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Cattle drive follows historic trail, provides a glimpse of history


CATTLE DRIVE—To celebrate 150 years of Kansas statehood, drovers had a cattle drive from Caldwell to Ellsworth, Kan. (Photo courtesy of K-State Research and Extension.)

Hundreds of people stepped into the past over the last month to catch a glimpse of what would have been a more familiar site 150 years ago--a cattle drive.

In celebration of Kansas' 150th anniversary of statehood, the cattle drive began on Sept. 3 just south of the Oklahoma border and followed the historic Cox Trail up through Ellsworth, Kan., where 400 longhorn cattle and their drovers arrived on Sept. 24 for an end-of-the-trail celebration. They made weekend stops along the way for celebrations in Caldwell, Kingman and Ellinwood.

Dennis Katzenmeier, foreman for the section of the trip from Ellinwood to Ellsworth, said the cattle drive was a great way to celebrate the heritage of Kansas. Nonetheless, it wasn't easy.

The drought left them with less pasture than they expected, forcing them to begin the drive with just 200 cattle. "As we come north the grass gets greener and the pastures get better," Katzenmeier said, "so about halfway to Ellinwood we introduced the other 200 head."

Securing a route was not easy either. "When you try to put a drive together from Oklahoma to Ellsworth with today's transportation and land ownership and highway crossings and railroads, it's definitely a challenge," he said.

Local communities were responsible for securing permission from landowners for the drovers and cattle to pass through. Katzenmeier said many landowners were cooperative, allowing them to pass through their pastures, and even visiting the drovers' camp in the evenings. Others preferred the cattle not pass through their land at all, and the drovers worked around these areas to find an alternate route.

Aside from the roads and fencing the drovers had to avoid, parts of the cattle drive were much like they were in the 1800s.

"Our meal schedule is a lot like it was in the cattle drive era," said Justin Hlaus, a drover for the week from Ellinwood to Ellsworth. The drovers ate a big breakfast cooked over an open fire every morning at 6, and their next big meal came in the evenings after setting up camp again.

The biggest chunk of the day was spent driving the cattle to the next campsite. Dru Richard, another drover from Ellinwood to Ellsworth, said there is no way to tell how many miles they rode each day. You ride back and forth a lot, he said. Keeping cattle in the right pastures, away from highways and out of fields was often a challenge.

After reaching their destination for the day, Richard said the drovers had another big meal and enjoyed fellowship around the campfire before going to bed and rotating through the night watch. "We pull a watch and keep the campfire going, check the picket line to make sure none of the horses is tangled up, keep a count on them and throw them more hay," Richard said.

For both Richard and Hlaus, the week passed by quickly.

"The biggest thing to me is being out here enjoying God's creation--and enjoying it on horseback," Richard said. "You can't beat that."

Hlaus even said he would drive cattle for a living. "This is a once in a lifetime experience," he said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. I wish I had been born 125 or 130 years earlier."

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