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Texas cattlemen propose National Trail


On this day in 1884, a cattle industry convention meeting in St. Louis passed a resolution calling upon Congress, "in the interest of cheaper food," to build and maintain a National Trail from the Red River north to the Canadian border. Pushed through by prominent Texas cattlemen, it was an attempt to thwart proposed northern quarantines against Texas cattle. Texas fever, caused by ticks indigenous to the Southwest, had inflicted heavy losses upon the northern range-cattle industry by the early 1880s, and these losses had caused northern cattlemen to lobby for quarantines against infected livestock. Since it was much less expensive for Texas cattlemen to trail their herds to northern railheads and ranges and then ship them by rail rather than ship directly from Texas, most Texans saw these proposed quarantines as a threat to their economic well-being. In the wake of the National Trail proposal, however, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Canada passed quarantine laws against Texas cattle, seriously restricting drives during the regular trailing season. Finally, on January 7, 1886, Texas congressman James Francis Miller of Gonzales introduced the National Trail proposal in the United States House of Representatives. The measure was blocked in the House committee on commerce by northern cattle interests and by Texas railroads, which presumably wanted to replace the trail with rails. The failure of the National Trail, the northern quarantines, and the western migration of farmers and barbed wire sounded the death knell of trailing.

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