Event: , Oct. 8, 2018,
at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas
Longhorns, horses, cowboys, and the Great Western Trail rescued
With longhorns grazing nearby, a Great Western Trail white seven-foot concrete post with red letters was rededicated Oct. 8, 2018, at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. The trail was the last and longest of two post-Civil War Texas cattle trails.
            The rededication was a celebration for the documentation of the path of the 2,000-mile trail and recognition of its name Great Western Trail. The name includes all the many segment names used going north into Canada. The name Great Western Trail includes the descriptive word for the area the trail crossed: Great for the Great Plains and on earlier maps, the Great American Desert.
L-R, Hank Sartin, Charlie Mohrle, Bruce Flohr, Weir Labatt, David Mason, Ray Klinginsmith, Sylvia Gann Mahoney, Jeff Bearden, Ed Womack, Roger Townson, Charles Jeffers, Larry Dimmitt, Michael Babb
Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte Museum, and her staff joined with San Antonio Rotarians **Bruce Flohr, **Gilbert Serna, and **Stephanie Macchia to design the rededication for the Great Western Trail post. The trail marker had been dedicated for the first time at the Witte Museum in front of the Old Trail Drivers Museum on September 3, 2007.
            The trail marker was removed while the Witte Museum, founded in 1926, added a multimillion-dollar addition. The rededication highlighted the Witte Museum’s expansion of its collections of Texas stories from prehistory to the present. The rededication was also a salute to San Antonio’s 300th Anniversary including its connection to the longhorns and horses that were threaded through that 300-year history.
            Rotarians thanked Marise McDermott and her staff with a proclamation for preserving Great Western Trail history with a white seven-foot post. **Bruce Flohr presented to the museum a plaque with GWT history to be located by the post.
            The rededication served two related purposes. The Great Western Trail post rededication at the Witte Museum and a request by Past Rotary International President Ray Klinginsmith, Missouri, for a Great Western Trail drovers’ reunion to celebrate the Gold Award earned by The Rotarian magazine for the cover and 12-page article, “On the Trail of History: Rotarians from three countries resurrect the forgotten Great Western Trail.” The magazine was in competition with 850 magazines with a circulation of more than 100,001.
            The Rotarian magazine, senior editor, Hank Sartin, Evanston, IL accepted at the Witte Rededication a proclamation for The Rotarian editor John Rezek and his staff for elevating the Great Western Trail to international status.
            Ray Klinginsmith had joined the three-country trail research project when he learned that small towns along the trail that embraced their trail history “were creating tourism sites.” As RI President, he spoke in nearly 200 countries, using his theme of “Building Bridges, Building Communities” and “Cowboy Code, Cowboy Ethics.”
            Rotary trail partners from Mexico to Canada attended the rededication to present 14 flags. **David Mason, past Texas district governor & drover descendant, now of Arkansas, recognized the 14 flags that represent the path of the Great Western Trail from Tamaulipas, Mexico, across nine US Great Plains states, and into Saskatchewan, Canada.
            Tamaulipas, Mexico: *Isabel Gomez Porchini, president of Club Rotario Matamoros, the club that planned the dedication for the first GWT post in Mexico.
            Texas: *Larry & Karen Anfin, president of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth and Karen, a member, carried the flag honoring the shared heritage with the Chisholm Trail. 
            Oklahoma: Ed & Elena Womack promote  the OK Great Western Cattle Trail Assoc. as president and secretary.  OK started the marking of the Great Western Trail with white seven-foot concrete posts with red GWT letters. OK gave a granite marker to Texas to set at Doan’s Adobe to honor the trail boss that established the 2,000-mile trail. South Texas rancher John T. Lytle took the first herd, 3,500 longhorns, to Red Cloud Indian Agency at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.
            Kansas: ***Larry Dimmitt, Rotary International Director, Topeka, Kansas, carried the flag of his native state, famous for a Great Western Trail railhead, Dodge City.
            Nebraska: Merrill Adams Ellis from San Antonio, a drover descendant, the Nebraska flag: the first GWT herd to Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and Ogallala, a railhead.
            Colorado: **Debbie High, Corpus Christi, Texas, for Julesburg, CO, a railhead.
            South Dakota: Larry O’Neill, South Dakota, now a Texas rancher and San Antonio architect, for the last large GWT herd in 1893 to Deadwood, South Dakota.
            North Dakota: Mary Margaret Campbell, George West, Texas, home of J. Frank Dobie, famous author who wrote about cattle trails, cowboys, longhorns, and drovers, connecting South Texas to the Dakotas, land that inspired President Teddy Roosevelt, his friends, writer Owen Wister and sculpture Frederic Remington.
            Wyoming: *Lindsey Menyhart, of Montana, president of the Miles City Rotary Club, carried the flag for her sister state that the Great Western Trail crossed.
            Montana: *Barrie Matthews, served as Miles City Rotary president for the first post dedicated in MT. The Miles City Social Club journal listed cowboys from Texas.
