A Texas Cowboy's Journal: Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868


In this earliest known day-by-day journal of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas, Jack Bailey, a North Texas farmer, describes what it was like to live and work as a cowboy in the southern plains just after the Civil War. We follow Bailey as the drive moves northward into Kansas and then as his party returns to Texas through eastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and Indian Territory.

For readers steeped in romantic cowboy legend, the journal contains ...

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A Texas Cowboy's Journal: Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868

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In this earliest known day-by-day journal of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas, Jack Bailey, a North Texas farmer, describes what it was like to live and work as a cowboy in the southern plains just after the Civil War. We follow Bailey as the drive moves northward into Kansas and then as his party returns to Texas through eastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and Indian Territory.

For readers steeped in romantic cowboy legend, the journal contains surprises. Bailey’s time on the trail was hardly lonely. We travel with him as he encounters Indians, U.S. soldiers, Mexicans, freed slaves, and cowboys working other drives. He and other crew members—including women—battle hunger, thirst, illness, discomfort, and pain. Cowboys quarrel and play practical jokes on each other and, at night, sing songs around the campfire.

David Dary’s thorough introduction and footnotes place the journal in historical context.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Here’s a book every westerner, real or wannabe, should read and add to his or her library.”—Tony Hillerman, author of A Thief of Time
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806146478
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Series: The Western Legacies Series, #3
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 262,773
  • Product dimensions: 11.60 (w) x 16.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Bailey was most likely John W. Bailey (b. 1831), a farmer from Jack County, Texas.

Charles P. Schroeder is Executive Director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

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Read an Excerpt

A Texas Cowboy's Journal

Up the Trail to Kansas in 1868

By Jack Bailey, David Dary


Copyright © 2006 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4792-5


THE 1868 journal of Jack Bailey surfaced in the fall of 2001 following the death in Oklahoma City of ninety-year-old Effie Bernice Minter, a retired secretary. Miss Minter, who never married, left her property to a nephew, Tracy Coy Poe, of Oklahoma City. Poe's daughter Traci Boyd found the journal while she and her father were going through the contents of Minter's home. Poe read the journal and realized its historical significance. He contacted the Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, which in due course acquired the journal for its research collection.

Bailey kept his journal in a small notebook, just 7-1/2 inches high, 6 inches wide, and less than 1 inch thick. It is similar to the ones sold in drug and general stores in the West during the late 1860s. The notebook shows its age. Its cardboard covers are heavily worn. The spine is almost worn away, and part of the front cover is missing, along with the first eighteen pages. Six sewn, folded signatures of twenty-six pages, each bound at four positions along the section folds, remain together. Aside from a few dates that are printed at the beginning of entries, everything else is written in black ink, perhaps iron gall. Bailey's writing is not small nor is it large. He consistently stays within the printed blue lines that are a little more than a quarter of an inch apart on each page. Bailey's penmanship is good, suggesting that he learned it in school.

In tracing the journal's provenance, Tracy Poe said Bernice Minter was given the journal by her father, the late Joseph Minter of Madill. This was confirmed by Joseph Minter V, a Madill attorney and relative of Bernice Minter. As the Minter family historian, Joseph Minter V said the late Joseph Minter was born October 27, 1865, at Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County, Texas, located about halfway between Dallas and Texarkana. He grew up to become a schoolteacher. Later he read law, and about 1900 he moved from Texas to Madill, Indian Territory, now Marshall County, Oklahoma. There he became the first county attorney. At some point before his death at Madill in 1929, Minter gave his daughter Bernice the journal, which he said Jack Bailey had given to him. Where and when Joseph Minter received the journal is unknown.

