When the railroads moved west to the Great Plains, the “Cattle Boom”
began. Southern Texas became a major ranching area with the raising of longhorn
cattle from Mexico. Cattle was branded by the rawhides who guarded them on
horseback on the ranges.
Before the Civil War, small herds of Texas cattle were driven by the
cowboys to New Orleans, some as far west as California, and some to the north
over the Shawnee Trail. This trail passed through Dallas and near the Indian
Territory, ending in Sedalia, Missouri. In 1866, the Shawnee Trail presented
some major problems for the cattle drivers Farmers along the route did not like
their fields being trampled. They also objected to the spread of tick fever.
Longhorns carried the ticks but were immune to the fever. A few farmers were so
angry, they armed themselves with shotguns to convince the cattle ranchers to
find another trail north.
There was a large increase icattle by the end of the Civil War. Over
1,000,000 cattle roamed the open range. At this time, people in the north
had money to buy beef and cattle which was in great demand. A cow that cost 4
to5 dollars a head in Texas was going for 40 to 50 dollars a head in the east.
Ranchers hired cowboys for the cattle drives north, realizing the great
opportunity for a large profit if they could reach the railroads in Abilene,
Joseph McCoy, a stock dealer from Springfield, Illinois, decided a new
trail was necessary west of the farms. In 1867, he chose a route that would
reach Abilene and the railroads with the least amount of problems. This route
was to become well-known as the Chisholm Trail.
Jesse Chisholm was a half-breed, a Scotch Cherokee Indian trader, who in
1866 drove a wagon through the Indian territory, known now as Oklahoma, to the
Wichita, Kansas, where he had a trading post. Cattlemen use the same trail in
the years to come, following Chisholm’s wagon ruts to Abilene, Kansas, and the
railroads. The trail began below San Antonio, Texas, and stretched north for
about 1,000 miles. The main course then passed through Austin, Fort Worth, The
Indian Territory, and Wichita to Abilene. Side trails fed into the Chisholm
Trail. The cattle fed on grass along the trail.
Cattlemen moved about 1,500,000 cattle over the trail during a three
year span. The biggest year was in 1871, when 5,000 cowboys drove over 700,000
head of cattle along the trail from Texas to Abilene. The Chisholm Trail was
the most popular route because of the good terrain. There were no hills or
woods to impede to cowboys’ progress, nor where there towns or farmers along the
The cattle trail route moved westward as the railroads across the plains
moved west, and settlers soon followed. Ellsworth and Newton, Kansas, on the
Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad became the end of the trail for
cattle drives between 1872 and 1875. Here were the chief cattle markets for
several years. There “cowtowns,” as they were called, consisted of gambling
halls, saloons and brothels. It was a good place for cowboys to spend there pay
at the end of a long drive.
In time the railroad moved even further west. Farmers homesteaded the
land and put up fences, barring cattle herds. The Chisholm Trail soon ceased to
be used by 1890, but will be remembered in western stories and songs. This
trail was very important to Texas. It helped the state recover from the economic
blows of the Civil War. It also helped stock new ranches to the north and it
met the nations demand for beef. It is responsible in part for the rise of
Chicago and Kansas as packing centers. It also led to the expansion of western
railroads and the development of refrigerator cars.
Although Jesse Chisholm’s role in the “Cattle Boom” is very
insignificant, the trail named for him played a major role in American History.