Chisholm Trail: 150 years in Texas lore
A part of Texas history that helped shape the pioneer village now known as Round Rock celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.
The route once used to drive livestock from the Rio Grande to Kansas that became known as the Chisholm Trail is famous in Texas folklore and history.
Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, longhorn cattle drives on the trail from Texas to the northern markets provided a source of income for Round Rock and other Texas towns, said Karen Thompson, longtime Round Rock resident and local historian.
Cowboys on the trail would cross over Brushy Creek at the low-water crossing marked by the flat, circular shaped rock, known today as the Round Rock, she said. “They couldn’t hardly miss it,” she said.
The limestone bottom of the creek helped ensure cows did not get washed away, she said.
The drives supplied cattle to the North, which was starved for beef, and in turn helped boost the Texas economy, said Shirley Marquardt, president of Round Rock Preservation, a local historical nonprofit.
Joseph McCoy, a livestock dealer from Illinois, established a cattle-shipping terminal in Abilene, Kansas, in 1867 with the Kansas-Pacific Railroad, according to the Texas Historical Commission. Cattle drivers used a trail blazed by trader Jesse Chisholm to reach Kansas. Consequently, Chisholm’s name became forever linked to the drives.
Cowboys took the Chisholm Trail from 1867 to about 1884, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
“During the Chisholm Trail era, Round Rock was just a small town with a few stores, a hotel, a livery stable and a blacksmith shop, Thompson said.
“So when these people brought their herds through, it was a big boom to the local businesses because they’d buy their supplies there.”
The first drive from Williamson County occurred in 1867, when 35,000 cattle were driven north to Abilene, Kansas, according to information on the city’s Chisholm Trail history webpage.
Knowing the history of the trail provides a glimpse into Round Rock’s past, she said.
“People moving to Round Rock don’t have a clue that cattle drives used to move through. All they’re worried about is moving through traffic down (Interstate) 35, taking an hour to go to Austin,” she said. “(History) adds to the flavor of our life.”
Although some historical sources say what was known at the time as the Chisholm Trail began north of the Red River and the Round Rock portion of the trail was a feeder trail, Thompson said that’s not the case.
“It was the Chisholm Trail,” she said. “(Cowboys would say) they were taking the one that goes through Round Rock. People didn’t say it was a feeder trail (in the 1800s).”
Thompson, co-author of “Historical Round Rock” and “Round Rock, Texas: From Cowboys to Computers,” said life on the trail wasn’t easy, but the trail did not discriminate.
“It did not matter if you were black, brown or white,” she said. “What mattered was if you had a horse and had a gun and if you knew how to handle cattle.”
Marquardt said Round Rock Preservation will host events throughout the year to celebrate the 150th anniversary and educate the community.
“It’s important that our children know the early-day history of our founding settlers,” she said. “Once we understand our past we can better be guided to the future.”
Sculptures of a cowboy mounted on horseback and longhorn cattle stand in Chisholm Trail Park in Round Rock along the Chisholm Trail, which is being celebrated for its 150th anniversary this year.