Beginning in 1867, following the Civil War, the Chisholm Trail became a route to wealth for Texas ranchers who had access to wild Longhorn cattle, but little other means of earning a livelihood. There was a demand for beef in the eastern part of the country, but the problem was how to get the cattle to the consumers.
Cowboys drove a few cattle herds to Missouri River points for steamboat transport to New Orleans. That route, along the old Shawnee Trail, was soon cut off by the closing of Missouri border counties, due to fears of infestation from the “Texas Fever”, caused by a tic carried by Longhorns.
An alternative shipping mode was provided by the first railroads pushing west. The Union Pacific had established a railhead as far west as Abilene. The Chisholm Cattle Trail ran from the Red River on the northern Texas border to Abilene, Kansas. The first half of the Trail followed an earlier trading post route established by Jesse Chisholm.
The three-month trip was hazardous. The dangers of prairie fires, lightning, hail storms, marauding Indians, outlaw gangs, quicksand or high-water river crossings, and frequent cattle stampedes were endured by the cowboys who were often teenagers or young adults. But, while hazardous, the Chisholm Trail also promised adventure and the lure of good times in the cattle towns at the end of the trail drive. Most of the cowboys who trailed the cattle north were likely to make more than one trip.
This introductory post begins a series about my own recent trip along US Highway 81, that now parallels the Chisholm Trail route. These posts will cover my discoveries along the way, a bit of history about some of the present day towns, some current tourist attractions centered on the Trail’s history, and a few musings about the doings of earlier times on the Chisholm Trail.
Check in every week and come with me on a ride up the old Chisholm cattle trail.