The Shawnee saw activity both before and after the Civil War, drawing cattle from tributaries east and west of its primary artery that traveled through Austin, Waco, and Dallas.
The Shawnee was already a well-established route before cattle drovers began to utilize it, favored in previous decades by Native Americans and settlers moving south from the Midwest. Early drovers referred to the trail as the Sedalia or the Kansas before "Shawnee" stuck, an origin that remains uncertain today.
Both the Civil War and hostile farm settlements influenced the use of the Shawnee. The Civil War literally halting all cattle drives and anger over the spread of Texas fever, a disease carried by ticks feeding on longhorn blood, slowed and disrupted the drives. Angry Midwestern farmers suffering infected cattle pursued efforts to stop the Texas longhorn cattle drives to some success, but a savvy livestock dealer from Illinois, Joseph G. McCoy, exploited loopholes in the Texas fever quarantine regulations, and longhorns managed to make it, often as steaks, onto the tables of customers in the nation’s cash-rich but beef-poor Northeast anyway.
Expansion of the railroads, fencing, and the fever quarantine all conspired to end the cattle drives by the late 19th century and the Shawnee, along with the other great cattle trails, ceased to exist.