            Saskatchewan, Canada: *Sylvia Gann Mahoney, Fort Worth, Texas, at the request of the Regina Rotarians to recognize friendship among three GWT countries.
The Great Western Trail trailed north across three countries:
            Mexico: **Gilbert Serna from San Antonio carried the Mexican flag in honor of Mexico and the 300th Anniversary of San Antonio, where both the Great Western Trail and the Chisholm Trail passed going north.
            United States: *Heath and Danyelle Hemphill, with their 10-year old twins, Ethan and Hadley, Coleman, Texas, fifth generation descendants who live on a GWT ranch, presented the American flag. They invited everyone to the First Coleman Great Western Trail Celebration with a youth longhorn competition for scholarships on April 26-28, 2019.
            Canada: **Andy Hagan, from Brownsville, Texas, carried the Canadian flag to honor the early history of the trail with its deep Spanish land grant roots of his wife’s family, the trail that reaches across three countries.
            Texas Tech University history professor, Dr.Tai Kreidler, acknowledged the 2,000-mile Great Western Trail as “one of the longest, if not the longest, cattle trails in the world.” He said, “The project to document the trail is one of the most amazing public history research projects in America.”
            Three San Antonio Great Western Trail descendants Weir Labatt, Katherine Nelson Hall, and Charles Jeffers, III spoke about their cattle trail heritage. Their great-great grandfather Captain Charles Schreiner, one of the pioneers of Texas Hill Country, left an indelible legacy as a merchant, rancher, philanthropist, and civic leader. He purchased the YO Ranch in 1880 that became the headquarters of Schreiner Cattle Co.
            Weir Labatt recognized twelve drover descendants. Roger Townson, president, Rotary Club of Vernon, recognized the Rotarians and others, who helped document the trail and dedicate GWT posts, identified as drovers.
            Even though the Great Western Trail lasted nineteen years, it had been forgotten until Oklahoma historians challenged members of the Vernon, Texas, Rotary Club to rescue its path and history.
            Jeff Bearden, co-chair of Marking the Great Western Trail project and master of ceremonies, honored those Oklahoma historians Dennis Vernon and John Barton, and recognized Oklahomans Ed and Elena Womack, president and secretary of the OK Great Western Cattle Trail Assoc.
            In 2003, Vernon Rotarians signed on to make and place the white seven-foot markers in twenty Texas counties that the trail crossed. Rotarians helped Rotarians with emails facilitating the connection with members or historians in each county.
            To mark the trail, Oklahoma and Texas used the 1965 academic-vetted study by Texas Tech University archivist and historian, Jimmy M. Skaggs, to authenticate the path of the trail. In addition, Texas Rotarians with local and state historians dug deeper into the history of their county. The local business people, descendants, their museum directors, and others searched their trunks, local and state archives seeking letters, photos, and other documentation for “their” county history.
Research proved that the Great Western Trail, 1874 to 1893, was a response to the changing socioeconomic markets across Texas and the Great Plains states into Canada after the Civil War.
Of primary importance, the Great Western Trail provided South Texas and northern Mexico longhorns and horses to two new economically significant major markets: government contracts for longhorns for the military and for reservations and longhorns and horses to stock vast open-range ranch land across the Great Plains into Canada. In addition, the trail delivered longhorns to new railheads at Dodge City, Kansas, Ogallala, Nebraska, and Julesburg, Colorado.
In 1874, South Texas rancher John T. Lytle took the risk to establish the longest cattle trail, Great Western Trail, to fulfill a government contract. He delivered his first herd of 3,500 head of longhorns to Red Cloud Indian Agency in Fort Robinson, Nebraska, not to a railhead.
In 1893, using the Great Western Trail, south Texas rancher, John R. Blocker delivered the last large herd, 9,000 head of longhorns to a buyer in Deadwood, South Dakota, not to a railhead.
During the Great Western Trail’s nineteen years of service, its path grew to 2,000 miles extending from Mexico across nine U.S. Great Plains states into Canada. The trail supplied some six-million longhorns and one-million horses to the three markets.
            Rotarians across the other seven Great Plains states asked to join Texans and Oklahomans in rescuing their trail history. The request also came from Mexico and Canada.
            José Alfredo Sepulveda, Past Rotary International Director, from Hidalgo, Mexico, at an earlier dedication said, “I have the firm conviction that this path is the key to further promote good will between our three countries.”
            José Luis Diaz del Castillo Lie of Leon, Mexico, earlier had designed and presented longhorn Rotary pins to all Rotarians who were research or dedication volunteers. He said, “These pins are to say, ‘Thank you for including Mexico.’”       
