Thursday, May 24, 2012

Whoa! Turns Out That Jesse Chisholm Really Blazed A Trail to Nowhere.. And It Ended Up in South Texas..



How did Jesse Chisholm's name get on the great cattle trail from south Texas to Abilene, Kansas? Contrary to trail romanticists and current public opinion, the little wagon road from Wichita Kansas to the Wichita Reservation Agency store near today's town of Anadarko never really contributed a majority of the trail mileage in Kansas and Oklahoma.

A little math along with a look at a special map tells us so. And after that, it might be interesting and revealing to take a long view of the long Trail.


Over the last year or more I have been turning over the old pages of Chisholm Trail history and lore that I had neglected since about 2007, which was the last update of the The Great Texas Cattle Trails map. Since that time, primarily due to the information explosion on the Internet, more sources have come to light and several history groups have been taking a closer and more critical look at the subject. The result has been greater clarity and more reliable sources.

Chisholm Trail Log: To give a solid background, here is an 1880 map of the period with some trail mileage overlaid.  Extended notes from the map Legend: (All mileage is  approximate):
  • Abilene KS. to Wichita, KS.: 93 miles. This route was laid out and marked in 1867 by Joseph McCoy's surveyors.  No part of this trail used Jesse Chisholm's 1864 wagon road which ended at Wichita. 
  • Jesse Chisholm's 1864 wagon road from Wichita KS. to Caldwell KS:  62 miles. Only about 1/3 of the Kansas trail to Abilene used Jesse Chisholm's wagon road. 
  • Jesse Chisholm's 1864 wagon road from Caldwell KS. to the Wichita Agency (Anadarko), OK.: 160 Miles. About 60% of the 275 (160+115) miles of the Abilene cattle trail theoretically used Jesse Chisholm's wagon trail. 
  • The Wichita Agency (Anadarko) to Red River Station, TX.:  115 miles.  Probably was never heavily used.
  • El Reno, OK to Red River Station, TX: 125 miles. Did not use Jesse Chisholm's 1864 wagon road. Part of the "official" Oklahoma Chisholm Trail.
  • Red River Station, TX. To Fort Worth, TX: 95 miles.  The distance from Red River Station to Fort Worth was just about the same as the distance from Wichita to Abilene.

1880 Colton Map With Cattle Trails Overlaid ~Electric Books Collection

  • The "Official" Oklahoma Chisholm Trail Map: The highly detailed 1933-1936 "Chisholm Trail" map created from an Oklahoma Highway survey and with the aid of the Oklahoma Historical Society shows that the "official" Chisholm Trail path was mostly to the east of current US-81 from Red River Station north and would not have intersected Jesse Chisholm's wagon road until it reached the Canadian River at about Fort Reno. Using this "official" route, the last 40 miles of the Jesse Chisholm wagon road from Fort Reno to the Wichita Agency would not have been a part of the main Chisholm Trail.


1933-36 Official Oklahoma Historical Society Chisholm Trail Map
  • The State of Oklahoma has produced the best and most believable research on both the Chisholm and Western Trails. This work began very early and over the years has produced an almost unanimous agreement with the results. The heritage of the Chisholm Trail in Oklahoma is very strong.


