News the National Park Service may designate the Chisholm cattle trail as a national historic trail is enough to make cowboy historian Jim Gray take interest.
Gray, of Ellsworth and publisher of the Kansas Cowboy, attended a meeting this week in Dodge City asking for input on the trail's designation. He feels passionately that the trail should be recognized.
"The Chisholm Trail represents the time period when the American cattle industry was just expanding into a national industry," Gray said.
"When you make comparisons to other trails — the Santa Fe, the Oregon, the Pony Express — the Chisholm Trail is every bit as important."
In March 2009, Congress and President Obama authorized the Secretary of the Interior to study 64 trails — among them the Chisholm and Great Western trails — to determine whether they should be designated national historic trails.
Kansas is considered the crossroads for many of the historic trails of the Old West.
The state already has four National Historic Trails: the Santa Fe, the Lewis and Clark, the Pony Express and the Oregon.
Any additional designations would bring more visibility and prestige — and perhaps more tourists and possibly even tax incentives for owners of land where historic events occurred.
Gray said the Chisholm and Western trails would seem to be a good fit.
"There are certain elements in our history that hinge on one thing — this is one of those," Gray said. "The whole identity of ranching and the business of cowboys all stems from that particular activity of trail driving."
The Chisholm Trail was first used by the cattle industry shortly after the end of the Civil War.
Joseph G. McCoy, an Illinois livestock trader, had the idea in 1867 to drive Texas cattle to Kansas cowtowns, where the cattle could then be loaded and shipped to the East Coast. The trail was named for early Wichita trader Jesse Chisholm.
The Chisholm Trail was a major trail through the early 1870s, but westward settlement soon forced the drovers onto the new Western Trail, which carried cattle well into the 1880s. It was also known as the Great Western Cattle Trail, Dodge City Trail and the Old Texas Trail.
With the advent of more railroads and settlements, the trails soon fell out of use.
National Park Service authorities say the trails would follow as closely as possible the original routes.
The participation of landowners is voluntary and landowners along the trail retain all legal rights to their property. If they choose, they can work with the National Park Service to develop visitor access and interpretation of historic sites on their property.
Since June 8, the National Park Service has been hosting a series of 12 meetings along the trails for public input. The first was in Fort Worth.
Wichita was scheduled for its meeting Thursday at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. The last meeting in the series is today in Abilene at the Abilene Civic Center.
People have until July 5 to submit written comments to the National Park Service.
For more information, contact Frank Norris, historian with National Trails Intermountain Region National Park Service at 505-988-6005 or by e-mail at frank(-)email@example.com.