8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

Joseph McCoy, Abilene, Wichita

Address: 412 S. Campbell, Abilene, KS 67410
Phone: 785.263.2681
Website: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McCoy

Joseph McCoy's approach to marketing cattle on the Kansas plains in Abilene, as opposed to marketing in the urban center of St. Louis, transformed a fragmented cattle business into the national industry that it is today.  1837-1915.


Joseph G. McCoy, 1867. Photo courtesy Dickinson County Historical Society
In 1867 Joseph McCoy arrived on the Kansas prairie looking for a suitable location to build stockyards. After being turned down in Junction City, Solomon and Salina he turned his attention to the small community of Abilene. His first impression of Abilene was that it was a very small dead place, consisting of about a dozen log huts. Within a few years, McCoy transformed Abilene into a thriving community.


Post Civil War Texas was nearly bankrupt. However, there were millions of head of beef roaming the plains of Texas. McCoy developed a plan to get the Texas cattle to the northern markets.


In six months McCoy negotiated with the railroad to construct a 100-car sidetrack for loading cattle at Abilene.  He had lumber shipped in to construct the Great Western Stockyards and the Drovers Cottage Hotel. Because of a quarantine against Texas cattle he negotiated an agreement with Governor Samuel Crawford to allow the cattle within the boundaries of the quarantine.


McCoy sent riders into the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to spread the word that a new market was open for the Texas cattle. The route from present day Wichita to Abilene had to be surveyed and marked.  By late August everything was in place as the first cattle herds came to Abilene.


Abilene, Kansas "in its glory" as it is depicted in this lithograph. 
Photo courtesy Dickinson County Historical Society.

In 1867, 35,000 head of cattle were driven to Abilene. The drovers were so impressed with the new market that the word spread across Texas, bringing more herds up the trail. During the next four years over 1.3 million head of cattle were driven up the cattle trail that became known as the Chisholm Trail. The results of the cattle trail era of Kansas were many. Texas sold nearly $150,000,000 of beef to the nation. The beef industry became a national business. The nation was able to get good beef at a fair price. Many towns in Kansas benefited from the cattle drives. The six major towns were Abilene, Ellsworth, Newton, Wichita, Caldwell and Dodge City. Virtually every town with a railroad shipped varying numbers of cattle.


The beef industry spread to Wyoming and Montana. Cattle driven up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Trail to the northwest included breeding stock for ranches in the new territories. The Kansas City Stockyards and the packing industry began as a result of the cattle drives to Kansas.


The Great Western Stockyards, Abilene,1867.  Photo courtesy of the Dickinson County Historical Society.
The American icon, the American Cowboy was born from the cattle drive era.  The image of a man wearing a ten gallon hat, a six-shooter, chaps, cowboy boots and spurs came from this era. Joseph McCoy and his cattle market at Abilene put Kansas on the national and international maps.


Joseph McCoy's idea shaped the beef industry of a nation. Joseph McCoy also wrote a book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, published in 1874.  It is probably the most important reference on the cattle business of the time. It is the foundation for anything written about the cattle drive era.


Source:  Jeff Sheets' nomination and Jim Gray.




  • Heritage Center of Dickinson County, 412 S. Campbell.  785.263.2681.  Open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.  Find a small display about McCoy at present.  A new one will soon be installed.


  • McCoy is buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery, 1000 N. Hillside.  316.682.4821.