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The Chisholm Trail

The Chisholm Trail was a trail used in the late 1800s to drive cattle overland from ranches in Texas to Kansas railheads. The trail stretched from the Red River, and on to the railhead of the Kansas Pacific Railway in Abilene, Kansas, where the cattle would be sold and shipped eastward.  The Chisholm trail stretched from around San Antonio, Texas to Abilene, Kansas.

The trail is named for Jesse Chisholm who had built several trading posts in what is now western Oklahoma before the American Civil War.  He died in 1868, too soon ever to drive cattle on the trail.

By 1853, Texas cattle were being driven into Missouri, where local farmers began blocking herds and turning them back because the Texas longhorns carried ticks that caused diseases in other types of cattle.  Violence, vigilante groups, and cattle rustling caused further problems for the drivers.  By 1859, the driving of cattle was outlawed in many Missouri jurisdictions.  By the end of the Civil War, most cattle were being moved up the western branch of trail at Red River Station in Montague County, Texas.

In 1866, cattle in Texas were worth only $4 per head, compared to over $40 per head in the North and East, because lack of market access during the American Civil War had led to increasing number of cattle in Texas.  In 1867, Joseph G. McCoy built stockyards in Abilene, Kansas. He encouraged Texas cattlemen to drive their herds to his stockyards. The stockyards shipped 35,000 head that year and became the largest stockyards west of Kansas City, Kansas.

That same year, O. W. Wheeler answered McCoy's call, and he along with partners used the Chisholm Trail to bring a herd of 2,400 steers from Texas to Abilene. This herd was the first of an estimated 5,000,000 head of Texas cattle to reach Kansas over the Chisholm Trail.

Route
Today, some historians consider the Chisholm Trail to have started at the Rio Grande in Texas or at San Antonio, Texas. From 1867 to 1871, the trail ended in Abilene, Kansas. Later, Newton, Kansas, and Wichita, Kansas, each served as the end of the trail. From 1883 to 1887, the end of the trail was Caldwell, Kansas. Ellsworth, Kansas is also considered a major influence of the trail. In 1931, Geo. W. Saunders, then President of the Old Trail Drivers Assoc. and an authority on Texas livestock History wrote: "The famed Chisholm Trail, about which more has been written than any other Southwestern Trail,cannot be traced in Texas for the reason that it never existed in this State." It was always understood by pioneer cattlemen that they would strike the Chisholm Trail at Red River Station at the mouth of Salt Creek in Montague Co. into the Indian Territory.

In Texas, there were hundreds of feeder trails heading north to one of the main cattle trails. In the early 1840s, most cattle were driven up the Shawnee Trail. The Chisholm Trail was previously used by Indian hunting and raiding parties; The trail crossed into Indian Territory (present-day west-central Oklahoma) near Red River Station (in present-day Montague County, Texas) and entered Kansas near Caldwell. Through Oklahoma, the Chisholm Trail generally followed the route of US Highway 81 through present-day towns of El Reno and Enid.

Challenges
On the long trips up to two months the cattlemen would face many difficulties. They had to cross major rivers like the Arkansas and the Red, and innumerable smaller creeks, plus the topographic challenges of canyons, badlands, and low mountain ranges. The weather was less than ideal. In addition to these natural dangers, there were rustlers and occasional conflicts with American Indians if a drover, a trail boss, failed to pay a toll of 10 cents a head to local tribes for the right to cross Indian lands (Oklahoma at that time was Indian Territory, governed from Fort Smith, Arkansas). Finally, there was the natural contrariness of the half-wild Texas longhorn cattle themselves, which were prone to stampede with little provocation.

More US History

History of the Old West
Frontier Begins
Settling the West
Before the Civil War
Civil War in the West
After the Civil War
Frontier Life
Frontier Warfare
People of the Old West
 




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