Did you know the Civil War played a part in the rise of the Chisholm Trail? Despite the destroyed railhead of Lawrence in 1863, the Kansas Pacific Railway continued across the Prairie, and by the spring of 1867, the track reached tiny Abilene. Eventually, this is where Joseph McCoy brought his cattle—a major part of the Chisholm Trail, and the growth of Abilene, Kansas.
You can learn all this and more by stopping by the Chisholm Trail exhibit running till the July 24th at the Historic Elgin Hotel. Paid for in part by the City of Marion, a joint project with Symphony in the Flint Hills and Flint Hills Design, and major funding by Lost Trail Soda, the Chisholm Trail exhibit is a wondrous way to learn something new and important to our state’s, and country’s, history.
Joseph McCoy, who contributed to the growth of Abilene, and Jesse Chisholm, for whom the trail is named after, never met, yet these two men laid the foundation for the greatest cattle trail in all of America.
The trail starts and stops in various places. It depended on many things, one of which was the farmers of the land the cowboys tried crossing into. Cowboys drove Texas longhorn up the Chisholm Trail, but many farmers worried about disease carried by longhorns and the effect the animals would have on the farmer’s cattle. Though the longhorns were immune, regular cattle were not. The fear grew so big, the farmers once blocked the Shawnee trail to keep the longhorns out, and the cowboys had to adapt.
The cowboys of this time are not quite like the ones we see in films today. The “cowboy” idea came from the vaquero (vah-kair-oh), “Mexican cowboys”. They tended to longhorn and expanded the cattle industry, supplying America with beef, leather, and tallow. These men worked long and hard, and though it seems little discrimination happened along the trail, segregation became a reality when the cowboys arrived in towns and cities, as one-third the cowboys were African American, American Indian, or Mexican.
Cowboys as we see them today came about from songs they sang and stories they wrote until novels were published and cowboys appeared on the big screen. They found their way into the hearts of Americans and have stayed.
Know what the different positions the cowboys had when driving cattle? From wrangler and remuda to trail boss and chuck wagon, it’s all here. Want to know how to say “prairie” in three different American Indian languages? There is plenty more to learn here at the Chisholm Trail exhibit. Stop by the Historic Elgin Hotel and take a tour of the exhibit before it moves on down the trail. We would love to see you here!
Blog by Grace Major of Hillsboro, Kansas.