October has been a busy month, with lots of changes. For the time being, my pencils are stashed. The paper is stored. And while I wait patiently for the majority of my belongings to catch up with me, I sit and examine my surroundings in Texas.
Cowboys and western history have always inspired my drawings, and living in North Dallas, TX offers me plenty of opportunities to satisfy my curiosity. One of the more interesting historical facts that spark my artistic imaginations relates to cattle drives. So naturally, when talking about cattle drives, one cannot avoid talking about the Chisholm Trail.
In its time, the Chisholm Trail was considered to be one of the wonders of the western world. Cattle herds as large as ten thousand were driven from Texas over the trail to Kansas. The trail acquired its name from trader Jesse Chisholm, a part-Cherokee who, just before the Civil War, built a trading post in what is now western Oklahoma City. Black Beaver, a Delaware Indian scout and friend of Chisholm, had led Union soldiers north into Kansas along part of the route after the federal government abandoned Indian Territory to the Confederates at the beginning of the Civil War.
In the Beginning
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.
By the end of the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces had consumed most of the beef east of the Mississippi. Up until then, pork had been the leading meat source in ordinary diets and now, millions of people had developed a taste for beef. As a result, when it was available, a steer would go for as much as $50 a head back east. During the Civil War, untended herds of wild longhorns multiplied by the millions. Texas ranchers had become “cattle-poor”. Though thousands of cattle roamed the ranches, ranchers considered themselves lucky if they could get $3 a head. The shortage of beef in the East, together with an increasing taste for it, created a demand that promised great profits if the cattle-poor ranchers could get their herds to the eastern cattle markets.
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.
The trail developed by Jesse Chisholm assisted cattle ranchers starting from either the Rio Grande or San Antonio, Texas. Through Oklahoma, the Chisholm Trail generally followed the route of US Highway 81 through present-day towns of El Reno, Duncan, and Enid. Eventually the herds of cattle would reach Kansas and went to the railhead of the Kansas Pacific Railway in Abilene, Kansas, where the cattle would be sold and shipped eastward.
Thus, the legendary Chisholm Trail was born and in years to come a love affair with the old west and the American Cowboy would spread across our country and around the world that continues today.