It’s not like in the old days when saddle-worn cowboys, bone-weary horses and dirt-tired cattle walked endlessly along the Chisholm Trail.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail – celebrating those legendary cattle drives from Texas to the rail heads in Kansas. And, it seems, the millennial cows and horses just have to take days off and rest up for the grueling work week ahead.
This past weekend, after making celebrity appearances in Caldwell, 108 roping steers and a handful of Longhorns rested up at a cow camp.
This week, the herd with 15 drovers (another name for cowboys), five chuck wagons and 40 helpers are driving along a portion of the Chisholm Trail, making appearances near Wellington, Mayfield, Clearwater and then at the future site of the Union Stockyards, at 6425 W. MacArthur in south Wichita near Oatville, a quarter mile west of Hoover and MacArthur.
The trail’s legacy
This week’s drive, organized by the O-K Chisholm Trail Cattle Drovers Association, echoes those from 150 years ago.
Beginning in 1867, vast herds of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to the cowtowns of Kansas. The trail is named after Jesse Chisholm, who had a trading post in Wichita and frequently traded with American Indian tribes in the region.
The trail was developed by Joseph McCoy, an Illinois livestock trader who had the idea to drive cattle from near San Antonio north through Fort Worth into Oklahoma through Duncan and Enid and then on to Kansas through Caldwell, Wichita, Newton and Abilene. A branch of the Chisholm also cut off at Caldwell and a spur stretched to Ellsworth.
In its heyday from the late 1860s through the 1880s, the Chisholm Trail served as a cattle pipeline from Texas ranches to the stockyards and railroad hubs in Abilene, Newton, Wichita, Ellsworth and Caldwell.
It was an economic lifeline for Kansas, helping to promote the railroad and making ranching profitable. In Wichita alone, more than 230,000 head of cattle were shipped out from 1872 to 1876. The cattle were driven into downtown Wichita to the cattle pens near the railroad tracks.
Most historians see the Chisholm Trail as one of the three great byways that crossed the country. The Oregon and Santa Fe trails were east-west migrant and commercial trails, while the Chisholm was a north-south cattle trail.
This year’s drive
This cattle drive started last week east of Pond Creek, Okla. and runs roughly 90 miles north to Sedgwick County.
“I’m doing this cattle drive because I grew up in this horse culture,” said Sam Wylie, 38, who grew up near Wellington but now lives at Caldwell. This is his first drive.
“I’ve worked cattle and raised them and it is just something I’ve always enjoyed,” Wylie said.
When the drive is going on, Wylie said, the cattle are driven about four to five hours or about 8 to 10 miles each day.
“It was hard to do it as authentically and logistically possible,” he said. “We had to have pasture for both cattle and horses and move materials. It takes awhile to bust camp and set up again with all the equipment it takes.”
Where to see the cattle
Here’s where to see the cattle drive. At the end of each day’s drive, a cow camp will be free and open to the public from 3 to 6 p.m.
Thursday: The drive will move from Mayfield to Millerton and set up camp a quarter mile north of Mayfield Road and Prospect.
Friday: The drive will move from Millerton to Clearwater, where cattle will parade through downtown on Fourth to Wood to Tracy. Events are scheduled from noon to 4:30 p.m., but cattle may arrive in town at 11 a.m. or earlier depending on their progress on the trail. The drive will set up camp at the Chisholm Trail Arena, 9138 S. 167th St. W.
Saturday: The drive will move from Clearwater to south Wichita and set up camp at 6425 W. MacArthur. Events include Del Shields concert at 7 p.m. and cowboy poet Red Steagall at 8 p.m. Admission to the concerts is free with a sponsored ticket. People can pick up the free tickets at Truck Parts & Equipment, 4501 W. Esthner Ave.; Straub International, 3200 W. May; and Cowboy Boot Shop, 9434 W Central Ave. Sponsors will also be handing out the tickets at the gate on Saturday.
A beef brisket barbecue in Wichita is $10.
“The Chisholm Trail – The Rest of the Story,” 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 25: Gary and Margaret Kraisinger, Halstead, award-wining authors of three books, “The Western, the Greatest Texas Cattle Trail, 1874-1886,” “The Western Cattle Trail, 1874-1897, its Rise, Collapse, and Revival,” and “The Shawnee-Arbuckle Trail, 1867-1870, The Predecessor of the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas,” will speak about the Chisholm trail at a Sumner County Historical and Genealogical Society event in the Wellington Public Library’s meeting room, 121 W. Seventh Street, Wellington. For questions, contact Jane at 620-447-3266 or Sherry at 316-833-6161.
Delano Fall Fair, Oct. 6-7: The fair in Wichita will honor the trail’s anniversary. Delano was spawned by the Chisholm Trail as a place where cowboys – after collecting their pay at the end of a cattle drive – could relax and enjoy the saloons. Oct. 6 events include ghost stories around a campfire. Oct. 7 features a western parade at noon and music that night from Del Shields and Suzy Bogguss; Oct. 8 features a cowboy church service, ice cream social, beard and moustache competition, and afternoon concert with the Prairie Rose Rangers.