            Regina, Saskatchewan, Rotarian Ted Turner, Gene Griffin, and Doug Alexander via video for the San Antonio rededication, confirmed the importance of the longhorns and horses from South Texas and Mexico that stocked the vast grasslands and provided beef and horses for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Canadian Rotarians dedicated two posts with one being in Val Marie, a small town the trail crossed in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan. The other is at the entrance of one of the largest annual cattle and horse exhibitions in North America, the Canadian Agribition Center in Regina. The trail does not reach to Regina, but the GWT post stands as record of the longhorns and horses from South Texas and Mexico that stocked early ranches and supplied beef and horses for the RCMP.
            The trail had no song sung about it as the Chisholm Trail had. Two songs were written and recorded during the marking of the trail. Oklahoman LeRoy Jones’s song “The Great Western Trail,” won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler award.
            Dr. Michael Babb, OK native, now of Nashville, Tennessee, sang his original song, “The Great Western Cattle Trail” during the rededication program. The song, aired internationally, reached 32 on the charts in Norway.
            Now, some 250 posts stand along the trail as tangible symbols of friendship and the cooperative spirit in preserving the shared Great Western Trail history across international borders of three countries.
            Together, advocates for the Great Western Trail and Chisholm Trail sought legislation in the U.S. Congress to designate both trails as National Historic Trails. The feasibility study was approved in 2009, and completed in 2016.
            At the rededication at the Witte, key Congressional leaders were recognized each with a Proclamation acknowledged by Ray Klinginsmith and **Jim Aneff, past district governor, Abilene, Texas, for their support for the feasibility study to designate both post-Civil War cattle trails, the Chisholm Trail and the Great Western Trail as National Historic Trails. The final step will be when Congress receives the study.
            Honored with proclamations was U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, who as U.S. Senator, Texas, introduced the 2007 U.S. Senate bill requiring the federal government to conduct a feasibility study for designation of the two trails. *Charlie Mohrle, past president of the Rotary Club of Dallas, accepted the proclamation for the Ambassador, who is an honorary member of the club, the first Rotary club chartered in Texas, 1911.        
            U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Texas, whose home is San Antonio, co-signed the 2007 Senate bill. Senator Cornyn via video acknowledged the importance of the Great Western Trail project and its including the neighbors to the south and north.  *Trip Worden, past president of the Rotary Club of San Antonio charted in 1912, accepted the Senator’s proclamation.
            U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, Texas, advocated for the trail legislation and for its finalization. Larry Anfin, president of the Rotary Club of Fort Worth chartered in 1913, accepted the proclamation for Rep. Granger, a member of the club.
            U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, a fifth generation Montanan, was honored for his receptive interest in designating the two trails as named in the study, Chisholm and Great Western National Historic Trail Feasibility Study/Environmental Assessment. Charles L. Jeffers, Jr., member of Rotary Club of San Antonio and treasurer of Old Trail Drivers Assoc., accepted the proclamation for the Secretary.
            San Antonio is the pathway for both trails, an often-overlooked fact.
            San Antonio is noted for its rich 300-year history with part being the burgeoning cattle and horse related enterprises that revitalized the post Civil War economy. Many trail bosses and drovers established ranches and businesses in the area.
            Some will ask why the Great Western Trail was forgotten. A major reason was the trail’s fragmentation into segments. Drovers used the name of the next supply point going north. When the trail moved into the northern states and Canada, it was called the Texas Trail or the Northern Trail. Eventually, the name became the Great Western Trail, which includes all segments of the trail.
             Ray Klinginsmith rededicated the Great Western Trail post with the traditional river water poured from an old-time Mason jar. Sylvia Gann Mahoney, co-chair marking the Great Western Trail project, explained that the traditional Red River  water ritual is a reminder of the significance of the rivers that were strategically located to trail cattle and horses two-thousand miles from Mexico to Canada across the area once called the Great American Desert into Canada. Speakers and the flag bearers toasted the GWT post holding Mason jars with the name Great Western Trail embellished on them. TTU Archives Special GWT collection welcomes documents.
            The rededication recognized the historic importance of the Great Western Trail that connected three countries and served three markets, stocking northern open-range ranches, longhorns and horses for reservations and military posts, and easterners’ new taste for beef. Today, cattle and horse enterprises are the bedrock of the economy across the Great Plains states, a two-thousand-mile future corridor for tourism.
Longhorns, Flags, and Great Western Cattle Trail song, Michael Babb
Bottom four pictures: Rotary Drovers Reunion: The Alamo, professional re-enactors, Fort Worth Stockyards Rotary Club Jack Edmondson as Jim Bowie, Vernon Rotary Club, Jeff Bearden, Davy Crockett
Name: Sylvia Gann Mahoney
Rotary Co-Chair Great Western Trail project, “Marking the Great Western Trail from Mexico to Canada,” formerly member Rotary Club of Vernon, now Rotary Club of Fort Worth
sgmahoney@sbcglobal.net    940-357-1269
Pictures courtesy of Sylvia Gann Mahoney, Finding the Great Western Trail (Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech U Press, 2015).