With the end of the Civil War, the hungry nation found itself wanting beef. Most of the beef stock had been used to feed soldiers on both sides, and the largest supply of cattle remained in Texas. Having reproduced during the war, they massed in the tens of thousands with no market to sell them. Joseph McCoy saw an opportunity and built a railhead in Abilene, Kansas and sent men to recruit herds to travel overland to railhead to ship their now valuable cattle. The drives followed a trail that was laid out by Black Beaver, Chisholm Trail, but credited to his friend Jesse Chisholm. Drives included cowboys who were Black, Native American, Mexican and Causasian who worked to efficiently and profitably move the herds north.
Hoping to divert the cattle travel to Abilene, Wichita intentionally took a large gamble in pursuing the cattle trade, through the acquisition of the railroad that cemented its future. At McCoy's urging, the cattle drives went to Abilene until 1871, when they stopped at Newton and finally at Wichita 1872-6.
The trade unintentionally encouraged cooperation and voices of reform for farmers and many of the town's citizens who combined political forces to persuade the state to move the cattle quarantine line from east edge of Sedgwick County to the western side there by ending drives to Wichita. From here the cattle moved to Ellsworth and Dodge City, where the trade existed until it was no longer possible to trail overland.
The cattle trade sustained Wichita for four good years, providing profits for businesses and limited city taxes. The acquisition of the railroad, while necessary to secure and sustain the role as a railhead, unwittingly led to an increasing large farm population that later pushed the cattle trade west.
The legacy of the cattle trade was to provide the economic bridge between the hunting and trading, and the developing farming and industrial economy. All leading to Wichita becoming the largest city in Kansas.