Fightin’ the Chisholm Trail to move cattle

Boys, keep a sharp eye! We are trailing slap dab through the middle of Injun country.

The Texas cattle drives began after the Civil War, when retuning soldiers found homes sometimes destroyed and family no longer there. 

Over the years, cattle had multiplied and virtually returned to the wild. These animals were available to anyone willing to accept the challenge of capturing and subduing the beasts. However, these “beasts” were plentiful and as a result not at all valuable. When the railroads pushed toward the west and visionaries began to speculate that fortunes were waiting to be made, these beasts worth only about three dollars a head were suddenly a more valuable commodity. They would bring as much as $40 a head at the Kansas stockyards. 

Cattle were rounded up and branded with a road brand as ranchers and cowboys started them north. There were as many trails in Texas as there were trail bosses to exploit them. They headed north toward a known crossing on the Red River that had been used for decades by traders, nomadic Indian tribes, as well as buffalo herds. 

Many of these Texas trails had no names, though some claimed names such as the Pawnee Trail, the Texas Trail, the Western Trail, and the Chisholm Trail. But the truth is they were only popular trails that led to certain points north. In fact, Jessie Chisholm had developed a trade route from Abilene, Kansas to the Texas border at Red River Station. The Plains Indians controlled the western part of Indian Territory while the eastern portion was largely under the control of the “five civilized tribes” made up of Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. These tribes developed a trail system that would guide settlers into these lands. Jesse B. Chisholm was part Scotsman and part Cherokee. 

Among other trails, he founded the trail through Kansas and Indian Territory to a point on the Red River that was a natural crossing for buffalo and early Indian Tribes. Here he would establish a trading post that eventually became an important stop for Texas cattle drives that sought to replenish their supplies. This trail became known as the Chisholm Trail and would see millions of cattle pass through on their way to northern Kansas railheads where they would be loaded on trains that would transport them to northern meat packing plants to satisfy the demand for beef by people that populated the northern and eastern United states. The Chisholm Trail begins once you have crossed the Red River, and in the late 1800’s, that meant that you were in Indian Territory. 

Many of the Texas herds would cross the Red and know that from time to time they would be approached by tribal representatives that would demand that a toll be paid for crossing their lands. Often the trail boss would barter a few head of their herd for passage across these lands. And there were times when the tribes would ask for a monetary amount, usually ten cents per head, though the so-called civilized tribes often demanded as much as seventy-five cents per head. Negotiations were commonplace as Texas herds made their way across the Territories on their way to the railhead in Kansas. 

Indian Territory had the same hazards that the drovers had encountered since they gathered the herd and headed for the Kansas railhead at Abilene or other destinations as the railroad progressed westward. When a herd was at last out of Indian Territory, things did not get better because Kansas was home to guerilla fighters such as Charles R. Jennison’s redlegs and jayhawkers!

My Ol’ daddy would say, “Them ol’ boys crawled out of the fryin’ pan right into the fire!”


Fightin’ the Chisholm Trail (Part three)

 At Red River Station, the Red made a bend,

a good place to cross over,

for this mob of horses, cattle, an’ men.

A blessin’ for the drover.


Jessie Chisholm built Red River Station

On the banks of the Red

Next, we’ll have to cross the Indian Nation

Before we reach the railhead


At Chisholm’s Tradin’ Post we restock our supplies,

then head up the Chisholm Trail.

Soon, clouds build up in northwestern skies,

weather so far has been swell


You might know, that dern storm pushed in ‘bout mid-night,

an’ shore did blow a gale!

We soothed that herd, tho it was shore a fight.

Coozie had took off Blue’s bell.


We started those critters earlier that morn,

they were still millin’ around,

so we put the bell back on ol’ Blue’s horn,

an’ headed out north bound.


 Indian Nation means we’ll pay a toll,

‘bout mid mornin’ they come in.

We cut out six, skinny as a beanpole.

they took ‘em, tho they was thin.


This give us a few days to move the herd,

but we stayed on the alert.

In the Territory, trouble always stirred,

an’ could be thicker than dirt.


At ten mile a day, we’d done purty good.

The Chisholm Trail can be tough.

Sometimes the herd strung out more than it should,

tho we pushed ‘em sorta rough.

© Ol’ Jim Cathey


God bless each of you and God Bless America!




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