Today in Texas History – March 4

From the Annals of the Trail Drivers –  In 1868, Jesse Chisholm died from food poisoning in Oklahoma.   Chisholm was not a cattleman.  He was a frontier trader.  But he did blaze the famous trail that bears his name.  He was born in Tennessee to a Anglo father and Cherokee mother.  He was an early pioneers into the Arkansas Territory. In his 20s, he joined a community of Cherokee Indians in northwestern Arkansas and took up trading.   trader. His familiarity with both Anglo and Native American culture and language (he could reportedly speak 14 different Indian dialects) helped him build a thriving trade with the Osage, Wichita, Kiowa, and Commanche.

Chisholm’s trading expeditions gave him a superior knowledge of southwestern geography. He led several important expeditions into the Southwest during the 1830s and 1840s, and during the Civil War opened a trading post near Wichita, Kansas.  After the war, he blazed a first trading routefrom Wichita to the Red River in North Texas and then extended the route to the Gulf of Mexico.  The route became known as the Chisholm Trail.

The trail was a straight wagon road with easy river crossings and relatively easy grades.   The trail was designed for the lumbering heavy freight wagons used for commerce.  By 1867, the first cattle drivers began using the trail to move beef on the hoof to the railroads in Kansas. During the next five years, millions of cattle trampled down the trail.  The large numbers of cattle cut a swath 200 to 400 yards wide.  The heavy use and erosion cut the trail down below the level of the plains it crossed. Traces of the trail may still be seen to this day.

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