The Chisholm Trail was a cattle trail leading north from Texas, across Oklahoma to Abilene, Kansas. There is considerable controversy over the origin of the name, but if may have been derived from Jesse Chisholm, a mixed-blood Cherokee who may have guided soldiers over part of the route soon after the Civil War.
The low prices for cattle in Texas and the much higher prices available farther north persuaded many Texas cattlemen to drive large herds of cattle north to market. The establishment of a cattle depot and shipping point at Abilene in 1867 brought many herds to that point for shipment to market over the southern branch of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Chisholm Trail quickly became the preferred route from Texas to Abilene.
The Chisholm Trail lost its preeminence when Dodge City supplanted Abilene as the main shipping point after 1871, but the extension of the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe to Caldwell, Kansas, in 1880 restored some of its importance. It remained the major route until rail connections to Texas made the trail drives unnecessary.
The Trail Today
The trail is currently under review for National Historic Trail status. In 2019, the government determined that the Chisholm Trail meets the criteria for designation, but could not confer status due to the backlog of unfunded deferred maintenance on existing trails. For more information, contact the Chisholm Trail Association, www.chisholmtrailassn.com.