Oklahoma’s cattle industry passed through “packingtown” and transformed the region.
by Gigi Ragland
Long before Oklahoma staked its claim as the 46th state in 1907 and residents built Oklahoma City, large herds of cattle roamed these plains and tall-grass prairies. In fact this area has been “cattle country” ever since the 1500s, when the Spanish introduced livestock to the New World. Though it was the so-called Five Civilized Tribes—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole—of Indian Territory (Oklahoma’s early name) that developed the state’s cattle business in the 19th century. They had brought livestock with them during forced marches from their Eastern ancestral homelands during the 1830s.
The grassy plains proved an ideal habitat for raising livestock, and the Indians practiced open-range grazing and communal land ownership. By the time the Civil War broke out, these Indian herds had grown substantially with the increased demand for beef. After the war, great numbers of cattle were moved through Indian Territory from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm and Western trails.
By the turn of the century, eastern Oklahoma had many pasture-rich ranches. The western part of the state had more grain-producing farms and feedlots. By 1910, three short years after statehood, burgeoning Oklahoma City had 60,000 residents and the Oklahoma National Stockyards Company provided 2,400 new jobs. The district became known as Stockyards City and was nicknamed “Packingtown.” Large meatpacking and processing facilities were built to transport products across the nation by cattle drive, then rail, and later by truck. An estimated total of 1.2 million head of livestock have passed through Stockyards City—a volume that spurred many businesses to meet the needs of the cattlemen, cowboys, horsemen, farmers, and ranchers.
The area has also become very visitor friendly, with more than 70 shops like Langston’s Western Wear, established in 1916, and musical entertainment like the Oklahoma Rodeo Opry. Naturally, there’s some good beefsteak to be found. Cattlemen’s Steakhouse opened in 1910 and is the place to go for tasty, man-sized steaks and Rocky Mountain oysters. (We’ll stick with the prime rib, thank you.)
Though the packing plants closed in 1961, Stockyards City is considered the largest stocker/feeder cattle market in the world. Cattle auctions are still held every Monday and Tuesday, and the International Professional Rodeo Association is headquartered there.
Cattle auctions are held every Monday and Tuesday starting at 9 a.m.
The Stockyards City Main Street Office offers guided tours through the district. $25;
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