Iberian range cattle, progenitors of the Texas longhorn, were brought into Texas by Spain in the 1600s and 1700s. The cattle thrived on the area's rich grasslands and roamed throughout Texas. At the time of the Texas Revolution (1835-36) vast Mexican ranchos with their illustrious vaqueros (Spanish for cowboys) were an established tradition in the Rio Grande Valley. By 1860 cattle ranching dominated land use in the region. Demand for beef rose dramatically after the Civil War. Longhorn cattle worth $2 and $3 in Texas sold for $30 and $40 in midwestern railroad centers such as Kansas City and Chicago.
Area ranchers, aware of the longhorn's stamina, united to drive their cattle to frontier railroad terminals in Abilene and Dodge City. The Rio Grande was the southernmost point at which cattle were gathered for the drive north through Austin, Fort Worth, Red River station and into Oklahoma. There the trail joined the original 220-mile Chisholm Trail into Kansas established by Indian trader/guide Jesse Chisholm in 1865. The entire route and its feeder trails soon became widely known as the Chisholm Trail. An estimated 10 million cattle were driven north along the Chisholm Trail by the late 1870s when use of the trail was drastically curtailed by quarantines.