While many Texans were away fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, cattle multiplied. By 1866, they were worth only $4 per head in Texas while they could be worth $40 per head in the northern and eastern states, according to “The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.”
That led to the development of the Chisholm Trail in 1867, with cowboys driving cattle from south and central Texas through Oklahoma Territory to a railhead in Abilene, Kan. Seven years later, Texas cattlemen also began driving herds up the Western Trail, about 100 miles west of the Chisholm Trail, through Oklahoma Territory to the railhead at Dodge City, Kan.
The culture of these cowboys, who often earned as little as $30 a month, is being preserved in Oklahoma museums, including the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher, the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, the Museum of the Western Prairie in Altus, the Old Town Museum in Elk City and the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.
“The story of the American cowboy can follow two trails,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “On one side is the economic story of tending cattle and getting them from grasslands to market on trails, rails or trucks. The other story is the cowboy image in popular culture, from books and poems to songs and movies.
“Either way, the cowboy is an important part of the Oklahoma experience.”
The Chisholm Trail was named for Jesse Chisholm, a Scottish/Cherokee man who had built a trading post before the Civil War in what is now western Oklahoma City and operated a ranch near Wichita, Kan., during the war. He blazed a trail from north central Oklahoma to Kansas and died in 1868, said Adam Lynn, director of the Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher.
The Chisholm Trail crossed the Red River from Texas into Oklahoma at Red River Station and extended north through Old Duncan Store. The trail was divided in one area, but the routes extended through Fort Reno, Kingfisher Station, Dover and Skelton Ranch near Enid before crossing into Kansas south of Caldwell.
“In 10 years, from 1867 through 1877, more than 3 million head of cattle passed through Oklahoma,” Lynn said. “The Chisholm Trail Museum details this rich history as well as the history of those who came after the Chisholm Trail.”
In Enid, the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center features panels on the Chisholm Trail, cattle drives and the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association, said Andi Holland, director of the center. Nearly 5 million head of cattle crossed the Cherokee Outlet over 20 years, Holland said.
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