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Frequently asked questions
Is there a list of the cowboys who rode the Chisholm Trail?
Yes ... and no. If you're looking for a definitive list, it doesn't exist to my knowledge.
There is, however, a short list of cowboys -- specifically, those who in later years joined the Old Time Trail Drivers' Association, based in San Antonio, Texas. I do not have this membership list available to me. It can be found at the Texas Pioneer, Trail Driver and Texas Rangers' Museum, 3805 Broadway, San Antonio, TX 78209. The phone number, according to a brochure I have, is 210-822-9011.
A shorter list can be found in the index of The Trail Drivers of Texas, edited by J. Marvin Hunter and published by the University of Texas Press. It is among the books listed on my Recommended Reading page. Hunter put together memoirs written by members of the Trail Drivers' Association for inclusion in the book.
I'm doing a school project ... and I was hoping you could give me some information on the Chisholm Trail. (Where it started, where it ended, the years of usage and stuff like that.)
Didn't I include that information in this Web site? Hmm, maybe I'd better go back and make sure it's still there.
I couldn't find where the answer to this question was located: List some of the dangers cowboys and wranglers faced while out on the trail.
Stampede, lightning, drowning during river crossings, snakebite, scorpion sting, rustlers, bushwackers, jayhawkers, Indians (I know I should say Native Americans here, but at the time they were known as Indians and so that's what I'm sticking with), unhappy farmers, prairie dog holes, and so forth. Feel free to use your imagination.
Could someone ride the original trail today?
Not very easily. Most of it is on private land, bounded by barbed wire, or it's covered with houses, plowed fields or highways. Only a few stretches of trail remain pretty much as it was in the late 1800s, and in most cases the property owners would rather not have it altered by modern-day trespassers.
We would like to explore the Chisholm Trail. Can you enlighten me, in more detail, of the highways to take?
This I can do. Let's start in Texas. You have a choice of either Brownsville or McAllen, the two southernmost areas in Texas that cattle were brought together for drives north. At times, they were collected in Mexico and driven across the Rio Grande first, but for the purposes of this response we won't go that far south.
To follow the western route, take US281 north from McAllen to Interstate 37, then follow it to San Antonio. Change over to Interstate 35 and proceed north to Fort Worth. Those choosing the eastern route from Brownsville can take US77 north to Victoria, then follow US87 through Cuero and US 183 through Gonzales and Lockhart until you merge with Interstate 35 at Austin. Then continue north to Fort Worth.
Past Fort Worth, take the US81/US287 exit off Interstate 35, then turn north on US81 at Bowie. This will take you across the Red River and up into Oklahoma. US81 pretty much follows the trail all the way to Caldwell, Kansas. After this point, the trail tended to move depending on destination and Texas fever quarantine lines. You can continue to follow US 81 north to Wichita, or do as I did once and take some back roads (shown on good maps) through Clearwater on the way to Wichita, or go through Wellington to Interstate 35 again and follow it into Wichita.
From Wichita, take Interstate 135 north to Newton, then K-15 north to Abilene. Or, if you want to check out former cowtown Ellsworth, the quickest route is Interstate 135 (which is also US81) to Salina, then head west on Interstate 70, taking the K-156 exit and proceeding southwest to your destination.
Is there any movement under way to actually walk the Chisholm Trail, much as people walk the Pacific Coast Trail, etc.?
Not to my knowledge. The Great Cattle Drive of 1995 took cattle up back roads in a route that roughly paralleled the Chisholm Trail, ultimately ending up somewhere north of western Kansas. People have ridden horseback, also along back roads, and a wagon train (on automobile tires) periodically passes through Duncan along US81. Bicyclists also have followed the trail, using established roads.
Did the Chisholm Trail run through my community? Can you tell me its route?
I only know the specific location of the trail in a few locations, where the ruts are still visible, or previous trail enthusiasts have marked its path. In Texas, the feeder trails passed through so many communities, local residents would be better served asking local historians if they know the routes. In Kansas, a few markers note the trail's position, but you have to hunt them down. Some pretty good clues are streets or county roads named after the Chisholm Trail -- they may be more than just named after it.
My Texas almanac says the Red River is full of quicksand. How would cowboys or wagon trains know where to cross and where not?
Good question. I can only speculate that they depended on advice from others, prior experience, and pure blind luck. Of course, once someone else had mapped out a safe route, others tended to follow it.
