|End of the Trail marker in Abilene, Kansas
|Retracing the Trail
The Chisholm Trail can be retraced on US Highway 81. The original trail runs a mile or five west of the road, and large swaths of land, cut by
the hooves of the longhorn, can still be seen in several parts of Oklahoma. We'll start in Fort Worth, where the feeder trails merged to form
one big push into Indian Territory.
FORT WORTH: Fort Worth is truly a showplace for southwestern culture, and it still proudly holds onto its cow town reputation. The
Stockyards, north of downtown, holds daily cattle drives complete with official longhorns and cowboys. The Stockyards, however, are now a
remnant of a later past, built around the Armour and Swift processing plants. The holding pens, some converted into shops, are still in good
condition; the excursion train Tarantula takes tourists to Grapevine for a stroll; and a cool mueum is housed in the Exchange Building. The
area is pretty touristy, and many foreign visitors come to get an authentic feel for the Wild West. In downtown, make sure to visit Sundance
Square, with its grand mural of the Chisholm Trail.
DECATUR: A charming city where patron and rancher Waggoner left his indelible mark. The Baptist College building is now the Wise County
Heritage Museum. A very interesting Tourist Camp dating from the 1920s lies on Business 81 and is believed to have once housed Bonnie
ST.JO: This little town was once known as Head of Elm because the town is located where the Elm Fork of the Trinity River originates. St. Jo
sometimes served as a stop for the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach if the weather conditions were right. Several feeder trails crossed
Montague County in the area around St. Jo, and the Stonewall Saloon in downtown St. Jo, built in the 1870s, welcomed cowboys on the trail.
RED RIVER STATION: This is where the cattle crossed the Red River into Indian Territory. There used to be saloons and a blacksmith shop -
now there's nothing save for a historical marker. The crossing is located on private land, but is accessible from Red River Station Road off
of FM 2849. The river isn't visible from the site anymore, thanks to shifting sandbanks - but when it was there, thousands of cattle crossed
at one time, allowing a (fearless) cowboy to walk on the backs of the cattle and never get his feet wet.
SPANISH FORT: On FM 103, north of US 82. A few miles to the east from Red River Station, Spanish Fort, now a ghost town, was once a
bustling place where cowboys could rest up, buy supplies, and even have their boots mended by H.J. Justin.
FLEETWOOD: About 5 miles down Main Street in Terral. This town was established a few years after the first crossing, where a trading post
was set up. It was the first place of reference in Indian Territory before the long, isolated walk ahead. The old store has been replaced
by a newer structure, which is now abandoned.
RYAN: Check out the mural on a downtown building. East of the town's main intersection sits a quiet, roadside park, where cattle bedded
down near a stream.
WAURIKA: Right off US 81 and US 70 you'll find the Chisholm Trail Museum, an interpretive museum with some original artifacts. It's opened
only on weekends from 10 am- 4 pm, and is closed the first Sunday of the month and on any holiday that falls on a weekend. Call the
Chamber of Commerce at 580-228-2081 to find out more.
ADDINGTON: On Eva Road (north of downtown, turn east), Monument Hill beckons. As the largest hill for miles around, it served as a camp
site and look out for cowboys on the trail. The monument, carved from beautiful red granite, tells the history of the trail on the four sides of
its base. The grave of trail driver Tom Latimore (died 1944) lies in the southeast corner. Standing on this hill, overlooking the vast Plains on
all sides, one can truly visualize the immense undertaking of the Chisholm Trail.
DUNCAN: This city is very proud of its Chisholm Trail heritage. In April - May it hosts Chisholm Trail Days and Rodeo, and the Chisholm Trail
Heritage Center (1000 N 29th Street), a state-of-the-art interpretive center, is open daily. It is also home to the On the Chisholm Trail
Association and a world class statue by Paul Moore showing a cattle drive. Also visit Stephens County Museum on US 81. Downtown
commemorates several of its great citizens, including actor/ director Ron Howard (Opie!)
EL RENO: On US 81 and historic US 66, northwest of Oklahoma City. Visit the Canadian County Museum in the train depot. This is also close
to the site where Jesse Chisholm is buried. His grave is located near the northern county line by Greenfield and Geary (take I 40 west to US
270/281 north). His tombstone reads, "No one left his home cold or hungry." The Chamber of Commerce can tell you more. Call 405-262-1188.