    Here is some more clarification of the Trail:
    • Jesse Chisholm's Trail ended at Abilene, Kansas.  This is not true. His road ended at the Arkansas River where Wichita now is. Although Chisholm may have driven a few cows from Wichita to a trading post in Fort Leavenworth, it was Joseph McCoy who hired civil engineer T. F. Hershey to survey and mark a direct path to Wichita from Abilene.
    • Jesse Chisholm's Trail started on the north side of the Red River. This is not true. The closest that Jesse Chisholm's old wagon road came to Texas was at the Washita River crossing where the Wichita Reservation Agency was located.  The first recorded drive  went from the Texas line went up to the North Fork of the Canadian River before hooking up with Chisholm's trail several miles north and east of the Wichita Agency. 
    • Jesse Chisholm's Trail never was in Oklahoma or Indian Territory. This is not true. However, the Trail Log and maps reveal that only about 120 Miles of the 275+ mile Chisholm Trail in Oklahoma had anything at all to do with Jesse Chisholm's wagon road. The other 155+ miles of the Trail was on newly broken land or previous unnamed trails that already existed.
    • Jesse Chisholm's Trail never existed in Kansas. This is not true. However, there are only about 60 miles (Caldwell to Wichita)  of the 150+ mile Trail to Abilene in Kansas.  The 95+ miles of Trail from Abilene to Wichita was surveyed and marked by Joseph McCoy. 
    • Jesse Chisholm used his 1864 wagon road for Texas trail drives.  This is not true. Although Chisholm, his sometime partner J.R. Mead and others periodically did move cattle from Wichita to the North Fork of the Canadian and back for trading purposes.
    A bridge on the Trail. Taking what we now know, it is pretty clear that part of Jesse Chisholm's wagon road was just a bridge between two other sections of what now is known as the Chisholm Trail. This takes nothing away from Chisholm himself or the wagon road.  He was one of the great pioneer figures of the west and his trail from Wichita to the trading posts in Indian Territory was very important in its time. 


    Why "The Chisholm Trail"?  How did the long cattle trail from the the Red River to Abilene become almost universally known as "The Chisholm Trail", when less than half of Jesse Chisholm's wagon road was actually a part of the Chisholm Trail itself?  Joseph McCoy didn't name it. In fact, if McCoy had been more of promoter, he probably would have named it after himself and it would have been called the "McCoy Trail" without question.  Other names like "The Abilene Trail" and the "Texas Trail" were used both as common terms and trail titles, but just didn't stick or became attached to later trails.

    The answer is simple and uncomplicated: Jesse Chisholm's wagon road was the only "named" trail in existence when the drives started from Texas. The rest were mostly generic with the name of the departure point or the destination.  As the Trail developed, the use of Chisholm name became a simple and recognizable term for the whole trail. It became a generic "brand" that was easily recognizable and became the most commonly used name.

    The Old Trail Drivers Agree: Interestingly enough, in 1931 at the conclusion of the Old Trail Drivers Association meeting, George Saunders who had been up the Trail more than a half-dozen times, was quoted in a newspaper that "The Chisholm trail was marked from Abilene Kansas to Red River Station and no further". This obviously  includes the extensions on the north and south of the old wagon road.  But for some reason Saunders was quite clear that the Trail went no further south.

    SA Express-10-16-1931~George Saunders~Pres Old Trail Drivers Assoc

    Note: The historical record is explicit that Joseph McCoy really only "marked" the new trail from Abilene to Wichita and simply sent agents out to the most popular Red River crossing points and further down into south Texas. Saunders also said in the same article that "McCoy hired Chisholm to lay out the route". McCoy does not mention Chisholm at all in his book and there seems very little basis to the suggestion that McCoy & Chisholm had a business arrangement in the short time before Chisholm's death in 1868.


    * Not an issue: The historical and public community involved with the Chisholm Trail in Kansas and Oklahoma today is almost entirely unconcerned with the idea that large parts of what is known as "The Chisholm Trail"  in both states were not really ever a part of Jesse Chisholm's original wagon road.  These two Trail states have avoided controversy and have expended their energies on creating cattle trail documentation that far exceeds that of Texas. They have been polishing their heritage..


    No Chisholm Trail in Texas! South of the Red River, there is a pocket of historical quicksand located mostly between San Antonio and Fort Worth. For almost 100 years there have been contradictory pronouncements from several sources that have managed to tarnish the deep heritage of the cattle trail from south Texas to Abilene, Kansas. Several theories are offered as proof. They contradict each other, but no matter:

    "Nothing But Feeder Trails To the Red River": This is a brush-fire issue that is generally used to take the focus off the weakness of the "Not in Texas" position. It also lingers in some Oklahoma references. The idea might seem to have some credibility until you consider that the three earliest maps (1872-1873-1875) used exactly the same line width and colors for both feeder trails and the main stem from San Antonio through Fort Worth. This of course gives the impression that each trail carried the same number of cattle per year. Which is dead wrong. These maps give us absolutely no information about the sheer number of cattle that passed through the main stem towns compared to the feeder trail traffic. Sadly, this thoughtless cartography was copied onto later maps that spread the confusion. 


