National Trail

By: Jimmy M. Skaggs

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 9, 2020

The National Trail was proposed by Texas cattlemen in the 1880s in an attempt to thwart proposed northern quarantines against Texas cattle. Texas fever, caused by ticks indigenous to the Texas Southwest, had inflicted heavy losses upon the northern range cattle industry by the early 1880s, and these losses had caused northern cattlemen (roughly all those north of the thirty-second parallel) to lobby for state and territorial 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. When the cattle industry convention met on November 17, 1884, at St. Louis, such prominent Texas cattlemen as Richard King, B. B. Groom, C. C. Slaughter, and John T. Lytle pushed through a resolution calling upon Congress, "in the interest of cheaper food," to build and maintain a National Trail from Doan's Crossing on the Red River north through the Indian Territory, the present Oklahoma Panhandle, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana to the Canadian border. Partially in retaliation, the following year Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Canada passed quarantine laws against Texas cattle, seriously restricting northern 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.

Joseph Nimmo, Jr., Report in Regard to the Range and Cattle Business of the United States (Washington: GPO, 1885; rpt., New York: Arno Press, 1972). Ernest Staples Osgood, The Day of the Cattleman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1929). Proceedings of the National Convention of Cattle Growers of the United States (1884).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Cattle Trails

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jimmy M. Skaggs, “National Trail,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 9, 2020