Saturday, February 11, 2017

Representing Texas at the Border Queen

I've recently been invited to represent Texas at the 150th anniversary of the founding of Caldwell, Kansas, on the first weekend in May. Caldwell began in 1867 as a wild trail town on the Chisholm Trail, before later becoming the last railhead on the most famous of all cattle trails. The ramshackle community grew up just above the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Caldwell was the first town the Texas trail drives reached after crossing through Oklahoma. With liquor outlawed in Indian Territory, Caldwell offered drinking, gambling, and sporting women - along with brawls and gunplay. Longhorn herds were driven through early Caldwell north into Kansas heading toward Abilene, the first railhead on the Chisholm Trail. Five years later a railroad began construction to the south, toward Texas and the advancing trail herds. For one season Newton prospered as the Chisholm Trail railhead, before the rails reached Wichita. But by 1880 Kansas farmers succeeded in protecting their livestock with a quarantine law which blocked Texas longhorns from crossing Kansas lands. The hardy longhorns carried ticks which infected farm animals with a deadly blood disease, "tick fever" or "Texas fever."

But rather than close the lucrative Chisholm Trail, the railroad was extended 52 miles from Wichita to Caldwell. Stockyards were built on the south edge of town, and herds were driven through the gates into the yards, then loaded directly onto cattle cars. During the railhead years Caldwell became known as the "Border Queen," boasting two three-story brick hotels, a superb opera house, and three blocks of saloons and substantial commercial buildings. Indeed, the Border Queen was a more impressive town during its heyday than Abilene, Wichita, Dodge City, or any other frontier railhead.


But the gunplay continued, and Caldwell was the scene of more shootouts than any other western cattle town. A final frontier adventure came in 1889 and again in 1893, when the Border Queen was the launch site for the spectacular land rushes into newly-opened Oklahoma farm lands. Thereafter Caldwell settled into a quieter existence as a farm town, but a number of 19th century buildings stand as reminders of the Border Queen. There is an excellent museum, gunfight victims reside in the old cemetery, and historical markers are all over town.

I first visited Caldwell in 1968, while exploring each of the Kansas cattle towns. One of my early books was a biography of Henry Brown, Caldwell's two-gun marshal who turned outlaw after taming the raucous Border Queen, and I wrote articles about Caldwell for western magazines. I built a scale model of Caldwell during the 1880s and donated it to the Border Queen Museum, where it remains on display. In 2008 Eakin Press released my book about frontier Caldwell: Border Queen Caldwell, Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail. During the publication activities, I was given a key to the city mounted on a piece of timber from the old opera house and I was designated "Border Queen Laureate of Letters."
During my research efforts I was greatly aided by local historians Karen Sturm and Rod Cook. (Sadly, Rod passed away last week.) Karen is a dynamic community leader who skillfully spearheads heritage celebrations, and her plans for the Border Queen at 150 are exciting. She has invited various political dignitaries from Kansas and Oklahoma, and for a representative from Texas she asked the State Historian to come. I will be representing the Texas drovers of the 1860s-1870s-1880s (one was my great-grandfather, Jess Standard, who trailed cattle to Caldwell from Lampasas County), and I look forward to providing a program during the anniversary festivities in May.

A related appearance will be a public address at the Longview University Center at 6:30 on the evening of March 21. Dr. Van Patterson was appointed director of the LUC at about the time I received my appointment as Texas State Historian. He invited me to offer a public address at the Longview University Center, and with Van providing excellent publicity, we drew a fine crowd. The State Historian lecture has become an annual event in the years since 2013, and this year's topic will be "Texas Cowboys, Longhorns, Ranches, and Trail Drives." The public is welcome without charge.          


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