The noun “Muse” comes from Greek and Roman mythology and represents any one of the nine goddesses who were daughters of Zeus. The goddesses inspired music, poetry, drama, and similar artistic efforts. In the literary sense, a muse is a verb, often personified, and meaning to reflect or ponder upon something.
Every writer’s Muse is believed to inspire creativity whenever she chooses to appear.
My Muse is a woman who I have nicknamed Gus. This was the name of a mentor from my distant past. We both worked in a tangled work environment marred by paranoia and distrust. Gus often gave me, his much younger and less experienced supervisor, timely and sage advice. In return, I kept him around in a feminine persona as my Muse.
Today, “Gus” is a companion on my twisted journey as a writer. Unfortunately, she usually is silent when I need her, and distracts me when my writing is comfortably sinking into a cesspool of boredom. Like now, for instance.
Gus (sighing to catch my attention),
“Hey, you, artful scribe!” (Gus can be a bit snotty at times)
Me: “uh, huh, oh it’s you.”
Gus: “You were expecting who? Sandra Bullock? Jennifer Lopez?
(I told you she could be snotty didn’t I?)
Me: “Took you long enough to show up. You planning to sleep through all these Chisholm Trail posts?”
Gus: “Wouldn’t have been that hard the way you were writing.”
Me: “Oh, really? And what are your brilliant thoughts, Old Priestess?”
(No reason she shouldn’t get a taste of her own medicine).
Gus: “Feeling a little passive aggressive today are we? I was just thinking it would be about time to write something about the cows.”
Me: “The what?”
Gus: “The Longhorns, genius! Let’s give people a peek at the cattle. How did the cowboys come across the critters in the first place?
Me: Cows are cows aren’t they?”
Gus: (ignoring me) Were Longhorns good guy cows—err, steers, or bad cows? I mean, the Longhorns are kind of basic to the story, don’t you think? Not many cowboys were driving Llamas to market back in the 1800s. Just saying. Write in some Longhorn flavor here Mr. Blogger. Get some sizzle in your steak—sorry, that just slipped out.”
Me: “Hmm, not bad, I suppose I could write about their …
I ride on to Waurika, a town named from the Comanche words for “worm eater.” There is little traffic on the two- lane highway that passes through low rolling hills. The land appears suitable for both grazing and farming.
Occasionally, I see small herds of a dozen or more grazing cattle. These cattle are not Longhorns. Most look to be Black Angus or Hereford breeds, though I am no cattle expert. Once, I spot a head stuck through a barb-wire fence to eat the greener (?) grass on the roadside. Or, maybe the beast doesn’t like eating off the same tableland (pun intended) as other cows?
I want to stop at the Chisholm Trail Historical Museum in Waurika. The Museum is clearly marked on my 2015 road atlas, and I had learned, from its online page, that the Museum was only open for three days per week, beginning on Thursdays. No problem. I cleverly had planned my trip to arrive today. It is Thursday.
On the twenty-mile ride to Waurika, I pass several small towns that were founded long after the heyday of Chisholm Trail cattle drives. Still, each town has a bit of interesting history outlined in Wikipedia sketches. I have paraphrased those here in condensed form:
Terral, OK was founded in 1892, after the great cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail had dwindled away, cut off by settler (and barbed wire) expansion into Kansas and Oklahoma. Railroad extensions to the west and south had also brought an end to Wichita and Abilene as prime destinations for the cattle drives. Closer loading points existed for onward shipment of cattle to eastern cities.
Today, Terral is a small agricultural center, with farms producing melons and cotton as well as for raising cattle and hogs. The animals are sold in Fort Worth—carried by trucks “down” (that is, south rather than north) on what was formerly the Chisholm Trail!
Ryan, OK was named for Stephen W. Ryan. The rancher migrated from Arkansas and settled in the Ryan area in 1875. When a railroad finally reached the area and constructed a station on his land, Ryan began laying out the town that would bear his name. Still, Ryan himself had already located there by the middle period of Chisholm Trail drives, and must have witnessed many herds crossing the local terrain.
At Waurika, OK. I find an intersection with Highway 70 crossing east and west. A gas-up and mini-mart are located on one corner and the local hospital on another. There is also a museum marker directing me east. Making the turn, I search for the next sign to no avail. After a mile or two, I figure I’ve somehow wandered off the trail. So, I reverse course, cross the intersection with Highway 81, and drive down a hill to find the real business district—such as it is—and to grab some breakfast grub.
I ask the cafe waitress about the Trail Museum location but she seems to think it was a building that had burned down awhile back. Another helper chips in, says “no” and directs me back to a building she claims is behind the brick hospital. Sure enough, there, in a matching building, I discover where the museum…used to be. A sign is still out front but I had missed it earlier because it was not perpendicular to the road. A “Closed” sign is posted on the door, though I am certain it is a Thursday. No hours are posted. I peer through several windows at vacant rooms and cleared floors. I wonder how the locals would not know the building location or that it was now a vacant building. I wonder why the Internet page is still up. I have no answers—yet—so I move on up the Trail toward Duncan, again passing through two smaller towns:
Addington, OK is six miles farther up the trail and is the nearest town to the Monument Rocks site. This patch of high ground, located east of Addington, was visible to cattle drovers as they moved north, and it still provides a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. Many of the cowboys on trail drives carved their names on rocks scattered on this mound.
Not seeing much in the way of rock autographs, I assumed that most had faded or the rocks had been removed over the years. A tall marker has been erected here which is inscribed with historical information.
A northbound traveler should note that after passing the Chisholm Trail wall art in Addington, just continue through town to the northern edge of houses. Just as you drop over a small hill, Monument Road will be on your immediate right. The road is easy to miss (I speak from experience here because I had to return fourteen miles from Duncan to see the site). The trail marker, itself, is on the opposite side of the highway, facing southbound traffic. The road is also now designated by a county road number. Travel east on this well-maintained gravel road a mile or two. The Monument will soon be visible.
Comanche, OK was not incorporated until 1898, well after the cattle drives had ended or switched to more western routes. It is located on land originally designated as Indian Territory in 1855. Comanche Indians roamed the area prior to white settler arrivals.
The Comanche often harassed Texas cattlemen by demanding a steer or two as tax payments for crossing their designated land. At other times, the Indians simply would stampede the cattle or the drivers’ spare horses at night, capturing a few in the ensuing chaos. Then, a horse or two might be returned the following day as “captured,” with the Indians requesting a reward for the animals they returned.
The Chisholm Trail was located east of the current town site. Comanche became home for many later rodeo performers, oil workers, artists, and educators to give the town its diverse culture.
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.