Work on the historic Great Western Trail begins in North Dakota

July 10, 2020

Fargo, ND, USA / The Mighty 790 KFGO | KFGO Don Haney

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFGO) – This weekend, a series of concrete obelisks will begin to be placed along the North Dakota segment of what is known as the Great Western Trail. Starting in the 1870’s, the trail ran from the Texas-Mexican border to the Canadian border. Cowboys drove cattle herds northward along the trail to ranchers and slaughterhouses.

Project manager Darrell Dorgan says 55 of the six-foot-high concrete obelisks will be installed every six to ten miles along Highway 85, which parallels the trail from the South Dakota line north to Fort Buford, which was a frontier military post near Williston.

Dorgan says approximately nine million head of livestock, mostly cattle and some horses were moved northward through eight states during several decades when it was in use. He says there are still ranchers in western North Dakota who can date their family histories back to the Great Western Trail.

One of those involved in the project, former NDSU President Jim Ozbun, who had a ranch near Dickinson before retiring, says his maternal grandfather was a cowboy who started herding cattle up the trail in the 1890’s as a 15-year old, going as far as Medora.

Black marble plaques explaining the trail’s history will also be placed along the route at several locations.

Scott Olin, owner of the Dickinson Ready Mix Company, built and donated the obelisks, valued at thousands of dollars. Olin is a major backer of tourism projects and a historian.