Chisholm TrailWhen the railroads moved west to the Great Plains, the “Cattle Boom”began. Southern Texas became a major ranching area with the raising of longhorncattle from Mexico. Cattle was branded by the rawhides who guarded them onhorseback on the ranges. Before the Civil War, small herds of Texas cattle were driven by thecowboys to New Orleans, some as far west as California, and some to the northover the Shawnee Trail.
This trail passed through Dallas and near the IndianTerritory, ending in Sedalia, Missouri. In 1866, the Shawnee Trail presentedsome major problems for the cattle drivers Farmers along the route did not liketheir fields being trampled. They also objected to the spread of tick fever. Longhorns carried the ticks but were immune to the fever.
A few farmers were soangry, they armed themselves with shotguns to convince the cattle ranchers tofind another trail north. There was a large increase icattle by the end of the Civil War. Over1,000,000 cattle roamed the open range. At this time, people in the northhad money to buy beef and cattle which was in great demand. A cow that cost 4to5 dollars a head in Texas was going for 40 to 50 dollars a head in the east. Ranchers hired cowboys for the cattle drives north, realizing the greatopportunity for a large profit if they could reach the railroads in Abilene,Kansas.Order now
Joseph McCoy, a stock dealer from Springfield, Illinois, decided a newtrail was necessary west of the farms. In 1867, he chose a route that wouldreach Abilene and the railroads with the least amount of problems. This routewas to become well-known as the Chisholm Trail. Jesse Chisholm was a half-breed, a Scotch Cherokee Indian trader, who in1866 drove a wagon through the Indian territory, known now as Oklahoma, to theWichita, Kansas, where he had a trading post. Cattlemen use the same trail inthe years to come, following Chisholm’s wagon ruts to Abilene, Kansas, and therailroads.
The trail began below San Antonio, Texas, and stretched north forabout 1,000 miles. The main course then passed through Austin, Fort Worth, TheIndian Territory, and Wichita to Abilene. Side trails fed into the ChisholmTrail. The cattle fed on grass along the trail.
Cattlemen moved about 1,500,000 cattle over the trail during a threeyear span. The biggest year was in 1871, when 5,000 cowboys drove over 700,000head of cattle along the trail from Texas to Abilene. The Chisholm Trail wasthe most popular route because of the good terrain. There were no hills orwoods to impede to cowboys’ progress, nor where there towns or farmers along theway. The cattle trail route moved westward as the railroads across the plainsmoved west, and settlers soon followed.
Ellsworth and Newton, Kansas, on theAtchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad became the end of the trail forcattle drives between 1872 and 1875. Here were the chief cattle markets forseveral years. There “cowtowns,” as they were called, consisted of gamblinghalls, saloons and brothels. It was a good place for cowboys to spend there payat the end of a long drive. In time the railroad moved even further west. Farmers homesteaded theland and put up fences, barring cattle herds.
The Chisholm Trail soon ceased tobe used by 1890, but will be remembered in western stories and songs. Thistrail was very important to Texas. It helped the state recover from the economicblows of the Civil War. It also helped stock new ranches to the north and itmet the nations demand for beef. It is responsible in part for the rise ofChicago and Kansas as packing centers.
It also led to the expansion of westernrailroads and the development of refrigerator cars. Although Jesse Chisholm’s role in the “Cattle Boom” is veryinsignificant, the trail named for him played a major role in American History.