The colorful history of Abilene dates from the pioneer cattle days when great herds of longhorns were driven overland from Texas to Abilene, the western terminus of the first railroad through Kansas. The City of Abilene holds a colorful position in the annuals of the Old West. Many of the legends and the traditions of the cowboy days had their origin in the Abilene of nearly a century ago. Unlike so many pioneer boom town, Abilene never lost its fame and character.
The story of Abilene had its beginning in the year 1858 when Timothy F. Hersey and his family chose a spot on the present of the city for their log cabin. It was named by Mrs. Hersey. In allowing it to fall open where it might. It happened to be at the third chapter of Luke, in the first verse of which is the name of Abilene, meaning City of the Plains. The growth of the city was slow until the Kansas Pacific Railroad was built through Abilene in 1867. A livestock dealer form Illinois, Joseph G. McCoy, saw the opportunities presented by the railroad in providing a means of transporting Texas cattle to markets in the est. McCoy came to Abilene with the plan of making it a cattle shipping center and built a stockyard and hotel for the purpose. The new enterprise prospered until 1872 when newer railroads put Newton, Wichita, and Ellsworth in favored positions as shipping points.
As the end of the Texas cattle trail -- Chisholm Trail -- it rapidly became a wild and "open" frontier town. Stores, saloons, and gambling houses sprang up to compete for the patronage of the cowboys. With the prosperity of the cattlemen came an era of lawlessness. Tom Smith, who had the reputation of being one of the bravest men in the West, became the first city marshal. One of his first official acts was to issue an order that no one would be allowed to carry firearms within the city limits without a permit. Smith's ability was well enough respected that even the most troublesome cowboys and gamblers obeyed. In 1870, however, Smith was murdered while attempting to arrest a man near the town of Detroit.
Tom Smith's successor as city marshal was the famous Wild Bill Hickok. Wild Bill's name was well known in the west before he came to Abilene, but the deadly marksmanship he displayed in keeping the city quiet and orderly throughout 1871 added to his fame. His reported long record of fatal shots at white men, or of knives sunk in their hearts, whether he acted as a Union Scout in the Civic War, frontier guide, duelist, marshal or gambler, caused the citizens to give him a wide berth. He figured as the recognized superior among the two-pistol men (meaning ability to shoot straight with either hand or both hands at once.)
Wild Bill's headquarters in Abilene was in the palatial Alamo Saloon. The town trustees appointed him marshal because of his skilled fearlessness. He served in this capacity for either months, during 1871. He prevented murders and the destruction of property through the dread of his twin-pistols, and for this he deserved and received credit, especially because of the increasing cattle trade. He spent most of his time in the Alamo Saloon, on lusty, gaudy, old Texas Street - center of the town's wild life - not being too friendly with either substantial citizens (who wouldn't be caught dead or alive in the Alamo) or with drunken cowboys (who, without Wild Bill's presence, might often have been found dead in the Alamo, or some other saloon.) He was a lone wolf, fearing no man. After taking office, he stopped the gun play and convinced the renegade cowboys that he meant business - the law would be enforced. On the other hand, he made no attempt to cleanup the town, possibly thinking that the whole situation might get out of control is such measures were taken.
Without Wild Bill, the townspeople had been in terror over the prospects of anarchy and chaos; with him, they went about their business calmly and unmolested. Hickok left that winter; Abilene quieted down by itself the next year when the railroad hit towns further south, and happily, became a peaceful, quiet, law-abiding community.