Chisholm Trail 150th Celebration

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Chisholm Trail. During its time, the Chisholm Trail was considered one of the wonders of the Western World. Jesse Chisholm, a part-Cherokee, who built a trading post in what is now Oklahoma City is who the trail is named after. The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma is a great place for the whole family to learn about the history of the Chisholm Trail. For more information, please visit,

Cowboys drove cattle on the Chisholm Trail from 1867-1889. The Chisholm Trail ran south to north parallel to, what is now, Highway 81, a total of 800 miles from start to finish. The trail ran east of Marlow, Rush Springs, and Chickasha. The trail ran west of Ninnekah, Amber, and Tuttle. The trail split in the middle. The Western Trail at the split went to, present day, El Reno, Okarche, and Kingfisher. The Eastern Trail at the split went to, present day, Mustang, Yukon, and Piedmont. These divisions came back together at Red Fork Ranch, now the town of Dover. There are disputes over the beginning of the Chisholm Trail to this day. There are four places where it arguably started. Some say it began in Donna, Texas. Others say it began in San Antonio, Texas. Many say it began in Fort Worth, Texas. While some argue it started at Red River Station, near present Ringgold, Texas, which was at the mouth of Salt Creek in Montague County where the herds left Texas and crossed into Indian Territory. The one thing undisputed is where the trail ended. From 1867-1871 it ended in Abilene, Kansas. Between 1872-1883 it stopped at Newton, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas. And from 1883-1887 it ended at Caldwell, Kansas. After 1881, the drives diminished considerably. Many things contributed to the downfall of the Chisholm Trail, from the Cherokee Strip causing much of the land to be fenced in, to a quarantine law, and even a blizzard that destroyed most of the cattle industry. No matter where the Chisholm Trail began or where it ended one thing is for sure, Oklahoma was the heart and backbone of this great trail.

An estimated 6 million cattle traveled the Chisholm Trail during its life with the biggest cattle trailing years being 1871 and 1873. An average of 2500 to 3000 head would move in one herd per trip. On this journey there, would typically be 10 to 14 cowboys, a trail boss, a horse wrangler, and a cook and wagon. The herds would be spread about 10 miles apart, which is about one day. During the drive, the herd would be watered in the morning then slowly graze and eat northward until night. At night, they would stop at a watering hole and bed down. Then they would start all over again the next day until they reached their destination. Many a cattle and cowboy took this long trip during the years of the Chisholm Trail.

At the end of the 20th century, the Chisholm Trail was still visible in many places including a spot near Bison in Garfield County, 1.5 miles south of US 81 and 1/3 miles west on a county road. Robert “Bob” Klemme, from Enid, Oklahoma, erected 400 concrete markers along the route of the Chisholm Trail across Oklahoma in the span of about seven years with the help of his friends. He placed the 400th marker, last, on Wilshire Road near Yukon, Oklahoma in September 1997. He also put other markers in Brownsville, Texas, and Abilene, Kansas commemorating the beginning and ending the Chisholm Trail. These markers are still visible to this day.

There is something for everyone this year to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. Some fun things to do is visit an exhibit (photos, documents, artifacts, cattle-trail era items), go to a quilt exhibition, take western swing and dance lessons, have your children star in a western movie, and much more. Please visit for a listing and information on local events.

The Chisholm Trail is a big part of Oklahoma history helping to make it into the great state we know and love today. Between exhibits, shows, galas, dinners, and more, the whole family can help celebrate 150 years of the Chisholm Trail.

Written by Bobbi G.



  1. Glenda Crump says:

    Interesting article. Thank you.