LLINWOOD — Jim Gray, who is the founder of the Cowboy Society, and a speaker for the Kansas Humanities Council, began his presentation at the Ellinwood Community Historical Society annual meeting by saying "A lot of the stuff in movies, isn’t exactly right but it makes good stories. You can always tell if they don’t know what they are talking about."
He began by defining a "drove" and a herd of any kind of livestock and the person that moves them as a "drover." He added, "The word cowboy was not used until later." Drover is an English word. The livestock industry has always lived on the fringe of society, and thus the roads to the markers in the city were called drover roads. Stock dogs were used along these roads which had regular paddocks for keeping the drover overnight and feeding it. When the American colonies were settled, the drover economy developed in the northeast.
This industry moved west and south to the Carolinas, Louisiana and Texas with such people as Daniel Boone. About the same time it also moved north from Mexico into Texas. Many today he said, think the cattle drives began with the Civil War but that is not true. By the 1850’s, Gray pointed out the Gulf Coast cattle had worked their way into Missouri. Nearly 100% of the local herds were wiped out. They couldn’t exist. Missouri passed a quarantine law for the summer months. People called it the Texas Fever or the Spanish Fever and the Texas Road was now called the Shawnee Trail. As they drover cattle around Missouri the "wonderful grass of Kansas and Nebraska was discovered".
With the help of cattle buyer Joseph McCoy the Kansas cattle towns came into existence and Gray told of the towns and characters in them such as Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Council Grove, Newton, Caldwell, Honeywell, Dodge City and Ellis. The group heard his stories of Tom Smith who preceded Wild Bill Hickock, Titus Buckbee and the Lights, Rowdy Joe and Rowdy Kate, Hurricane Bill Martin and Hurricane Minnie. In 1872, there were 175,000 head of cattle in Ellsworth and by 1875, Ellinwood was closed off and the drives had to go via Great Bend.. The King Ranch brought cattle to Ellis until Dodge City became a cattle town but by 1885, the whole industry had changed and an another era seemed to be over.
Prior to the presentation the group of 47 attendees enjoyed a steak dinner. Door prizes concluded the evening.