Some seven million head of cattle & horses went up the Great Western Trail from 1874 to 1893 from Mexico through nine U.S. states into Canada with major years being 1874 to 1886. This trail lasted more years, carried more cattle, and was longer than any other cattle trail originating in Texas. The trail brought economic recovery to the the post-Civil War economy in Texas and helped establish the ranching and livestock industry as it moved north.
Longhorns gathered around Matamoros, Mexico, other parts of South Texas, and other feeder routes along the trail in Texas crossed the low-water crossing on the Red River near Doan's and were herded north to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and on into Canada. The trail was called by various names as the cattle moved north with "Western Trail" becoming its primary name.
At the major railheads in Dodge City, Kansas, and Ogallala, Nebraska, buyers bought cattle for reservations, for eastern markets, or to establish ranches in the northern U.S. states, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, Canada.
Texan John T. Lytle blazed the trail in 1874 moving through areas still inhabited by Indians and herds of buffalo to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Herds had been forced west by homesteaders, tick fever, and Kansas laws closing the Chisholm
Trail. After 1879, the Western Trail was the principal trail for cattle bound for northern markets.
In Menard County, the Western Trail entered from the south at the head of MacDougal Creek and descended that stream to Pegleg Crossing on the San Saba, twelve miles below the town of Menard. From Pegleg Crossing, the trail ran eastward along the north bank of the San Saba for five or six miles, turned north eastward and entered McCulloch County approximately on Farm Road 1311.
On August 3, 2006, the first Western Trail marker in Menard County was dedicated at the city park in Menard with Menard Chamber of Commerce manager Tina Hodge organizing the dedication, which included Longhorns being herded down the streets of Menard to the park dedication site.
Although the Western Trail lasted a brief nineteen years, it lived on as the legend and lore of the cowboy grew as tales of cow towns and gunmen and drovers and stampedes filled books, movies, and the imagination of the national and international community fascinated by a time unique to history, the cattle trail days.
In the 21st century, Rotary Clubs on the Western Trail, started by the Vernon, Texas, Rotary Club accepting a challenge from three Oklahoma men, are setting white seven-foot cement posts with red letters every six miles on the trail to serve as tangible symbols of the friendship
and cooperative spirit of Rotarians, historical societies, chambers of commerce, and citizens in the nine U.S. states, Mexico, and Canada to preserve trail history and promote heritage tourism.