Trails Linking the West

Updated February 21, 2009

Before the Railroads, there were wagon roads.  Before the wagon roads, there were trails that could be traveled only on foot or horseback.  Nevertheless, they enabled trade & communication by linking far-flung places. Geographic references on this page are modern ones, with no attempt to link the timelines with territorial identities.  Few of the links are to pages on this site, so you'll have to use your "Back" button to return. 

The original focus was on Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico but it has expanded to cover other parts of the country.  This worksheet is far from comprehensive, and there are many entries for which I haven't yet found an online map.  If you have similar sites to suggest, please write to Sharon McAllister.

Ancient Way  An network of Indian Trade Routed in New Mexico, in use even before the arrival of the Spanish.

Beefsteak Trail The nickname of the country's last regularly-used cattle trail, the Magdalena Livestock Driveway.  Herds from eastern Arizona and western New Mexico were driven along this trail to Magdalena, where they could be shipped to market. 

Braddock's Road  A 1755 expansion of Nemacolin's Path which the British General Edwared Braddock used to transport troops from Fort Cumberland [Maryland] across the Allegheny Mountains to the French Fort Duquesne near Pittsburg.

Bozeman Trail  A relatively short-lived trail from Colorado to Montana.

Butterfield Trail  An historic overland mail route that passed from near St. Louis through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California before the Civil War. In Oklahoma, it passed from Ft. Smith through Brazil Station, Holloway's, Riddle's, Pulsey's, Buffalo Station, Blackburn's, Waddell's, Geary's, Atoka, Boggy Depot, and Ft. Washita to Colbert's Ferry.  Historical account [broken link], with map & pictures.  Also known  as the Southern Overland Trail. 

California Road One of the many trails to California, this one from Ft. Smith through the old Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation into Texas. 

California Trail Not really a single trail, but a network of trails that led west during the Gold Rush. Map, with a valuable overview of the system.

Camp Supply Road  Old military Road through what is now western Oklahoma, from the junction of the north and south forks of the Red River, swinging westward almost to the Texas line, then back to the northeast to Camp Supply and northward into Kansas.

Camp Supply to Ft. Sill  Secondary military Road linking the two stations.

Camp Supply to Ft. Reno  Secondary military Road linking the two stations.

Central Overland Trail  Link between the Oregon Trail [from the junction of the North & South Platte Rivers] to the Mormon Trail [east of Salt Lake City].

Cherokee Trail  Followed the Arkansas River from Tahlequah through Kansas, Colorado, and into Wyoming, where it met the California Trail at Ft. Jim Bridger.  Used in the Gold Rush Days.  A clickable map is the gateway to an extensive tour. 

Chihuahua Trail Possibly another name for El Camino Real, as it supposedly linked Chihuahua with northern New Mexico. 

Chisholm Trail  Extensive website devoted to the Chisholm Trail from Texas through what is now Oklahoma to Kansas.  The main Trail crossed the Red River near Ringold TX and went almost due north to Kansas.  There was a branch that followed the north side of the North Canadian River to Dodge City, KS. 

Chisum Trail From near Paris, TX, through the southern part of the Texas Panhandle, curving southwest to meet the Pecos River south of Carlsbad, then north through Roswell to Ft. Sumner.   The Goodnight-Loving Trail followed the same path through the Pecos Valley. Another trail led west from the Chisum Ranch at Roswell, southwest through the Hondo Valley, across the Tularosa Basin, over the Organ Gap and on into Arizona.  A detailed Historical Account [broken link] includes a map of just the main part.

Cimarron Route or Cimarron Trail The portion of the Santa Fe trail that cut through the Oklahoma Panhandle.  There was an alternate route through Colorado.

Cumberland GapA natural gap in the Appalachian Mountains, though which passed one of the early Indian Trails. 

