Rath Trail

By: J. Evetts Haley

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 1, 1995

The Rath Trail, an important trace across the buffalo turf, was not laid out by builders of homes, seekers of gold, nor drivers of herds; but among the trails of the world it was unique, for it was built on the business of buffalo hides. In the early 1870s the spasmodic slaughter of the buffalo boomed into big business with the discovery of a commercial market for the hides. On the frontiers of Kansas, where the animals in millions grew fat on the grass, hunters moved out and fell upon them and mowed them down. They staked the hides to dry on the ground and hauled them to market at the newly founded village called Dodge City. The hunting grounds were never static but shifted with the herd, and the herd periodically moved with that strange wild impulse that causes migration-north with the growth of grass in the spring and south before the slanting snows of fall. Thousands of men pushed into the buffalo range between the frontiers of Kansas and Fort Concho in Texas. Not a railroad crossed its grass or tapped its trade. But out of Dodge City came Charles Rath. His train of freight wagons was loaded with kegs of powder and whiskey, bars of lead, boxes of tobacco, and other simple necessities of life that the hunters demanded. He pushed south in the fall of 1876 to Fort Elliott, which had just been built in the Panhandle. There he was joined by fifty to sixty hunters, with an immense train of wagons, each drawn with the usual six yokes of steers. They pointed south for the new and most profitable part of the hunting range. Rath led the way with his compass on the horn of his saddle. Day after day they kept south of the foot of the plains, across the Salt Fork, across the Red River, over to the Brazos, and up the Double Mountain Fork near to the Double Mountains. There he established a hunters' trading post, built principally of poles and covered with hides. It boomed until the buffalo were gone as Rath City or Camp Reynolds. Along the rough ruts of the Rath Trail that almost pointed to the magnetic course from there to Mobeetie, the settlement at Fort Elliott, moved hundreds of thousands of high-stacked, flinty hides toward market at Dodge City. Back down the trail sweating and swearing bullwhackers, each with "an eye skinned for Indians," brought the heavy loads of supplies the hunters had to have. In two years the best of the trade was done; and those noted South Plains hunters, John W. and Josiah W. Mooar, took their forty yokes of cattle and at one trip moved Rath City back up the Rath Trail to Camp Supply, in the Indian Territory. Except in memory, the Rath Trail was gone.

C. Robert Haywood, Trails South: The Wagon-Road Economy in the Dodge City-Panhandle Region (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986). Mrs. Virgil Johnson and J. W. Williams, "Some Northwest Texas Trails after Butterfield," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 42 (1966). Ida Ellen Rath, The Rath Trail (Wichita, Kansas: McCormick-Armstrong, 1961).

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

J. Evetts Haley, “Rath Trail,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 23, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rath-trail.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995