As the heart of America’s Heartland, Wichita, Kansas, is a town rich with the history, tradition and innovation of the American West. Through ages of change, growth, and development, it has been a renowned historical trading post, a source of manufacturing and export, and now the world Aviation capital. Even with its iconic pioneering spirit and taste for tradition, Wichita can trace its success back to the same event that fundamentally transformed the rest of the Midwest from cowboy legend land to lucrative cattle industry culture — the Chisholm Trail.
Whether you’re new to Wichita or need a little brushing up on your local Chisholm Trail history, you might be wondering who started the Chisholm Trail, what it was, and how it has contributed to Wichita today. Here are all the Chisholm Trail facts you need to know.
What Was the Chisholm Trail?
As a route for driving cattle north from Texas to Kansas, the Chisholm trail became a crucial part of the commerce, trade, and development of the American West in the late 19th century. In use since 1864 — although not for cattle driving purposes until 1867 — the trail began in the southwest region of Texas and stretched northward through Oklahoma to Kansas. In its time, the route was used for many purposes by a variety of travelers, from traders and cattle herders to Native Americans and the U.S. Army.
Who Started the Chisholm Trail?
Although he was unaware of the impact it would come to have on the American cattle industry and the legacy of the West, the first person to officially mark and “start” this historic trail was its namesake, Jesse Chisholm.
A Scot-Cherokee trader with trading posts in Red River, Texas, and Kansas City, Kansas, he established the route for transporting his wagons to trade deals with both the U.S Army and the Native American tribes in the area. After Chisholm forged this iconic trail, the Wichita Indians would use it to migrate both from their home territory to the Little Arkansas River and back. In 1867, a cattle buyer named Joseph G. McCoy harnessed the trail’s use and expanded it to establish and spread the cattle market for many years to come.
What Was the Chisholm Trail’s Purpose?
After the Civil War, the state of Texas harbored an overabundance of cattle that made them virtually worthless in the area. In the North and East, however, cattle were in high demand, and Texas cattle herders saw this shortage as an opportunity to turn a profit. If they could transport their cattle safely to the regions that needed them, they could continue to supply the demand for beef outside of Texas while helping their own state recover from its post-war depression.
With the help of Joseph G. McCoy, the Chisholm Trail presented a solution for driving cattle to the Kansas Pacific Railway railhead, where they could be shipped to eastern regions.
When McCoy built and advertised his cattle stockyards in 1867, he orchestrated the extension of the Chisholm Trail through Wichita and Abilene, Kansas, with a plan to revolutionalize the cattle market. That year, 35,000 head of cattle traveled north, and the trail saw almost 5 million cattle pass from Texas to Kansas in the years that followed, changing the cattle market and the reputation of the West forever.
Celebrate History at Chisholm’s
Today, Wichita is proud to be a part of such an iconic factor in the development of American history — that’s why here at Chisholm’s, we honor our history with our hearty cuisine, homelike atmosphere and inviting setting. Paying homage to Kansas’s reputation for the best beef in the country, we are a renewed American Ale & Chop House offering craft American beer and ale, signature cocktails, fine wine, and innovative takes on traditional American cuisine made only with the very best cuts of beef.
If you’re a lover of history, hospitality, hearty food, and the spirit of the West, celebrate with us over a warm meal. Make your reservations at Chisholm’s Beef & Ale House today.