Potter-Blocker Trail

By: C. Robert Haywood

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 2, 2020

The old cowboy saying that "there are as many trails north as there are ranchers" may apply to this route. Firsthand information on the Potter-Blocker Trail comes from Jack Potter's Cattle Trails of the Old West (1935), which describes it as being one of several collateral branches of the Western Trail. The trail has had a variety of names. Jack Potter preferred the name Potter-Bacon Cutoff. In the spring of 1883, according to Potter, Alfred T. Bacon, manager of the New England Livestock Company, purchased a herd of 3,000 Mexican cattle for delivery at Cheyenne, Wyoming. He received the herd at Peña Station, near Hebbronville, Texas, and hired Potter to trail them north. The herd joined the Western Trail at Collins Station, near the site of present-day Alice, and by June it had reached Albany, northeast of Abilene, Texas. There, Potter received word from Bacon to leave the Western Trail and try a cutoff that might save some twenty days' trailing time. From Albany Potter headed northwest, passed Rice Springs at the site of present Haskell, and crossed the Brazos to reach Matador, where he veered north to Field's Crossing on the Red River and entered Charles Goodnight's JA Ranch. Potter was in the land of the "Winchester Quarantine," instituted to turn away herds of Mexican cattle suspected of carrying Texas Fever. Goodnight's manager sent Potter swinging north of Amarillo through the OX Ranch range to Tascosa. He continued northwest to Channing and Middle Water, turned north to Perico Springs, and exited Texas south of Kenton, Oklahoma. His route then led to Las Animas, Colorado, and on to Cheyenne.

The Potter-Bacon Trail was shorter than the Western Trail, but was drier and crossed more barren land. Abner P. Blocker used part of the same or a similar trail after 1885 to move cattle from the south into the sprawling XIT range, hence the later designation of Potter-Blocker Trail. During the later 1880s the XIT Ranch used part of the trail in moving its herds to pastures in Montana. Potter's route probably was never a consistently used cattle trail. The coming of rail lines in the late 1880s to the Panhandle and opposition from homesteaders made cattle trailing north impractical after 1889.

Jean M. Burroughs, On the Trail: The Life and Tales of "Lead Steer" Potter (Santa Fe: Museum of the New Mexico Press, 1980). J. Evetts Haley, "Texas Fever and the Winchester Quarantine," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 8 (1935). Jack Potter, Cattle Trails of the Old West (Clayton, New Mexico, 1935). Jimmy M. Skaggs, "The Route of the Great Western (Dodge City) Cattle Trail," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 41 (1965).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Cattle Trails

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

C. Robert Haywood, “Potter-Blocker Trail,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/potter-blocker-trail.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 2, 2020