The Great Western Cattle Trail (also known as the Old Texas Trail and the Dodge City Trail) was the longest of all 19th century trails used to drive cattle from Texas to distant markets. In 1874, Capt. John T. Lytle and other cowboys led 3,500 cattle from south Texas to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. This path became the Great Western Cattle Trail, one of the most frequented routes for driving cattle across the country. Although the trail was less well-known than the Chisholm Trail, the Great Western Cattle Trail carried cattle for longer than all other trails. Over time, more than seven to ten million longhorns, one million horses and 30,000 cowboys used the trail, according to conservative estimates. The Great Western Trail began near Bandera and extended north through Dodge City, Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, the Dakotas and into Canada.
Bandera served as an ideal staging and departure point because of its plentiful water and grass for cattle. The cattle market fulfilled the Northeast's high demand for beef, created cattle companies, enterprises and towns along its path and helped revitalize Texas' post-Civil War economy. Between 1855 and 1890, more than 950 cattle marks and brands were registered in Bandera County. The Great Western Cattle Trail began to lose popularity in 1885, when diseased cattle from Texas prompted many northern
states to ban the importation of Texan cattle in warm months, and when increased barbed wire fencing limited cattle drive mobility. The last known drive on the trail occurred when John Rufus Blocker traveled to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1893. In 2004, the Great Western Cattle Trail Association placed its first marker in an effort to place cement markers every six miles along the route.