When Kansans are asked to name or list all of the famous Cowtown’s of the state, some of the more popular answers would be: Abilene, Dodge City, Newton and for some Wichita. Those would all be good answers, but not many will say Junction City. Not many know that Junction City, once upon a time, was a very prosperous Cowtown back in 1867. Although it seemed that the cattle industry was bringing in money, many of the local citizens of Davis County, (Geary’s old county name) were not happy that the Texas longhorn could infect their local cattle with fatal diseases. We will take a look at the quick rise and subsequently fall of the Cattle industry in Junction City.
After the Civil War, the state of Texas was overrun with longhorn cattle and markets on the east coast were in dire need of beef. Because there was no one to attend to or work the cattle during the war, many of the Longhorn cattle were roaming Texas unowned. Farmers or really anyone who was interested in making a name in the cattle industry went to Texas and started a “Cattle Rush” of sorts.
After the longhorn population was under control, the next hurdle to clear was to figure out a way to get the cattle to the rest of the hungry, war-torn country. Famous cattle trails in Kansas were: the Chisolm, Great Western and the Shawnee. The Shawnee was then spilt up into two separate branches, the east and west. The western portion of the Shawnee Trail is the one that passed through Davis County.
Now that the cattle were being brought up from Texas, there needed to be a way to ship them out to the rest of the country. Two newly completed railroads in Junction City were the answer. The completion of the railroad to Junction City in November 1866 provided a shipping point for markets across the country. Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad Company shipped east and west and was the second railroad line to have reached the area that year after the Kansas Pacific railroad. In 1866 Junction City became a destination for Texas Cattle making their their way up, via the West Shawnee Trail. During this period, it was estimated that about 300,000 heads of cattle reached Junction City.
The cattle business in Davis County did not last very long. Town officials were discouraged by the cattle trade. It seemed that local owners of cattle in Geary County had had serious concerns over the introduction of Texas cattle into the area. This fear steamed from the fact that the Texas Longhorn often carried infected ticks that carried the dreaded, “Texas Fever” a disease that could kill and devastate the local cattle population. The Texas Longhorn was immune to the disease, but because they carried the deadly tick, any mingling with the local cattle could prove catastrophic.
In the spring of 1867, a public meeting was held on Clark’s Creek to organize the resistance to Texas cattle in Geary County. In an article written in the Saturday 5th, 1867 edition of “The Weekly Union” the author of the article details the future meeting of those in the county to try and ban the cattle drives in Davis County, “We understand that the people of Davis County, south of the Smoky Hill river, will meet at the place of Samuel Orr, or on the 15th of January, to petition the Legislature, concerning the introduction into the State of these infected cattle... during the past season, the people of Humboldt, McDowell and Clarke’s creek, in this county , have lost over six thousand dollars’ worth of cattle. It is proposed, if legal steps are of no avail in stopping such cattle beyond the State line, that the farmers turn out and drive them back. The people of the neighborhood have suffered greatly…”
This meeting ultimately ended the cattle trail business in Junction City. The rest of the state soon followed as the Kansas legislature, in 1867, modified the law to permit Texas Longhorns to come into Kansas only on the west side of the sixth principal meridian and south of a line drawn through the center of the state. This quarantine line was constantly changed and pushed further west. By 1867, Dodge was the only major cattle town in Kansas and by 1883; the cattle Trails in Kansan were all but extinct. By 1885 all the cattle trails were pushed to Colorado and the Rocky mountains where they went on to disappear completely
Although it might have been a short period of time, the influence that the cattle and the Cowboy had on Geary County is still felt to this day. This can be seen Geary County is well represented in the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame which is located at Dodge City’s Boot Hill museum. Fred Germann, William Ebbutt, Dusty Anderson, and Gerald “Jerry” Nelson-Peck have all been inducted in the Hall of Fame. We will take a closer look at these Hall of Famers next week.
This unknown man is believed to have been a cowboy in the area during the 1870s.