Do you think riders today could cross that river? Is it shallow there?
I would not recommend any attempt at a river crossing today on horseback -- in fact, I would strongly urge against it in most cases. Quicksand still exists. Cowboys drowned in river crossings, and many of them were already experienced hands at it. Anyone who attempts it today should have trained rescue personnel standing by in case of accident.
As for how shallow it is -- that depends on the water flow. During drought, it might be real shallow, yet treacherous; during flood, stay out.
Do you lecture?
I have given short speeches to civic clubs in Duncan, but I am not on any lecture circuit. For the right price, I might consider something ...
Do you have any books for sale? Is this Web site available as a book?
At the moment, what you see is what you get. I have written numerous newspaper stories, but I have no book at this time. Any publishers who would like to make me an offer, however, would be most welcome.
I have been researching my family history and ...
No, I don't have any information about your great-great-grandfather who told tales of riding the trail. I wish I did. I'm sure he was a character. I can suggest, again, J. Marvin Hunter's The Trail Drivers of Texas, listed above, and the Trail Driver Museum in San Antonio as possible sources of information -- but only if g-g-grandfather might have been a member.
Do you have any other sites?
This is it, so far.
Could you please point me in the right direction for a cattle drive holiday? What I am looking for is as near to real cattle drive experience as possible.
The movie City Slickers was a pretty good story of a modern-day cattle drive, allowing would-be cowboys to get a taste of the real thing -- under proper supervision, of course. There are a number of ranches in Colorado and Wyoming that offer cattle drives, and their Web sites can be found through just about any good search engine, such as Yahoo! or Google.
Could you tell me what Chisholm means? I haven't been able to find the name anywhere but associated with the Chisholm Trail.
It's a family name from Clan Chisholm in Scotland. A descendant of Jesse Chisholm, bearing the very same name as his ancestor, has an excellent Web site at Jesse Chisholm Genealogy.
I have heard the Trail referred to as Chisolm, Chisum, and Chisam. Are there three, or are they "feeders" or referencing ranch owners who participated?
There are variations on spelling, of course. Then there are different trails, referring to different men. John Chisum (portrayed by John Wayne in the movie Chisum) drove cattle from Texas into New Mexico, and also drove them north into Colorado -- his trail is appropriately called the Chisum Trail. My Web site is primarily about the Chisholm Trail, used by Jesse Chisholm to haul freight, then followed by cattle herds as the best route through the Indian Nations. A Sampson Chisholm, it appears, had a short cattle trail in the Broken Arrow area of what is now Oklahoma.
Do you have information about the Panhandle area cattle drives?
Not at this time. I do know the XIT Ranch played a large role in the cattle industry in the vicinity of Hartley and Dalhart, north of Amarillo, and I've heard something about Tascosa having been a rip-snortin' cowtown at one time, but I have not done much research into it yet.
About the movie "Red River" ... at the scene where Dunstan (John Wayne) has gathered all the cattle he could lay his hands on in the Rio Grande Valley, a viewer expressed disbelief that those men actually herded that many cattle. What would have been the size of some of those early herds? How many cattlemen did it take to herd them?
A large herd would require about a dozen men. It varied, of course, from one herd to the next. Herds ranged in size from several hundred to several thousand.
How accurate is the 1948 film RED RIVER with John Wayne? How can I get a copy of it?
Well, those aren't longhorns on the silver screen. To the best of my recollection (it's been years since I saw Red River), they were mostly Herefords. The rest of the story is Hollywood's idea of a cattle drive. Some of it is realistic, a lot of it is romanticized. As for where you can get a copy, just click on this link for the DVD release: Red River, or this one for the VHS release: Red River.
I'm doing a report on the Oregon Trail, and I was wondering where I could find a map that shows the migration route.
I hadn't looked for it myself until you asked. Here is a link to the Google images search page, which called up plenty of maps for me: Google search.
Were there any women on any of the cattle drives?
I'm sure there were, but I don't have any information I can lay my hands on at the moment to confirm this.
Was there a legendary longhorn on the Chisholm Trail that led the cattle drives?
Charles Goodnight, co-founder of the Goodnight-Loving Trail in west Texas, had a favorite lead steer known as Old Blue. The steer reportedly led about 10,000 longhorns north along the trail over eight seasons, before finally retiring from the trail. My understanding is that Old Blue remained at the Goodnight Ranch, and when he died his massive horns were mounted there.