Joseph Geiting McCoy

Joseph Geiting McCoy (1837-1915), American cattleman, built the first livestock shipping center on the Great Plains.

Joseph G. McCoy was born on a farm in Sangamon County, Ill., on Dec. 21, 1837. He was educated in local schools and spent a year in the academy of Knox College in Galesburg. After his marriage to Sarah Epler in 1861, he entered the mule and cattle raising business. At the close of the Civil War, McCoy expanded his enterprise by buying animals in large quantities and shipping them to major livestock centers. In 1867 he joined a firm that shipped as many as a thousand cattle a week.

McCoy viewed the livestock industry from a national perspective and recognized the need for better contacts between southwestern ranchers, midwestern feeders, and meat-packers. He resolved to build a stock depot west of farming sections on the Great Plains to which cowboys from Texas could drive Longhorn herds. Although the railroad builders considered his plans impractical, he finally succeeded in obtaining cooperation from the Kansas Pacific Railway provided he assumed all the financial risks. The cattle would be shipped from his proposed stockyards to Kansas City. He then made an agreement with the Hannibal and St. Joseph line, which provided a route to Quincy, Ill.; from there the cattle could be sent to Chicago.

Abilene, Kans., was chosen as the site for McCoy's cattle pens. He purchased a 250-acre tract at the edge of this frontier village and built a pen to handle a thousand head of cattle, a hotel known as the Drover's Cottage, a bank, office, and livery stable. He sent agents south to acquaint Texas cowmen with his plan to receive the fall drives.

The first herds arrived in August 1867; an initial shipment to Chicago left Abilene in September. By the end of the year 35,000 head had been driven over the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, and in 1868 the number rose to 75,000 head; by 1870 the number doubled. As Abilene's leading citizen, McCoy was elected mayor.

Rival railroad terminal towns, farther west and south, soon diverted trade from Abilene, and McCoy moved to the new cow towns. In 1872 he went to Wichita, Kans., where he became a promotion agent for American and Texas Refrigerator Car. By 1880 he was a commission dealer in livestock in Kansas City and had been employed by the U.S. Census Bureau to report on the livestock industry for the eleventh census. For a time he lived in Oklahoma and served as agent for the Cherokee Nation in collecting land revenues. In 1890 he was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress. He died in Kansas City on Oct. 19, 1915.


Further Reading on Joseph Geiting McCoy

The chief source on the life of McCoy is his own Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest (1874; repr. 1966). Additional evidence can be obtained from Wayne Gard's well-written The Chisholm Trail (1954). McCoy's significance in the development of the cattle industry is noted in most books on the subject, such as Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Plains (1931).