Seven to nine million cattle and horses were driven up the Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas to Canada from the 1870s to the 1890s.  

 They’ve marked the trail with obelisks every six miles through Texas and Oklahoma and efforts are now underway to do the same from from the South Dakota line to Canada.  The North Dakota portion of the trail roughly parallels present day Highway 85. 

The North Dakota effort is being headed by journalist and former Cowboy Hall of Fame Executive Director Darrell Dorgan and retired NDSU President Jim Ozbun who now lives in Dickinson.  John Hanson and Steve Brooks have already secured landowner permission from South Dakota to I-94 along highway 85 to place the obelisks. 

An obelisk was installed at the Hall of Fame in Medora about five years ago by Ozbun.  There’s another at a park in Bowman. 

Dorgan says,  “It will take about 50 obelisks to mark the trail and Scott Olin of Dickinson Ready Mix is producing the seven-foot long concrete posts in Dickinson.  He’s donating the posts in what is a several thousand dollar gift to preserve the heritage and history of North Dakota’s first industry. 

Jim Ozbun and Scott Olin

He notes, “We will unveil the first concrete obelisk at the Courthouse in Amidon this summer and everyone is welcome to join us.  We will continue the marking the spring of 2,000 and hopefully finish the first stretch that summer from the South Dakota line to I-94.”

Rotary clubs in states along the Great Western Trail route have also become involved in the project and The Bowman Rotary Club and a local promotion group have donated $2,500.  The Dickinson Rotary club is acting as the banker and is considering a donation for the project.  Fisher Sand and Gravel in Dickinson has also provided help with the markers.  The Medora tourism committee is considering a donation and sponsorships will be sought from Rotary Clubs in Watford City and Williston. 

In addition to the obelisks that will mark the trail, five plaques will be placed to provide the history of the trail in North Dakota.  The Plaques will cost about $12,000 and money is being raised to pay for the plaques.

Copy for the plaques will read:


Between 1874 and 1893, seven million head of cattle and horses went up the Great Western Trail from Texas through nine U.S. states into Canada.  This famous trail lasted more years, carried more cattle, and was longer than any other cattle trail in the United States.  The trail had a significant impact on the economy of the western United States, assisting in the establishment of the ranching and livestock industry.  

Longhorns were gathered around Matamoras, Mexico and south Texas, and were then driven north through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and on to Canada.  These vast herds established the famous Great Western Trail, on which you stand  today.

The first trail herd to reach North Dakota left Texas in 1884.  A daring band of cowboys piloted a monster herd from the Rio Grande to the Little Missouri River.  Until the decline of the trail’s use in the 1890s, millions of cattle and horses continued up the trail where they thrived on rich prairie grasses of the endless Plains.

Along with cattle came cowboys out of Texas and elsewhere who established ranches and helped grow North Dakota’s western heritage which is still strong and prosperous.  From these romantic, wild days comes much of our rich western history that still thrives and is celebrated.

Rotary clubs, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, local groups and people interested in preserving North Dakota’s heritage and history banded together to mark this important trail for future generations.