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Chisholm Trail History

Jesse Chisholm and Joseph McCoy

Scot-Cherokee trader Jesse Chisholm first marked the famous Chisholm Trail in 1864 for his wagons. It started at the confluence of the Little and Big Arkansas Rivers and went to Jesse Chisholm's trading post, southwest of present day Oklahoma City.

Jesse Chisholm used the trail to trade with the U.S. Army and Native American tribes (Indians) from his trading post at the present site of the Twin Lakes Shopping Center in Wichita to his southern trading post in Indian Territories. The Wichita Indians used the Chisholm Trail when they moved from their native territory to the mouth of the Little Arkansas and also when they returned in 1868.

Joseph G. McCoy, a cattle buyer from Illinois, was instrumental in extending the Chisholm Trail from present day Wichita to Abilene, Kansas, to promote and establish cattle market for thousands of longhorn cattle from Texas. In 1867, McCoy built stockyards that he advertised throughout Texas. Approximately 35,000 cattle followed the Chisholm Trail during the first season to Abilene in 1867. Through Joseph McCoy's promotional and entrepreneurial efforts Abilene became a prosperous and famous cattletown from 1867 to 1870.

In the five years from 1867 to 1872, more than three million head of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene.

By 1870 thousands of Texas longhorn cattle were being driven over the Chisholm Trail to the Union Pacific (later the Kansas Pacific) Railroad shipping center at Abilene. By 1871 as many as 5,000 cowboys were often paid off during a single day. Abilene became known as a rough town in the Old West.

The Chisholm Trail in Kansas generally follows a true north route through or near the following communities in Central Kansas: Caldwell, Clearwater, Wichita, Newton, Goessel, Lehigh and Abilene.

As local interest waned in the cattle business in Abilene in the early 1870s, Ellsworth and other points along the Kansas Pacific Railroad established a market for the Texas cattle business. The cattle business on the Chisholm Trail moved south to Newton, Kansas in 1871 as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built to that point on the Chisholm Trail. Newton became one of the most notorious and violent towns from the cattle business in its one-year reign as a prominent cattle town.

The City of Wichita approved in 1871 the issuance of a $200,000 bond to build a railbranch from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to acquire the cattle business. With the completion of this branch in 1872, Wichita became the new terminus for the cattle business on the Chisholm Trail. The cattle business thrived in Wichita with the saying Anything Goes from 1872 - 1876.

In 1880, the cattle business moved further south along the trail to Caldwell, Kansas as it competed with Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital which promoted the Western Trail (ie., western branch of the Chisholm Trail -- also called the Texas Trail) for the Texas cattle. Dodge City held the cattle trade for 10-years, the longest of any cattletown. Although a 1885 Kansas quarantine law tried to stop the Texas cattle trade, only the well-known January 1886 blizzard, which killed all the cattle in southwest Kansas, would end it.

See also: Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest, McCoy's Historic Sketches, 1874, and also: The Chisholm Trail by John Rossel

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