Just after the Civil War, Texas was chock full of wayward cattle, but almost completely bankrupt. Ranchers soon figured out that fortunes were to be had if they could get their cattle to the railheads in Abilene, Kansas. Started by Joseph G. McCoy, these cattle-shipping terminals reached beef-starved cities across the U.S.
In 1864 Scot-Cherokee Jesse Chisholm began hauling trade to Indian camps near modern Wichita. Though it was originally applied only to the trail north of the Red River, Texas cattlemen soon gave Chisholm’s name to the entire trail from south of San Antonio up to Kansas.
Cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail ended with the invention of barbed wire, and an 1885 Kansas quarantine law. Considered by some to be the original Texas Highway, it saw between 6 and 10 million cattle, and a million mustangs driven by up it’s famed route. As the greatest migration of livestock in world history, it’s estimated that some 35,000 cowboys worked the trail. The Chisholm Trail almost single handedly brought Texas out of the post-Civil War depression, helped provide beef for the entire country, and made famous the image of the American cowboy, and life on the wide-open range