Winchester Quarantine

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 2, 2020

The so-called Winchester Quarantine was an extralegal device instigated in the early 1880s by Panhandle ranchers to stop the northward movement of cattle that might be infested with disease-carrying cattle ticks. At that time many Panhandle herds were being decimated by Texas fever carried by these ticks, which were spread by cattle driven up from South Texas. When the Panhandle Stock Association was organized at Mobeetie in July 1880 the cattlemen designated certain routes as "lines of drive" to contain herds being trailed across the Panhandle to New Mexico and Colorado. Water tanks were built on these routes, and affected herds were allowed 1½ miles of range on either side of the trail. The Rath Trail was set aside for the "middle or distributing drive." Outfits trailing cattle via Fort Griffin to Kansas were strongly urged to stay on the Western Trail, which ran by Doan's Store on the Red River and through the Indian Territory, thus avoiding the Panhandle altogether. In 1882 the association met with trail drivers in Dallas to try to achieve that end. Not everyone was willing to cooperate with these measures. Accordingly, Charles Goodnight of the JA Ranch and Orville H. Nelson of the Shoe Bar Ranch posted guards along the forty-five-mile stretch between their ranches, so that nesters and cattle outfits from South Texas moving north were required either to go around the line or to turn their cattle over to the watchmen until after the first frost. These watchmen, who were paid seventy-five dollars a month for the job, were armed with Winchester rifles; hence the name Winchester Quarantine. The guards were instructed to use moral suasion, then bluff, but if both of these measures failed, they were to send for help from the nearest ranches to hold the recalcitrant drovers in check until an injunction could be obtained and served on the trail boss. Though this last resort took several days, it was always effective. Although lobbying efforts by J. F. (Spade) Evans and other cattlemen to secure a legal quarantine law for the Panhandle were unsuccessful, the Winchester Quarantine line was maintained for a few years in cooperation with the Spur and Matador ranches. By 1886, however, wide-scale fencing of Panhandle ranges served to lesson the problem of tick-infested herds.

J. Evetts Haley, "Texas Fever and the Winchester Quarantine," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 8 (1935).


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Business
  • Politics and Government

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Winchester Quarantine,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 2, 2020