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CLOSEST FREEWAY: I-70
APPROXIMATE POPULATION: 6519
When Timothy Hersey plunked his wife, Sylvia, in the middle of nowhere, she turned to Luke 3:1 in the Bible to find a name for their new town. They started Abilene, which means city of the plains, as a stagecoach stop in 1857. Soon a collection of small dugouts and crude log cabins sprouted up around their outpost giving Abilene a population of about 300 brave souls. But in just 10 years these peaceful folks would find themselves smack dab in the middle of the wickedest city in the west.
What caused this dramatic change? Joseph G McCoy came through town and saw it as the ideal cattle trading spot so almost overnight it boomed from 300 to 3,000 people. Between 1867 and 1872 over three million Texas Longhorn cattle were shipped out on railroad cars to fill the plates of fancy dining rooms back East. And it wasn't just cattle that stampeded through Abilene. They brought along thirsty cowhands, willing women, slick-fingered gamblers, and swift-eyed gunmen requiring the strong wills of men like Tom Smith and Wild Bill Hickok to keep the town folk safe.
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