Jack Bailey's journal is the earliest known day-by-day account by a Texas cowboy of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas during the period just after the Civil War. It has the added bonus of including Bailey's record of his return journey through eastern Kansas, far southwestern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, eastern Indian Territory, and across the Red River to his home in Parker County, Texas. Bailey describes his daily activities, including trailing cattle and rounding them up after stampedes. He records the distances covered each day, the landmarks, where water was found, and the streams crossed. He tells of the men he worked with, including two black cowboys. He relates the hardships, disappointments, and joys of life on a trail drive and on the journey home, including eating and singing around the evening campfire. He mentions sleeping in tents, but provides no description or size. There are only two references to weapons. Once he fires his pistol in the air to stampede the herd, and at another point he refers to a pistol carried by another cowboy. Apparently, not all cowboys toted guns. Later accounts suggest that many trail bosses would not allow their men to carry pistols for fear that the weapons might discharge accidentally and cause the cattle to stampede.

Bailey writes candidly about his health and that of other people on the drive. At various points on the journey he complains of rheumatism, pleurisy, fever, and pneumonia. Like so many other pioneers, Bailey treated himself. He diagnosed the pain in his side as pleurisy. He notes that he and others on the drive suffered from diarrhea on two occasions, once as a consequence of eating the meat of a badly boiled yearling, and again from consuming wild berries they picked. He became ill midway in his travels to Kansas, and only then expresses second thoughts about going on the trail drive.

Bailey freely expresses his opinions of other people on the trail drive and those he meets along the way, including Indians and black soldiers. He also expresses strong opinions about conditions as he views them in the period immediately following the Civil War. Bailey hints in his last entry, November 8, 1868, that he hopes his journal will "interest some people." Undoubtedly, he hoped his wife and family would read it, but whether he intended it to be read by others outside the family circle is not clear. Interestingly, he uses no profanity, though he does use slang words of the period.

A description of Texans in an 1874 book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, in many ways seems to fit Jack Bailey, though the author, Joseph McCoy, never met Bailey. McCoy was the Illinois stock raiser responsible for making Abilene the first railhead cattle town in Kansas. Concerning Texans, he wrote:

The majority of Texans are destitute. They are, as a class, not liberally educated, and but few of them are extensive readers, but they are possessed of strong natural sense, well skilled in judging human nature, close observers of all events passing before them, thoroughly drilled in the customs of frontier life, more clannish than the Scotch, more suspicious than need be yet often easily gulled by promises of large prices for their stock; very prone to put an erroneous construction upon the acts and words of a Northern man, inclined to sympathize with one from their own State as against another from the North, no matter what the Southern man may have been guilty of. To beat a Northern man in a business transaction was perfectly legitimate, and regarded all such as their natural enemies of whom nothing good was to be expected. Nothing could rouse their suspicions to a greater extent than a disinterested act of kindness. Fond of a practical joke, always pleased with a good story, and not offended if it was of an immoral character; universal tipplers, but seldom drunkards; cosmopolitan in their loves; in practice, if not in theory, apostles of Victoria Woodhull [the first woman to run for president, in 1872], but always chivalrously courteous to a modest lady; possessing a strong, innate sense of right and wrong, a quick, impulsive temper, great lovers of a horse and always good riders and good horsemen; always free to spend their money lavishly for such objects or purposes as best please them; very quick to detect an injury or insult, and not slow to avenge it nor quick to forget it; always ready to help a comrade out of a scrape, full of life and fun; would illy brook rules of restraint, free and easy.

Much like a modern tourist, Bailey frequently compares the land he crosses in Indian Territory and Kansas with his home country in Texas. His trail drive to Kansas, unlike other drives that occurred in later years, included women and children who traveled in wagons, and the cooking was done at times by the women and at other times by the cowboys. On later drives there was usually someone hired to do the cooking. Bailey's observations are refreshing and not only capture the flavor of trail life but also provide insights into daily life in the regions he passes through.

The names of settlements and other geographical landmarks cited in his journal make it possible to retrace Bailey's approximate route across Indian Territory, Kansas, and portions of Missouri and Arkansas, and Indian Territory once again as he returned home to Texas. Although the Journal's opening pages are missing, it is obvious that the trail drive began in north Texas and probably crossed the Red River into Indian Territory just north of the settlement of Red River Station in north-central Montague County, Texas. Red River Station, established in 1860, was located two miles south of the Red River on Salt Creek. Once across the Red River, the trail drive moves north to Fort Arbuckle, near present-day Davis, Oklahoma, and near modern Pauls Valley, and north again to modern Ponca City before entering Kansas in Cowley County, east of Arkansas City, Kansas. The route followed by Bailey is some distance east of what later became the well-known Chisholm Trail. In 1868 the Chisholm Trail had not yet become the major cattle trail to Abilene and later to Newton and Wichita, Kansas.

