Chisholm Trail: 150 years in Texas lore

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Ni­cole Bar­rios ni­­rios@ac­n­news­pa­

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.

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