Sylvia Mahoney will present her recently published book Finding the Great Western Trail at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 10 at the Museum of the Western Prairie. Hosted by the Western Trail Historical Society, the event is free and open to the public.
Praised as a book that “Chronicles the most amazing public history project in America,” Mahoney’s work, published by Texas Tech University Press, is the story of finding and marking the nineteenth-century cattle trail that originated in northern Mexico and traversed the United States for some two thousand miles from Bandera, Texas to the Canadian border.
According to Mahoney, through time, misinformation, and the perpetuation of error, the historic path of this once-crucial cattle trail had been lost. Finding the Great Western Trail documents the first multi-community effort to recover evidence and verify the route of the trail.
The Great Western Trail had long been celebrated in two neighboring communities: Vernon, Texas, and Altus, Oklahoma. Separated by the Red River, a natural border that cattle trail drovers forded with their herds, both Vernon and Altus maintained a living trail history with exhibits at local museums, annual trail-related events, ongoing narratives from local descendants of drovers, and historical monuments and structures. So when the members of the Western Trail Historical Society in Altus challenged the Vernon Rotary Club to mark the trail across Texas every six miles, they accepted the challenge. Eventually, the effort spread along the trail from Mexico across nine states and into Saskatchewan, Canada.
“I began collecting my research documentation in 2004 when we started visiting towns in the twenty counties in Texas to dedicate their first Great Western Trail marker, often on the courthouse lawn or at a museum. We basically completed marking the trail from Matamoros, Mexico, to Val Marie, Saskatchewan, in 2011,” Mahoney explained. “The book gives credit to the hundreds of volunteers who readily joined our marking the trail research project at their own expense and their contribution of hours and hours of research. The most amazing collateral were the strong friendships that evolved and continues among the trail researchers and participants.”
“This book is the story of finding and marking the trail, and it stands as a record of each community’s efforts to uncover their own Great Western Trail history. What began as local bravado transformed into a grass-roots project that, one hopes, will bring the previously obscured history of the Great Western Trail to light.”
Copies of the just released book will be available for purchase following the presentation, and Mahoney will be on hand for a book signing.
Mahoney was an educator for 33 years at community colleges in Texas and New Mexico as an administrator, teacher, and rodeo team coach. In 2015, she was named a fellow of the West Texas Historical Association. She became invested in the Great Western Trail project through her involvement in the Rotary Club of Vernon. She now lives in Fort Worth.
Contact Jennie Buchanan at [email protected]