Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Chisholm Trail at 150

I spent the first weekend in May representing Texas at the 150th anniversary celebration of the Chisholm Trail, held in Caldwell, Kansas. Caldwell, located just above the Kansas-Oklahoma  line, became known as the "Border Queen."  For more than a decade the Border Queen was a wild trail town, the first place since leaving Texas that cowboys had access to liquor and other recreational possibilities. Before driving their herds farther north to a Kansas railhead, drovers could drink and cavort with sporting women in Caldwell. Where liquor flowed so freely there were brawls and shootouts, along with lynchings, and violence continued after Caldwell became the Chisholm Trail railhead. Indeed, the casualty list in and around the Border Queen was greater than that in Abilene or Wichita or Dodge City. 
On the approach to Caldwell from the South, these silhouettes were erected
by volunteers in 1995.
This arch overlooks the principal intersection of Main Street.
When I was invited as State Historian to represent Texas at the Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival, it was explained to me that there would be dignitaries from Kansas and Oklahoma. Of course, I felt that there SHOULD be a Texas representative, since both the cattle and the cowboys came from the Lone Star State. I was asked to make an address about frontier Caldwell and to sign copies of a book I had written, Border Queen Caldwell, Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail. Through the years I had written articles about the Border Queen, as well as a biography about the murderous city marshal, Henry Brown, and I donated to the Border Queen Museum a scale model of Caldwell in the 1880s. Through all of these projects I was aided by a remarkable Caldwell historian, Karen Sturm. Karen has energy, enthusiasm, and organizational gifts, and she has put together a number of heritage events for the Border Queen, including the Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival.  

Caldwell's first Opera House was saved and restored by volunteers.
The scale model of early Caldwell that I researched and built is still displayed by the Border Queen Museum.
The most famous of all cattle trails, the Chisholm Trail, opened in 1867, and during the next 18 years more than 4 million longhorns were driven up the historic route to Kansas railheads. The first railhead was developed by cattle buyer Joseph G. McCoy at Abilene, where Texas drovers enjoyed raucous sprees after months on the trail. By 1871 tracks were laid toward the south, and Abilene became nearly deserted, while Newton had one season as railhead before the tracks moved on to Wichita, which remained end-of-track for the Chisholm Trail during the rest of the decade.

 Historical markers have been placed all over downtown Caldwell. This one quotes me from a book I wrote, "Border Queen Caldwell: Toughest Town on the Chisholm Trail."
 But a farmers' quarantine law blocked the Chisholm Trail, even though business was too lucrative to abandon. So in 1880 railroad tracks were extended 49 miles southwest to Caldwell, then another three miles to the state line, where a large stockyard was erected. Texas steers entered the stockyard through gates in Oklahoma, before being driven onto cattle cars without violation of the quarantine law. Caldwell thus became the last railhead on the Chisholm Trail, until the penetration of Texas by railroads ended the famous Long Drives and closed the cattle trails.

With fellow Texans, David and Rena French

On Friday night a "Ghost Walk" up and down Main Street attracted
an unexpectedly large crowd.
The Caldwell Chisholm Trail Festival began on Friday, May 5, when area fourth-graders, along with early-bird tourists, toured the museums and exhibits and historic sites. The town's first opera house displayed a traveling exhibit, "Chisholm Trail Sesquicentennial: Driving the American West, 1867-2017." At the Border Queen Museum a Western art collection was exhibited, while upstairs a "Robbers Roost" displayed a bordello suite.   

With sporting lady
The original Boot Hill was north of town, and the few remaining markers were moved to Caldwell's permanent cemetery.
Hundreds of people came to town for Saturday's activities, which included stagecoach rides around town, mechanical bull rides, calf roping, longhorn cattle, Chisholm Trail Arts and Crafts Show, a street shootout, a Beard and Mustache Contest, a Chuck Wagon Dinner, an Old West Poker Tourney at a local saloon, and a Saturday night street dance. On Sunday morning all local churches combined for a Cowboy Church Meeting, and later there were two quilt shows. There were other weekend activities, too numerous to mention. It was a splendid celebration, staged by a community of 1,100 people with a deep appreciation of the important and colorful place in history held by their town.
Deputy Sherriff Cash Hollister was fatally wounded in a shoot-out with outlaws outside town.
An impressive G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) monument at the Caldwell Cemetery


I used a poster showing my great grandfather, Jess Standard, with a trail crew.

Caldwell Mayor Mark Arnold reading a proclamation on our flatbed stage
(Karen Sturm is at left.)

The 150th birthday cake at a private lunch on Saturday

My great-grandfather, Jess Standard, trailed cattle from Lampasas County to Kansas during the 1870s and 1880s. At Caldwell during May 5-6-7 I paid tribute, as State Historian, to Jess and the hundreds of other Texas cowboys who drove cattle herds up the Chisholm Trail. And like the drovers of long ago, I had a grand time in the Border Queen.  

With Karen Sturm, the dynamic Boss Wrangler of the Caldwell celebration
With Jesse Chisholm, great-great-grandson and namesake of the pioneer who blazed the Chisholm Trail

Signing books for a long line at the Border Queen Museum
Sporting ladies at the entrance to the upstairs Bordello replica

Sporting ladies in the Bordello parlor

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