Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Texas, or Spanish (as it later came to be called), fever was first detected in Pennsylvania in 1796, following the delivery of cattle from South Carolina. On the Plains, this infectious bovine disease, particularly prevalent in Texas, was influential in the development of the cattle trails and cow towns of the Great Plains.

The longhorn cattle from the Southern Plains that carried the disease were immune to its fatal effects, but the domestic cattle of the Midwest were not. The problems caused during the 1850s by the smaller droves of cattle passing through Missouri on their way to eastern markets were multiplied greatly when tens of thousands of Texas longhorns were trailed to Sedalia in 1866. The hostility of the Missouri legislature and local farmers resulted in the closing off of Missouri as a shipping point and the opening of the Kansas cow towns, led by Abilene in 1867.

Dispute over the cause of the disease between Texas drovers, whose cattle showed no symptoms, and local stockmen, many of whose cattle died, led to the establishment of quarantine lines that prohibited the importation of Texas cattle unless they had been wintered over in the north. In 1885 the entire state of Kansas was closed to Texas cattle, interrupting the trail drives and contributing to the demise of the cattle trailing business. The cause of the fever–a tick that was host to a microscopic organism that attacked the bovine spleen–was not discovered until 1889. Dipping vats and insecticides eventually replaced quarantine lines as the most effective method of controlling the spread of the disease, although the Kansas City stockyards maintained separate areas for southern and northern cattle well into the twentieth century.

One of the last major outbreaks of Texas fever on the Plains occurred in 1919 when a shipment of faultily dipped Texas cattle arrived in Wabaunsee County, Kansas, for summer grazing in the Flint Hills.

See also TRANSPORTATION: Cattle Trails.

James Hoy Emporia State University

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