Joseph McCoy was born December 21, 1837, in Sangamon County, Illinois, to David and Mary (Kirkpatrick) McCoy. McCoy spent a couple of years at Knox College in Galesburg. He married Sarah Epler on October 22, 1861. They had five children. In 1861 McCoy began to work in the mule and cattle industry. He expanded his business to shipping large herds of cattle to slaughter and quickly recognized flaws in the system. An overage of longhorns in Texas caused their value to be only three to four dollars a head. In cities like Chicago they were worth $30 to $40 a head. McCoy began to develop a transportation system that would send cattle north to more profitable markets.
McCoy examined how he could send cattle on the railroads, which could then take them north to sell. The problem was in the 1860s Kansas outlawed longhorns to control the spread of “Texas fever.” Longhorns were immune to the disease, but the Midwestern cattle were susceptible, and many a farmer had lost his herd when a band of longhorns passed through. Kansas eased the law in 1867, allowing Texas cattle to be driven through "the first guide meridian west from the sixth principal meridian." This kept routes west of the cities located in eastern Kansas. McCoy knew that the Chisholm Trail, used as a trade route, was perfect for a cattle drive since it met the law’s requirement. He bought a small village along the Union Pacific railway and named it Abilene. One of the first cow towns, Abilene was built with extensive advertisement in Texas that encouraged cattlemen to send herds its way. The plan worked; in the first year 35,000 head of cattle were brought into Abilene and shipped north and east by rail line. In 1868 the number rose to 75,000 head, and was doubled by 1870. McCoy was elected mayor of Abilene. McCoy referred to himself as “The Real McCoy.”
In later years as rail lines expanded west and south McCoy traveled to new cow towns. In 1872 he went to Wichita, where he became a promotion agent for American and Texas Refrigerator Car. He documented his experiences in Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest. In 1880 he was a commission dealer in livestock in Kansas City and was employed by the U.S. Census Bureau to report on the livestock industry for the 11th census. He later lived in Oklahoma and served as agent for the Cherokee Nation in collecting land revenues. In 1890 McCoy was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress. He died October 19, 1915, in Kansas City.
Entry: McCoy, Joseph
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2011
Date Modified: January 2016
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