The Beginning of the Chisholm Trail
By the end of the Civil War, Union and Confederate forces had consumed most of the beef east of the Mississippi. Up until then, pork had been the leading meat source in ordinary diets and now, millions of people had developed a taste for beef. As a result, when it was available, a steer would go for as much as $50 a head back east.
During the Civil War, untended herds of wild longhorns multiplied by the millions. Texas ranchers had become “cattle-poor.” Though thousands of cattle roamed the ranches, ranchers considered themselves lucky if they could get $3 a head. The shortage of beef in the East, together with an increasing taste for it, created a demand that promised great profits if the cattle-poor ranchers could get their herds to the eastern cattle markets.
With the end of the Civil War, cattlemen needed a new route to get their cattle to market.
Joseph McCoy, an enterprising promoter, was the first to see promise in a shorter, more direct route through Indian Territory to the new railheads slowly moving west through Kansas Territory. Working a deal with the Railroad, McCoy built cattle pens and a new hotel at the railhead in Abilene, Kansas, then hired surveyors to mark a new route back south to Texas. They began with a route almost due south to Wichita, then followed Jesse Chisholm’s trade road 220 miles to his trading post on the north Canadian River.
From Jesse’s trading post, they headed almost due south to Texas to the closest practical Red River crossing along the way, later known as Red River Station. With a safe, easy route from Texas across Indian Territory to Abilene, now marked, McCoy distributed handbills throughout southern Texas inviting cattlemen to bring their herds to Abilene.
Thus, the legendary Chisholm Trail was born and in years to come a love affair with the old west and the American Cowboy would spread across our country and around the world that continues today.
Visit ChisholmTrail150.org for details on the Trail and the 150th Celebration taking place in 2017.