LONG DRIVE. At the close of the Civil War, large herds of longhorn cattle roamed freely throughout Texas. High meat prices in eastern cities attracted a variety of entrepreneurs and prompted cattlemen to search for a way to bring them to market. The building of the first transcontinental railroads offered a solution by providing an inexpensive mode of transporting cattle to large urban markets. Beginning in 1866, cowboys drove herds of cattle, numbering on average twenty-five hundred head, overland to railheads on the northern Plains, which typically took from six weeks to two months. Gradually, however, the westward spread of homestead settlement, expanding railroad networks, and shrinking free-range cattle herds pushed the trails farther west. By 1890, long drives to reach railroad stations had become unnecessary, and professional ranchers had replaced the early entrepreneurs in supplying urban America with beef cattle.
Dale, Edward E. The Range Cattle Industry: Ranching on the Great Plains from 1865 to 1925. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.