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Long miles and longhorns: Remembering the drovers

Dennis Katzenmeier from Ellsworth, Kansas, waits for the sunset at The Symphony in the Flint Hills at Deer Horn Ranch. Dennis attended the Symphony in previous years as a volunteer, but this year he attended as a presenter for the Chisholm Trail. (Photo by: Valencia Scott)

By Valencia Scott

Angus, rib eye, T-bone, KC strip — Kansas is known for its beef. Cowboys drove cattle along the Chisholm Trail, which cut through the state and shaped the Midwest cattle industry after the Civil War. But not just any cowboys.

“A lot of people don’t know what a drover is,” said Dennis Katzenmeier, who gave a presentation in the education tent at the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

“A drover is a cowboy, but a cowboy is not necessarily a drover — it’s an important distinction.”

Katzenmeier, who is the president of the Chisholm Trail Association and chairman of the National Drovers Hall of Fame board, said the term “cowboy” has become a general term to cover all men who work with cattle. But drovers were cowboys specifically in charge of moving cattle along the trail and selling them.

“You can be a rodeo cowboy, a cowboy entertainer, or a cowboy horse shoemaker — I mean, you can be all kinds of cowboys. But drovers only drive cattle,” Katzenmeier said.

An abundance of existing cowboy museums and not enough that pay homage to the imperative role drovers gave birth to the National Drovers Hall of Fame. Katzenmeier said the museum is important for building an appreciation for the history of old-time trail drovers that drove wild longhorn cattle on the long trails to markets all across the United States is the reason the hall of fame was conceived.

“A drover is a cowboy, but a cowboy is not necessarily a drover — it’s an important distinction.”

“We’re losing drovers. They’re dying and their children are dying and we need to preserve their stories,” Katzenmeier said. He gets most of his information about the historic drovers from old newspapers and diaries.

Though Katzenmeier does not know of any drovers in his family, he is passionate about the preservation of drover history since Cox trail, which branched off the Chisholm Trail, runs through his property in Ellsworth. This property was passed down from his great great grandfather who settled in the smoky hills of Ellsworth.

“My great great grandfather was a farmer in Germany, and in Germany farmers also raised livestock, so he brought that with him,” Katzenmeier, who now owns Katzenmeier Cattle Company in Ellsworth, said.

Ellsworth will become the home of the National Drovers Hall of Fame. An old insurance building was scheduled to be demolished in 2005; however, Katzenmeier and Jim Gray, a historian and the executive director for the hall of fame, stepped in to give the building a new purpose.

“Jim Gray dreamed about this for years and finally was able to pursue it,” said Katzenmeier.

The Kansas community has been a great help to making Gray’s dream a reality. A large group of more than a dozen donors gives every year and ranches from all over Kansas also donate from time to time. Gray and Katzenmeier have also held cattle drives and concerts with Michael Martin Murphey to help with fundraising.

Katzemeier attended the 12th annual Symphony with his 7-year old grandson, Erogen, who visits him every summer from Florida and plays cowboy with his grandpa. Just as the drovers passed along their rich cowboy history to their sons and grandsons, Katzenmeier intends to do the same to honor the hardworking drovers on the Chisholm Trail.

Dennis and Ergoen Katenzenmeier, 6, make new friends at the 12th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills. Erogen visited his grandfather this year from Florida and loves to play cowboy. (Photo by: Valencia Scott)