Joseph McCoy - Cowboy Historian
“Among the earliest vocations spoken of by the sacred historian is that of the producers of livestock...."
On December 21, 1837, Joseph Geiting McCoy was born on a farm in Sangamon County, Illinois to David and Mary (Kirkpatrick) McCoy. He schooled in the local area and spent one year at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. In 1861, he married Sarah Epler and began raising mules and cattle. McCoy is the founder of the Great Western Stockyards at Abilene, Kansas. Through his efforts the Chisholm Trail became the primary route for cowboys driving their herds of Texas longhorn cattle from Texas to Abilene. Joseph McCoy transformed the cattle business into a national industry. He was able to overcome the obstacle of a tick borne disease, Texas fever. Longhorns were immune to it, but they passed it onto to other types of cattle to which it was fatal. McCoy joined the interests of the railroads, which wanted to expand freighting in the west, with that of the Texans wanting to sell their cattle back east. He advertised in Texas to lure the herders to the market in Abilene, and in 1867 the first herds arrived. Rival cow towns emerged and McCoy moved on to these new venues. According to accounts, McCoy bragged he would bring 200,000 head up in 10 years, when in truth, two million head passed through in only four years. Some argue the phrase "It's the real McCoy" was inspired by McCoy. Drawing on his understanding of the cattle industry from rancher to packer, McCoy wrote Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest. Published in 1874, this work established McCoy as the first cowboy historian and it is a primary source for our understanding of the era of the big cattle drive and the inner workings of cattle marketing during its formative years.
Year inducted: 2011