Don Juan de Onate Trail The path taken by the explorer who claimed what is now New Mexico for Spain.  Starts roughly where Texas, Mexico & New Mexico meet and follows the east bank of the Rio Grande to the junction of the Rio Grande and the Rio Chama, north of Espanola.  Later became part of El Camino Real.

East Shawnee Trail  The more recent name for the first major cattle trail from Texas to Kansas, which was sometimes called the Texas Road.  It crossed the Red River at Colbert's Ferry and passed near Fort Wichita and Fort Gibson, and crossed into Kansas near the Missouri border.  There was a branch that led northward from Fort Gibson (on the west side of the Grand River), which met the original trail at the Kansas border,  and one that led northwest (north of the Arkansas River) to meet the West Shawnee Trail in southern Kansas.

El Camino Real  Sometimes called just Camino Real, this was the main trail from Mexico to Santa Fe, and followed the Rio Grande Valley. 

"Famous Cattle Trails"  Detailed account of the major trails from Texas through Oklahoma to Kansas.  

Forbes Road  Built north of Braddock's Road during the French and Indian Wars, under the direction of the British General John Forbes, also to Fort Duquesne.  After the war it was extended eastward to Philadelphia.

Forts  Although this 1845 map doesn't show the inter-fort roads, it does show the major forts and the areas occupied by a number of Plains Tribes at the time of the "Permanent Indian Frontier". 

Ft. Bascom to Ft. Dodge  Old military road that crossed the Oklahoma panhandle through the southeast corner of present-day Texas County and northeastward through Beaver County into Kansas.

Ft. Gibson to Ft. Smith  Secondary military Road linking the two stations.

Ft. Sill to Ft. Towson  An old military road linking Ft. Sill, Ft. Arbuckle, Ft. McCulloch, and Ft. Towson to Little Rock, AR. 

Ft. Sill to Ft. Smith  An old military road from Ft. Sill through Camp Arbuckle and Ft. Coffee to Ft. Sill. 

Ft. Smith to Ft. Towson  Military Road from Ft. Smith through Ft. Towson to the Texas border.

Gila Trail   An oft-used term for the early southern route to California, but actually a network of trails.  The story behind this particular legend is included on a site that covers the long history of the quest for a southern overland route.

Goodnight-Loving Trail  From Ft. Worth, southwest to meet the Pecos River south of Carlsbad, then north through Roswell to Ft. Sumner.  The Chisum Trail followed the same path through the Pecos Valley. Go to the Home Page for an extensive historic account, or go straight to the Map.

Great Western Cattle Trail  Cattle trail through western Oklahoma, linking Bandera TX with Dodge City, KS. Historic account. 

Janos Trail  A trade route established by the Spaniards, extending from the copper mines near Santa Rita, New Mexico into Chihuahua and Sonora in northern Mexico.  Tradition has it that this trail used part of the Ancient Way.  Stories of the area from Territorial Days, and some recent pictures. 

Jornado del Muerto Translation: "Journey of Death".  Maps of southern New Mexico now show this as the name of the desert area between Las Cruces & Socorro, between the Rio Grande and the San Andres and Oscura mountain ranges. Stories of how it got its name are contradictory, but all go back to the fate of many early travelers along El Camino Real.  Traditions

Magdalena Trail The country's last regularly-used cattle trail, formally known as the Magdalena Livestock Driveway.  Herds from eastern Arizona and western New Mexico were driven along this trail to Magdalena, where they could be shipped to market. 

Mormon Trail  The route that the Mormons followed from IL to Utah.  It paralleled the Oregon Trail in parts, but traversed the Rockies by the South Pass.

Natchez Trace  Originally an Indian Trail linking what is now Natchez, MS with Nashville, TN.  In the early days, Americans used it to return north after floating goods down the Mississippi by flatboat.  By the War of 1812, it had become a military road and extended all the way to New Orleans.

National Road The extension of Braddock's Road from Cumberland Maryland to Wheeling [now West Virginia] with a surface of crushed stone has been described as the most ambitious road building project in the nation's history.  In 1825, it was extended to Vandalia, IL and eventually reached St. Louis.

