Home PROSPER The Shawnee Trail: Prosper Cattle Ranching Life in the 1850’s

The Shawnee Trail: Prosper Cattle Ranching Life in the 1850’s

by Heather Reynolds

Farming started in the Prosper area in the 1880’s. Prior to that time, cattle ranching was the major source of revenue for the settlers. There were not many settlers in the western part of Collin County before 1850, so most of the area had no inhabitants. This was virgin land that had not been grazed or cultivated. So, when the settlers began to move into the area, cattle ranching was the major way to make a living. It was helped because the popular “Shawnee Trail” came through the Prosper area. The Shawnee Trail began in the 1840’s and ended in the 1870’s. It is important to note that after the Shawnee Trail disbanded, the “Chisholm Trail” began. It ran from south Texas into Fort Worth and then north to Abilene, Kansas.

The Shawnee Trail started deep in south Texas, below San Antonio, then ran through Austin and Waco and crossed the Trinity River in Dallas. From Dallas, the trail basically followed Preston Road and Coit Road through Collin County and then through Grayson County until it crossed over the Red River at Preston Bend.  After crossing the Red River, the trail traveled through Oklahoma and split at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. One trail went to major cattle markets in Sedalia, Kansas City, St. Louis, Independence and Westport, Missouri. The other trail went through Baxter Springs and other points in Kansas. These were the nearest rail heads to market the cattle.

Thousands and thousands of cattle traveled through the Prosper area. In 1866, approximately 250,000 head of cattle were on the trail to the markets in Missouri and Kansas. John and Charlotte Collins settled on some land in 1848 about one mile east of Rock Hill along Rock Hill Road. Their land included a large spring where cattle drovers from the Shawnee Trail would bed their cattle down for the night and water their herds. This land soon became the Barlow Farm and the same family owned it for six generations.

During the time of the cattle drives, the Town of Prosper was not in existence, as Rock Hill and Richland were the communities that were here. It is hard to imagine that cattle ranching was the largest source of revenue prior to 1880. I have a copy of a letter that Henry Parvin had written in March 1870 and in that letter, he stated that he sold 4,000 head of cattle in 1869. He also stated that he planned to sell another 4,000 in 1870 and would then get out of the cattle business. His land was northwest of Prosper located in the Good Hope/Parvin area, which was named after him. He, like other cattle ranchers along the Shawnee Trail, would include their herd with the others from the valley in south Texas as they went north to market.

Sometimes a cattle rancher or a group of cattle ranchers would drive a herd to market with their own cowhands. These cattle drives were dusty, hot, cold, under extreme weather conditions and took long periods of time in reaching their destination. Many cattle, as well as cowhands, did not make it due to the conditions they faced. We tend to take cattle ranching as being easy, but it was indeed a very hard life. It required working from sunrise to dusk and seven days a week. Operating these ranches required many riders, horses, and other support people such as cooks, drivers for the wagons, branding, dehorning, castration, and marking the cattle with a trimming of the ears. This determined if the calf had been branded or not. The cattle were branded to make sure they were the legal owners, as much cattle rustling was prevalent in the area. 

The large cattle ranches were in the area from the 1850’s through the 1880’s and then larger ranches begin to dwindle because they discovered that the land being used for cattle ranching was very fertile and some of the blackest and fertile land in Collin County. Farming began to become more popular although most farmers kept enough land for grazing purposes as to keep some cattle for their own use and to sell but not in great quantities. Farming was beginning to be the major source of revenue around the turn of the century. We will begin to discuss early farming in the Prosper area next month.

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of PROSPER Magazine and written by the late Bill Hays. As we focus on the growth of our Prosper community, it is imperative that we remember the past and pay homage to our roots. Therefore, while our Town Historian has passed, we will be chronicling his works and sharing the stories from his books – Prosper, Texas: Its History and Families, Volumes I and II.

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