Many beef trails converged in Texas and crossed into Indian Territory via Red
River Station. US 81 now approximates the route through Oklahoma.
Before the Civil War, Joseph McCoy, a merchant
from Illinois, had dealt with longhorn cattle that
had been driven up from Texas and into Missouri
on the Shawnee (or Texas) Trail. These cows, he
knew, still roamed untended in the southern
reaches of Texas. With long, curved horns and
hardier than most bovine, the longhorns
numbered in the millions, a product of years of
free range. Because they remained wild, they were
by nature tough and enduring. The added bonus
was that these cattle were cheap and - in some
instances - free for the taking.
Take your own road trip with
the book, Traveling History up
the Cattle Trails
McCoy believed that the old Shawnee Trail was no longer predictable, as new
farmers had settled around the old trail, and they didn't like cows trampling on their
crops or destroying their own herds with Texas Fever, a disease carried by a tick that
resided on longhorn cattle but did not affect them. Missouri farmers physically
attacked cattle drivers as they despised any northern economic activity, which they
believed cattle driving to be. McCoy set out to discover a new cattle driving route. As
Tim Hersey surveyed a new trail, McCoy convinced the Hannibal- St. Joseph railroad
to set up a terminus at a stockade in a little town on the Kansas prairie named
Abilene. Then, McCoy traveled to Texas to persuade ranchers to herd their cattle and
drive them to Abilene, Kansas, where they could sell the cows for 10x the amount of
what they'd receive in Texas. From Abilene, the cattle would be transported by rail to
stations back east, then on to Northern markets. McCoy must have been an excellent
salesman, since the ranchers accepted the risky scheme on faith alone. They had no
idea if Abilene really existed or if cattle pens really had been built to accommodate
the herds. But what did they have to lose? The ranchers signed on.

Although the western parts of the Indian Territory were still primarily in Plains
Indians hands, the eastern portion had been settled by the "Five Civilized Tribes"
(Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole) in the 1820s - 1840s. These
immigrant Native Americans created a trail system for settlers to come after them.
Most notable of these were Black Beaver of the Delawares and Jesse B. Chisholm, a
Cherokee- Scotsman. Black Beaver was a well known guide, forging the California
Trail with Randolph B. Marcy and living to see it become one of the main western
immigration routes. A prosperous farmer, he gave up all of his lands to the
Confederacy to guide Union soldiers through Oklahoma to Leavensworth, Kansas.
The route that he took comprised the northern edge of what would become the
Chisholm Trail. Jesse Chisholm was a store owner, trader (which included slaves as
well as livestock) and translator. He could speak several Indian languages, a talent
that made him a peace negotiator and a sought-after guide. To bring his wares to
market, bring his trade stuffs to the store his wife maintained, and to assist in
westward settlement that would bring in customers, Chisholm laid out several trails,
especially one that opened up southwestern Indian Territory to Indian tribes and
trade. This would be called the Chisholm Trail.

Chisholm's Trail, which at first had accommodated only wagon trains, pioneers, and
Indian tribes, became a cattle road under the wiles of Joseph McCoy. While the trail
never extended into Texas, Texas ranchers carved a network of smaller trails across
Texas to drive the cattle to Fort Worth. The cattle would then be driven to the
crossing at Red River Station. After crossing the river, the drive would go in almost a
straight path through Chickasaw, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Cherokee lands into
Kansas, where they'd meet the trains bound for northern and eastern markets in
Abilene.

The Chisholm Trail did not last long. When the railroad pushed further west, other
trails opened up to meet stations in less populated areas. But barbed wire really
killed the trails. When first introduced, it served to keep cattle from grazing in
cultivated fields. Then ranchers began using it to separate the less desirous
longhorn - with its tough, stringy meat - from the fattier, more tender mixed breeds.
Northerners quickly developed a taste for the softer meat, which pushed the
longhorn off the market. The cattle drives trickled to a halt.

The Chisholm Trail, and those trails that came before and after it, did much more
than just bring surplus beef to market. Not only did they help Texas and Indian
Territory economically, but they also helped forge western expansion. Prior to the
Chisholm Trail, many eastern Americans believed that the West was too wild to settle
properly, with bands of Plains Indians lurking everywhere and lands too scrappy to
cultivate. The Chisholm Trail proved that people could live well on the Plains. It also
meant the end of a way of life for the western Indians. Now, we can only share their
history in museums, ghost towns, and on historical markers.
Trail Driver
Monument
outside of
Caldwell,
Kansas.
The Chisholm Trail
became a tourist
attraction in the 1920s
and today, it's one of
Oklahoma's main
attractions. The trail is
commemorated in many
spots, including at
Addington, where
"Lookout Hill" is marked
with an obelisk.
Jesse Chisholm,
translator, trader, slave
owner, Scots-

Cherokee, and trail
blazer
(Oklahoma
Historical Society).
"Chisholm's cattle
trail" and the
western route as
the "Abilene cattle
trail." (Library of
Congress).
Cowboys ready
themselves to
drive up the
trail at Red
River Station,
Texas
(University of
Texas at
Arlington).
Marker on the original
Chisholm Trail. These
heritage markers,
situated on many
sites along the trail,
were the brain child
of Bob Klemme of
Enid, Oklahoma.
Visit Monument Hill
with me!
The Chisholm Trail
Shawnee         Chisholm         Western   
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