Nemacolin's Path  A trail between the Potomac and Monongahela rivers.

Oklahoma Cattle Trails This particular map highlights the Chisholm Trail, but includes others through what is now Oklahoma.

Old Doan Trail  Another name for the Great Western Trail. 

Old Dodge City Trail  Another name for the Great Western Trail. 

Old Spanish Trail  From Santa Fe northwestward into Colorado to California, a route for pack mules because it was too rough to be traveled by wagons.

Old Texas Trail  Another name for the Great Western Trail.

Old Traders Trail In northern New Mexico.

Oregon Trail  Originally a network of Indian Trails, this system carried most of the traffic of the Westward Expansion.  

Osage War Trail  So named by Washington Irving, because it was used by raiding parties.  Brief description & Map

Ox Trains  Interesting account of the use of oxen to haul freight, though not about a specific trail.

Pony Express Trail   Connected St Louis MO, with Sacramento CA through a series of relay stations.  Some portions paralleled the Oregon Trail and others the Central Overland Trail.

Pottawatomie Co. OK  Early trails, with map.

Santa Fe Road.  The portion of the Santa Fe trail north of the Arkansas River  in northern Oklahoma had two branches, one of which was sometimes called the Santa Fe Road.  Detailed account, no map.

Santa Fe Trail.  Originally an Indian Trail than ran from near what is now Independence, MO through Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle to Santa Fe, NM.  It became important after Mexico attained its independence in 1821 and trade restrictions were eased.   Detailed  history and timeline.  General map. Large, detailed map [takes a long time to load].

Shawnee Wagon Road A freight road, which appears to have shared at least a part of the path followed by the West Shawnee Trail used for cattle drives.  Map. 

Texas Road  The first major cattle trail from Texas to Kansas, later called the East Shawnee Trail.  It crossed the Red River at Colbert's Ferry and passed near Fort Wichita and Fort Gibson, and crossed into Kansas near the Missouri border.  

Trail of Tears  Not a single trail, but rather the term used for various routes of removal of Native Americans from their homelands to Indian (and, later, Oklahoma) Territory.  See the worksheet for an overview and individual ITGenWeb sites for more detailed information about specific Nations/Tribes.

West Shawnee Trail  The second major cattle trail from Texas to Kansas, which followed the Texas Road from the Red River to Boggy Depot then struck northward through the central part of the state.   History & map

Wilderness Road  Opened after 1775 by Daniel Boone, linking Fort Chiswell in the Shenandoah Valley through the Cumberland Gap to the Ohio Valley.  In 1792, it was widened into a wagon road.

Zuni-Cibola Trail  Part of the Ancient Way, linking the Acoma and Zuni Pueblos.

Related Links

The Oregon-California Trails Association has an extensive website

Geography of the California Trails An extensive treatment of the factors in selecting a trail:  grassland, water, grades to climb, rivers to ford, etc.


Jornado del Muerto Translation: "Journey of Death". It lies in southwestern New Mexico, its southern end between Dona Ana and Radium Springs, its northern one near  Socorro. Traversable during the rainy season by those who knew the way and were accustomed to dealing with the hazards of the land, but fatal to many.  Conflicting accounts of this route persist.  Some say the true El Camino Real did not stray very far from the Rio Grande Valley, even during the stretch between Las Cruces and Socorro where travelers encountered rugged country.  Others describe it as  90-mile short-cut across the desert -- closer to a straight line that the widely curving river valley.  Old-timers, however, tell of parties that turned east too soon  and found themselves in the land-locked basin instead of crossing the open desert -- attributing many of the deaths to that area rather than to the trail itself.  As I haven't yet found any map, online or otherwise, that shows a Trail by this name, I tend to believe that the name is legitimately applied to an area rather than a specific route. Photos of the Organ Mountains clearly show the relatively lush area that lured some travelers down the wrong path.

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