    1875 Kansas & Pacific RR Trails Map ~ Feeder Trails in Texas


    Cattle Count: As an example, in 1868 Fort Worth estimated 75,000 head and in 1871 360,00 head passing through with some estimates doubling that. In comparison, did Weatherford, which was on a northern feeder trail connecting to Red River Station ever pass even a fraction of this number in a year? Or how many cattle crossed the Brazos between Fort Graham and Cleburne compared to any of the feeder trails to the west? There don't seem to be any statistics available for the feeder trails, but it seems reasonable to estimate that most of them passed a few herds of 1000-2000 head once or twice a year or maybe a little more. And that most of those herds joined the main trail stem at some point along the way as the maps show. 


    May 22, 1875-Dallas Weekly Herald


    Twenty five herds on the main stem road between San Marcos and Fort Worth does not sound like that route  was a "minor" feeder trail. A later newspaper report in August of 1875 says the the total Texas cattle driven for the season was around 166,000 head. Even allowing for overly enthusiastic reporting by local newspapers, it is easy to see that the trail from San Antonio to Fort Worth probably accepted 2/3 of the total Texas cattle traffic for 1875, which was the last before the railroad came to Fort Worth and also a year that saw the drift toward the new Western Trail continue. 

    Out West: The later Western or Dodge City Trail also began in south Texas just about where the Chisholm Trail began, building its main stem up through Fort Griffin and Doan's Crossing with extensive feeder trails as well. History does not seem to record any strident outbursts claiming that the real Western Trail was only in Oklahoma and Kansas and that there were only unnamed feeder trails in Texas. 

    Flip-flop:  If the feeder trail theory was valid, then why do the many later maps show names like the  Abilene, McCoy, Texas, Northern, or Eastern Trail  running up the main stem to Red River Station from South Texas?  One cancels the other. You can't have both. 

    "Jesse Chisholm's Trail never was in Texas": Very true. The old wagon road never came close, just like it never came close to the Red River or Abilene. This is the major issue that has always clouded the Texas heritage to the Chisholm Trail. It is worth some serious consideration because there are a fairly large number of those who feel that this is important.

    The Trail extensions from Wichita to Abilene and from Red River Station to Fort Reno have been accepted by the states of Oklahoma and Kansas as part of the "Chisholm Trail" for over 80 years.  More important, George Saunders, the early and respected leader of the Texas based Old Trail Drivers Association also agreed that the Chisholm Trail ran from Red River Station To Abilene back in 1931.

    The reasons for the adamant refusal to include Texas as part of the Chisholm Trail may have been partly personal, partly a misunderstanding of the true development of the Trail or just sheer hard headed thinking. Whatever the reasons, they are all pretty irrelevant now.

    The Chisholm Trail IS a part of Texas History: Given all this background, what logic keeps the southern Chisholm Trail extension out of Texas?  The route from the North Canadian to south Texas along the main stem from Fort Worth south past San Antonio is one long logical extension of the original Trail.  Just as the route from Wichita to Abilene is the northern extension.

    The Chisholm Trail didn't have boundaries defined by either the Arkansas or Red rivers.


    Jesse Chisholm
    * Ralph P. Bieber's long, exhaustively sourced footnote at the beginning of Chapter 6 of Joseph McCoy's "Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of The West and Southwest" is one of the best and most reliable sources on the development and extension of the Chisholm Trail.. 

    1 comment:

    1. Glad to see you writing again. Good article.

      ReplyDelete