March 7

This Day in History

Old West

Mar 7, 1885:

Kansas quarantines Texas cattle

The Kansas legislature passes a law barring Texas cattle from the state between March 1 and December 1, the latest action reflecting the love-hate relationship between Kansas and the cattle industry.

Texans had adopted the practice of driving cattle northward to railheads in Kansas shortly after the Civil War. From 1867 to 1871, the most popular route was the legendary Chisholm Trail that ran from San Antonio to Abilene, Kansas. Attracted by the profits to be made providing supplies to ranchers and a good time to trail-weary cowboys, other struggling Kansas frontier towns maneuvered to attract the Texas cattle herds. Dodge City, Caldwell, Ellsworth, Hays, and Newton competed with Abilene to be the top "Cow Town" of Kansas.

As Kansas lost some of its Wild West frontier edge, though, the cowboys and their cattle became less attractive. Upstanding town residents anxious to attract investment capital and nurture local businesses became increasingly impatient with rowdy young cowboys and their messy cattle. The new Kansas farmers who were systematically dividing the open range into neat rectangles of crops were even less fond of the cattle herds. Although the cowboys attempted to respect farm boundaries, stray cattle often wreaked havoc with farmers' crops. "There was scarcely a day when we didn't have a row with some settler," reported one cowboy.

Recognizing that the future of the state was in agriculture, the Kansas legislature attempted to restrict the movement of Texas cattle. In 1869, the legislature excluded cattle entirely from the east-central part of the state, where farmers were settling most quickly. Complaints from farmers that the Texas cattle were giving their valuable dairy cows tick fever and hoof-and-mouth disease eventually led to even tighter controls. On this day in 1885, the Kansas legislature enacted a strict quarantine. The quarantine closed all of Kansas to Texan cattle for all but the winter months of December, January, and February-the time of the year when the diseases were not as prevalent.

These laws signaled the end of the Kansas role in the Texas cattle industry. The open range was rapidly closing, hemmed in by miles and miles of barbed wire fence. With the extension of rail lines into Texas itself, the reason for making the long drives north to Kansas began to disappear by the late 1880s anyway. The Kansas quarantine laws became irrelevant as most Texans could more easily ship cattle via railheads in their own states.

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