Bailey makes no reference to the trail-driving techniques used, but in all likelihood the cowboys were using already long tested methods. At the front were one or more point riders leading the herd. Flank riders on the sides kept the longhorns from straying. Drag riders brought up the rear and kept cattle from straggling. Riding drag was the worst position in a trail drive because of the dust kicked up by the longhorns' hooves.

In his journal Bailey does not refer to owning any of the cattle or being paid to help drive the animals north to Kansas, but he apparently was compensated for his work, because on his return journey to Texas he had money to spend. His journal is also unclear as to the size of the herd being driven north, but the partial figures he gives suggest that the herd may have numbered between fifteen hundred and two thousand cattle. After trailing practices were perfected by 1870, the normal complement of men needed to drive a herd of twenty-five hundred cattle north included a trail boss, ten cowboys, a cook, and a horse wrangler, but Bailey's trail drive took place before this became common practice. Although Bailey mentions the names of more than twenty men on the drive, who probably were cowboys, he is unclear as to how many of them were with the herd he was trailing north. Some of the cowboys he mentions are undoubtedly from other trail herds in front of or behind his herd, all heading north. He identifies one herd as being from Waco, Texas; that herd began to travel with Bailey's herd in Indian Territory.

Bailey never reached Abilene. John Adare, presumably the herd's trail boss and perhaps owner or part owner, put many cattle on shares with stock raisers in southern Kansas to fatten them for market. The smaller herd did not require as large a crew, so Bailey and a few other cowboys did not go with the cattle to Abilene. It was then that Bailey and others, including the women and children, traveled to Emporia and Lawrence, Kansas. From there Bailey and a few other cowboys started the journey back to Texas, while others, including Adare and his family, apparently remained in Lawrence for a time.

John Adare's background is not known, but several other people mentioned in Bailey's journal have tentatively been identified. Bailey wrote in his journal throughout the day, giving the reader a feeling of spontaneity that creates suspense and captures the flavor of his travels. To save space in his notebook, Bailey made ample use of abbreviations, and he used as few words as possible in recording his travels. On page 139 of his journal, Bailey wrote: "Now you have my travels to Kansas and back home. I have left out some things that I wish I had put in but my paper run short before I got to Kansas. I don't force you to read this so if you don't like it, just lay it down and don't criticize me for I make no pretintions toward writeing or any thing of the kind. Hope it will interest some people." One wishes Bailey had had more paper because he tells a good story. His spelling, grammar, and punctuation leave much to be desired. Still, there is no question Bailey was an intelligent man with some education and much common sense.


Aside from signing his name near the end of his journal, Bailey provides only a few clues as to his identity. In 1868 his home was in northeast Parker County, Texas. Bailey identifies September 14 as his birthday, but he does not list the year of his birth. The name "Jack" could be a nickname, most likely for "John." He refers to his wife, "Mat," and two boys back in Texas, presumably his sons. One he calls "Charlie boy." He mentions visiting in or near Emporia, Kansas, with Newton Nix and family, "a former neighbor in Jack County, Texas." The trail drive undoubtedly began in Texas and probably originated in one of the first three tiers of counties just south of the Red River.

