After the Civil War, millions of cattle running wild in Texas were worth only $2 or less per head, but worth $15 to $25 per head in Kansas. The money from the sale of cattle was responsible for bringing Texas out of the economic depression caused by the war.
From the start of the trail drives in 1867 to 1871, millions of longhorns were taken to the Kansas Railhead. It is estimated that 10 million longhorns went up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Trail before new rail lines to Texas made the long trail drives no longer necessary.
The typical herd going up the trail included approximately 2,500 cattle, 10 to 12 cowboys, a remuda of extra horses, and a chuck wagon for food and gear.
The cattle taken along the Chisholm Trail came from south Texas toward San Antonio. A large ditch, just west of modern day Commercial Avenue, was dug in concert with nearby creeks feeding into the San Antonio River. The ditch and creeks were used to keep cattle contained and watered.
Today this is known as Six Mile Creek.
By 1889, railroads were making their way into more southern routes through Texas and 34 acres just southwest of downtown San Antonio became the site of the Stockyards.
J.W. Kothmann, went into the cattle business in 1893 and became the stockyard’s first tenant. The first cattle sold by Kothmann’s new company came from H.B. Zachry’s ranch in Webb County.
Note: When the San Antonio Union Stockyards closed down after 112 years–due to urban sprawl and changing times–it was in August 2011 that a final tribute occurred.
The last cattle auctioned were brought to sale by the Kothmann company for the U-Bar Ranch, which was owned by H.B. Zachry Co.
From San Antonio, cattle were herded straight north past Belton, Waco, Fort Worth and crossed the Red River.
Many of the trail drives came through downtown Fort Worth along what is referred to today as Commerce Street before bedding down the cattle north of downtown. The drover (cowboy) would purchase supplies in Fort Worth before heading on.
Sixteen longhorns and six drovers walk in the Fort Worth Herd cattle drive that can be seen daily in the Stockyards.
Jesse Chisholm (1805 – 1868) was an important trader and plainsman of Scots and Cherokee background. He was fluent in 14 Native American languages and played an important role in many treaties between tribes and the American government. The cattle drives were adapted from his trading routes hence where the name comes from.
Joseph McCoy (1837 – 1915), was a cattle trader and largely responsible for creating the Chisholm Trail. He conceived the idea for a railroad extension to Abilene, Kansas, where he then developed cattle pens needed to house the cattle on rail cars. He then promoted the appropriate route for cattle drovers to take.
According to the Texas Historical Commission, the Chisholm Trail had various other names, including the McCoy Trail, the Great Texas Trail, the Cattle Trail, the Eastern Trail, and the Kansas Trail.
Some people assert that the Chisholm Trail was not in Texas and that it instead began in Oklahoma. However, according to the Texas Historical Commission, in common usage, the name Chisholm Trail was applied to extensions of the original Jesse Chisholm Trail covering the length of Texas. The major books on the Chisholm Trail by Wayne Gard and Don Worcester as well as the federal legislation directing the study of the Chisholm Trail and Western Trail also take this view.
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