The Wagon-Road Economy in the
Dodge City-Panhandle Region
As the expanding American frontier stabilized in western Kansas after 1870, Dodge City witnessed a lively trade to the south and west, across the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Until the mid 1880’s the railroad terminated in Dodge, a fact that made it not only a destination for cattle drives from Texas, but a starting point for enormous amounts of goods transported by wagon train, making the merchants of Dodge City wealthy and powerful men.
As the U.S. Army wound down its long war against the Plains Indians, it blazed a rough trail to serve the garrison to Camp Supply, in what is now northwest Oklahoma. There were other needs for trails as well; to serve towns, settlements, trading posts, farms, ranches and other military installations.
C. Robert Haywood has put the story of trail development in the Dodge City-Panhandle region into historical perspective with his account of the people who made this vast transportation network possible; the troops and early entrepreneurs who laid out rough paths, the freighters who refined and developed those paths into established routes, and the people who serviced and were served by the routes.
With a writing style that is both meticulous to accuracy and at the same time entertaining, Haywood explores the making of the Dodge City-Fort Supply Trail, the Fort Elliott Extension and the Mobeetie-Tascosa Trail. The Jones and Plummer Trail that ran south and west from Dodge City through Ford and Meade Counties in Kansas, and Beaver County, Oklahoma, was created as a freighting road to the Panhandle and serviced buffalo hunters, ranchers and settlers alike. The Dodge City-Tascosa Trail was a link between these sister cow towns that was vital to the existence of Tascosa until the railroads reached that area in the early 1890’s.
Haywood gives us an in-depth look at the grimy business of freighting and the men who made their living as mail contractors, stage drivers, and entrepreneurs of the wagon road. He introduces us to W.M.D. Lee, Charles Rath, Robert Wright and Casimiro Romero, owners of freighting and mercantile firms. He dedicates an entire chapter to P.G. Reynolds, mail contractor and stage line operator.
Make no mistake about it, without a transportation system like that described by Haywood, the West would have developed much more slowly. Likewise, without works like “Trails South,” the history of the West would be woefully incomplete, for it shows the entrepreneur as an essential ingredient to expansion, and records the history of a transportation system unique to this region in a small window of time.
If you have a love for the history of the High Plains, visit our sister site: Old Meade County
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