sift" out the gold OR you could use
sugar for and and M&M's for gold - edible! (PreK-4)
Horse Rodeo - make stick horses and use in simulated
rodeo activities. Click on the letter S. (K-4)
for Keeps - explore food preservation methods and make
beef jerky. Click on the letter F. (K-4)
Recipes (all ages):
Brown 1 lb. ground beef, 1 onion (chopped), 1 clove garlic
(minced) in a skillet. Add 1 cup water, 1 can dark red
kidney beans, 1 can tomato soup, and 1 can chopped tomatoes.
Add salt, cayenne pepper and chili powder to taste. Simmer
on low for 1 to 2 hours.
Melt 1 pkg. butterscotch morsels in plastic container
in microwave. Stir in 1 can crispy chow mien noodles.
Spoon mixture in 2” mounds onto wax paper. Cool.
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