Using these clues, I consulted historical books containing biographical information on early Texas cattlemen and the cattle trade, but with no success. Next I examined the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census rolls for many counties in North Texas, along with genealogical records. Because the counties in north Texas were on the Texas frontier in 1868 and plagued with Indian raids, their populations were small and easy to check. For instance, Parker County, Bailey's home in 1868, had a population of only 4,213 in 1860 and only 4,186 in 1870. Wise County had a population of 3,160 in 1860, and only 1,450 in 1870. Jack County had 1,000 residents in 1860, but only 694 in 1870. Clay County had 109 residents in 1860 and 350 in 1870, while Montague County, bordering on the Red River, had only 849 residents in the 1860 census and 891 in 1870. Aside from a few merchants in these counties, most residents were engaged in farming and stock raising. The circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Jack Bailey was John W. Bailey, born about 1831 in Mississippi. But his mention of his birthday as being September 14 was of no further help. Two genealogical researchers agree that John W. Bailey was born in 1831, but they do not agree on whether he was born in Alabama or Mississippi. One suggests that Bailey was born circa December 1831 but offers no documentation. Born in 1831, John W. Bailey would have been about thirty-seven when he wrote his journal.

Exactly when Bailey moved west to Texas is not known, but a John W. Bailey is listed as an original landowner in Jack County, Texas, which was established by the Texas legislature on August 27, 1856, following the arrival of the first settlers in 1855. Jack County was named for William H. and Patrick C. Jack, participants in the Texas Revolution. John W. Bailey's name appears on the 1858 and 1859 tax rolls for Jack County. Other Jack County records indicate that on June 7, 1858, Bailey married Martha A. Ham ("Mat"?), who was born July 24, 1841, in Milam County, Texas. She was the daughter of Berry Lewis Ham and Dorcas Matilda Bowen, then residing in Jack County. The 1860 Jack County census lists Bailey's occupation as stock raiser, and gives his wife's name as Martha, but lists no children.

Since Bailey returned to his home in northeast Parker County in the fall of 1868, it was thought that his name might appear in the 1870 Parker County census rolls. It does not. Likewise, a check of the 1870 census rolls for Jack and other nearby counties does not list John W. Bailey or his wife. However, the 1880 census of Jack County, Texas, lists John W. Bailey, occupation farmer, his wife Martha, and four children (three boys and a girl), though no child named Charlie. The 1880 census identifies the children as M. B. (Beulah) Bailey, age ten; A. A. Bailey, age eight; Henry Bailey, age six; and Jack Bailey, age three. Bailey's journal reference to his two boys, including "Charlie boy," raises the possibility that both children may have died young, because in the 1880 census Bailey's oldest child was only ten, having been born in 1870, two years after Bailey wrote his journal.

The 1880 Jack County census, however, does list a John C. (Charles?) Bailey as a neighbor to John W. Bailey. John C. Bailey was then twenty-four. His wife's name was Mary, and they had three children: Mary E., age five; Nora E., age two; and Alpha, one year. John C. Bailey might be the missing "Charlie boy," but the 1880 census lists his place of birth as Missouri and his parents' places of birth as Illinois. If accurate, this information would eliminate John C. Bailey, born in 1856, three years before John W. Bailey married Martha Ham. If the 1880 census information on John C. Bailey is not accurate, it raises the possibility that Martha Ham was John W. Bailey's second wife and that Bailey lived in Missouri before moving to Texas, where he remarried. The 1850 Missouri census, however, does not list a John W. Bailey or a John C. Bailey. If John C. Bailey was John W. Bailey's son, he would have been twelve years old in 1868.

The evidence favoring John W. Bailey as Jack Bailey is much stronger when we consider other references in his journal. For example, he frequently refers to another cowboy on the drive named Bud Ham, who appears to have been Bailey's brother-in-law. Berry Lewis Ham and Dorcas Matilda Bowen, the parents of Bailey's wife, Martha, had fourteen children. Martha, born in 1841, was the second oldest child. The third oldest was Abner Lewis Ham, born May 26, 1843, in Milam County, Texas. Family records indicate that Abner's nickname was "Bud." In 1861, when he was nineteen, he began service as a Texas Ranger. His service ended in 1863. In 1868, the year of the trail drive, he was twenty-five. Genealogical records indicate that he married twice and that he died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1927 at the age of eighty-three.


Excerpted from A Texas Cowboy's Journal by Jack Bailey, David Dary. Copyright © 2006 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Foreword, by Charles P. Schroeder,
Preface, by Charles E. Rand,
Introduction, by David Dary,
A Texas Cowboy's Journal,

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