Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Trails and Travel

Historic trails have always interested me. As a child, when we crossed the Chisholm Trail, I expected to see a well-worn and clearly defined path. It was many years before I realized that virtually all traces of the trail had been plowed under, or grown over for years.

This morning I awoke in North Platte, Nebraska. North Platte lies on the great westward immigrant routes of the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, the Mormon Trail, The Pony Express Trail, and the first trans-continental railroad. It also lies not far east of one of the more important cattle trails -- the Texas and Ogalalla Trail, aka Texas and Montana Trail, aka Dodge City and Montana Trail (the one they supposedly followed in "Lonesome Dove"). Today as I travelled south from Nebraska, I basically followed the route of this important cattle trail of the late 1800's.

It is approximately 270 miles from North Platte to Dodge City. I took the most direct route, which is also one of the least travelled routes. South of Oberlin, KS, I took Kansas Highway 23 south into Cimarron, KS, (which lies on the old Santa Fe Trail and is basically where the Cimarron Cutoff branched from the main trail) and then into Dodge City from the west. Of course, Dodge City lies on the Santa Fe Trail and was one of the most important delivery points for cattle moving north from Texas on the Western Trail.

Dodge City was important for the Texas Panhandle in its formative years. The buffalo hunters that eventually wiped out the great herds that roamed the Southern Plains used Dodge City as their outfitting and "jumping off" point. It was the place they brought the hides from the slaughtered buffalo for shipment east. It was also the place to which the bleached bones of the buffalo were delivered some years later for eventual grinding into fertilizer.

When settlers began moving into the Texas Panhandle, many of them arrived first in Dodge City to purchase wagons and supplies for the trip south. For several years, it was the "jumping off" point to the frontier that until 1876 had been the home to the Kiowa and Comanche tribes.

It is interesting to me how few people I saw on the highway as I headed south toward Dodge City. I passed through several small towns, including Gove, KS, the county seat of Gove County, with a population of only 105 people. There were many highway stretches of over 10 miles in which I did not meet another vehicle.

Much of the land that I passed through is in grassland with cattle grazing on it. The early spring rains have been good and the grass is beginning to green. The few areas that were in cultivation had beautiful stands of winter wheat that are nearing the stage when they will shoot up the head of grain. It is beautiful country to one with a Plainsman's eye. I suppose to most people it would be considered pretty barren. I for one, relish the emptiness. I need my space.


Incognito said...

I drove through North Platte from Mpls to L.A. once. When I lived in Mpls. God's country.. then again, the whole of the U.S. is!
Enjoy your travels and your space.

Panhandle Poet said...

Now that's a long trip, Incognito!

Incognito said...

Yeah, it was long, but I love road trips. I have logged in a ton of miles over the years. I prefer driving to my out of town gigs, so I can have my car.