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Joseph Geating McCoy was born on a farm in Sangamon County, Illinois, on December 21, 1837. He attended the local schools and spent a year at Knox College in Galesburg, and married Sarah Epler in 1861.
McCoy began his business career as a mule and cattle breeder. After the Civil War ended he began buying large numbers of cattle and shipping them to major livestock centers. In 1867 he joined a firm that shipped up to a thousand head a week. Although he was enjoying financial success, McCoy realized the need for better contacts between southwestern ranchers, midwestern feeders and meat-packers, and eastern consumers, and decided to build a stock depot to which cowboys from Texas could drive their herds. His plan was to buy the cattle from the cowboys and then ship them directly to Chicago.
In 1867, McCoy bought land near Abilene, then a small village on the Kansas Pacific Railway line, where he built a hotel, stockyard, office and bank. He chose the site because it lay at the end of the Chisholm Trail, which had originally been blazed to carry supplies to the Confederate Army in Texas. He then spent $5,000 on advertising and riders, and promised good prices for all cattle sold in Abilene. The first cattle arrived in Abilene in August, and the first shipment for Chicago left in September. Between 1867 and 1881, over 2 million head of cattle were sent from Abilene to Chicago. As Abilene's "number one citizen," McCoy was elected mayor in 1870.
Abilene's cattle business began declining as rival cow towns began springing up along newly-laid rail lines, and McCoy relocated to Wichita in 1872. His landmark book, Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, was published in 1874. In 1880, he became a commission dealer in Kansas City and was hired by the U.S. Census Bureau to report on the livestock industry. By 1881 he was living in Oklahoma, where he served as an agent for the Cherokee Nation collecting land revenues. He died in Kansas City, Missouri, on October 19, 1915.
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This page was last updated on August 23, 2017.