What 19th-Century Kansas Cow Towns Teach Us About Global Capital

Like Amazon Today, Railroads Determined the Fortunes of Even the Most Distant Communities

Boasting dozens of windows and a hundred-person dining room, the Drovers Cottage was quite a hotel by the standards of the 19th-century American West. Even more impressive: It managed to be the main attraction of two different towns.

Dovers Cottage was originally built in Abilene, Kansas, during a cattle boom in the late 1860s, when Abilene was the first great railhead connecting the cattle ranches of Texas to the emerging national rail network. But Abilene’s fortunes soon turned—when Ellsworth, Kansas, took its place as the new cattle boomtown.

Ellsworth rose to …