KINGFISHER: This town is very proud of its Chisholm Trail heritage. The Chisholm Trail Museum is located directly on the trail and displays
many everyday cowboy artifacts. Visit the open-air museum, a tribute to homesteading, and also see the Seay Mansion, home of the 2nd
territorial governor. Call Chamber of Commerce at 405-375-4445.
ENID: Enid was voted one of the best cities in America to live. It definitely is one of Oklahoma's most history-minded towns. The Humphrey
Heritage Village depicts life during the land rush. In nearby Aline (US 60/412 west to OK 8/58 south) the only sod house left in the Southwest
is on display. The Cherokee Strip Museum focuses on the land rush.
CALDWELL: You'll see silhouettes of cowboys and longhorn as soon as you enter into Kansas - check them out as you read the historical
marker. This small town was called the "Border Queen" and was the first piece of American civilization that the cowboys encountered
in the early years. Later, Caldwell was a rail stop. The city hosts a Chisholm Trail Festival in early May.
WICHITA: Apart from Fort Worth, Wichita's the biggest city on the trail and has tons to offer for its visitors. The city has collected its
Chisholm Trail memories in the Old Cowtown Museum, an open air museum depicting life during the cattle drives.
ABILENE: Abilene is the "final destination" for the cows on the Chisholm Trail. There's a Chisholm Trail Festival and the Old Abilene Town
and Museum, complete with entertaining gun fights. Denison-born President Eisenhower and his family are buried on the grounds of his
house, which is open for tours.
I waded through tons of reading material to bring you the most accurate information possible about the Chisholm Trail. I found discrepancies
regarding the actual time span of the Chisholm Trail, the number of cattle that crossed the Red River (anywhere from 260,000 to one million
have been estimated), and the authentic towns on the route. Also, Texas claims to be part of the Chisholm Trail, but no trail was ever officially
designated as such by Joseph McCoy.
You'll notice that many of the original sites are now only ghost towns, and some don't even have enough artifacts left to be called ghost towns.
A lot of the trail is paved over, plowed over, planted with trees - but in certain spots the deep grooves left by the cattle are still visible, and
seeing them can give chills to a history nut. Here are the books that I've read and recommend:
The Chisholm Trail by Wayne Gard. This is the most authoritative book about the trail, with historical anecdotes and written in a very easy style.
Jesse Chisholm: Trail Blazer, Sam Houston's Trouble-Shooter Friend, Kin to the Cherokee by Ralph B. Cushman. This biography focuses on
Chisholm's career as a peacemaker between the Comanche and the US.
Storm & Stampede on the Chisholm Trail by Hubert E. Collins; Warpath & Cattle Trail by Hubert E. Collins, William W. Savage, and James H.
Lazalier (newer edition of Storm & Stampede). This book is a collection of memories by the author about ranching days in Oklahoma.
Chisholm Trail and Other Routes by T.U. Taylor. Published in 1936, this is one of the earliest accounts of the trail.
The Chisholm Trail: High Road of the Cattle Kingdom by Don Worcester. A good essay published for the Fort Worth Historical Society.
A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail in 1886 by Mary Taylor Bunton. Memories of a Wild West pioneer, published in 1939.
|Retracing the Chisholm Trail
|Take your horse, cattle, chuckwagon, biscuits, etc. and read about history of the Chisholm Trail!
|Cowboys and a chuck wagon at the cattle crossing at Red River Station in Montague County, Texas, 1874. UT Arlington Special Collections.
|A beautiful granite marker identifies the trail along the original route, as surveyed by Tim Hersey and Joseph McCoy, in south central Kansas.
|The grave of trail driver Tom Lattimore can be found at Addington, Oklahoma on Monument Hill, just east of US 81.
|While the little feed store and gas station in Fleetwood is not a contemporary of the trail, it
sits right alongside the route. Houston Fleetwood built a general store here in the 1870s to
accommodate the cowboys. Fleetood is east of Terral (Jefferson County, Oklahoma). Just
follow Main Street east for a mile or two to find this ghost town gem.
|The trail in northern Oklahoma (then Indian Territory) utilized routes marked earlier by Jesse Chisholm and Black Beaver. For a long time, this
was empty country, until the Land Rush introduced American settlers and speculators in 1893. Round Pond (today's Pond Creek in Grant
County) practically mushroomed overnight, including the "furniture and undertaking" store (lots of furniture stores were also undertakers,
because they had the equipment to move caskets). By then, cattle moved via rail, not trail. (National Archives).
|This un-named cowboy had his commemorative photograph taken before setting off on the Chisholm/Abliene Trail at Red River Station. (UT
Arlington Special Collections).