Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day 6 - The best museum we've seen so far

Even though we didn't want to leave the Nocona area, we had to load 'em up and move 'em out!  We were about to cross over into Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and there is so much to see in our great state. 

Our first stop was the site of Lookout Point, a very common landmark and camping spot for the drovers.  At this site, keen eyes can detect wagon ruts and obvious trails leading up to the high spot on the range.  A very nice monument has been erected here to honor the trail drivers. We could have stood up there for a very long time envisioning all the cowboys and longhorns that have came through this area.  We could see herds of cattle off in the distance nestled in open prairies.... what a beautiful view on a warm sunny day!

Up ahead, our destination point for the late morning was the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan.  This museum had two exhibits that were absolutely wonderful.  One of them was a movie re-enactment that told about how the longhorns were basically wild animals living on the plains in Texas, left behind by Spanish inhabitants from many years prior.  They had multiplied to the point that they were almost a nuisance for the early settlers.  When the Texans learned of the need for beef in the northeast, they rounded up the aggressive wild beasts, branded them, trained them to walk in lines about 6 head wide and then headed out on the trail that had been previously forged by the well-known trader, Jessie Chisholm who traveled this path trading goods with Indians and at trading posts.  At the end of the trail, a famous businessman Joseph McCoy cut deals with the railroad companies (that included commissions for himself) so that the cattle could be transported to anxious buyers who would pay in excess of 10 times the amount of their value in Texas.  The movie showed the dangers to the cowboys such as crossing the rivers and stampeding longhorns during thunder and lightning storms.  Many cowboys lost their lives during these events and would be buried along the trail. A common site for cowboy cemeteries is at river crossings, those buried out on the range will always remain a mystery.

The other exhibit was animated mannequins, one was Jessie Chisholm, the other was a young cowboy on his first cattle drive.  They talked to each other while Cookie, the chuckwagon cook prepared dinner and made comments in the background.  Their conversation was about the impression the cowboy had of the journey and how Jessie was humbly happy that they could use his trading trail for cattle.  It is well worth stopping at this museum and hopefully we will be able to bring a group of students to this Heritage Center next year.

After today, we are headed back to Poteau to get ready for our Chuckwagon Cooking School in Montana.  When we return from that adventure, we will start back on the next leg of our journey in the Duncan area to continue our expedition Up the Chisholm Trail!

Day 5 - In search of a ghost town

We were thankful for another good night of sleep for our tired bodies because today had many stops on the agenda. First up, we went across Fort Worth to see the Chisholm Trail Memorial Mural in Sundance Square. This is a beautiful upscale park and for it to have the memory of this historical era right there for everyone to view felt like such a great tribute to the all the people who drove the cattle up the trail and ultimately brought Texas out of financial ruin after the Civil War.

Our next stop was the Cowgirl Hall of Fame to see if any of the women who traversed the trail had made the list. Unfortunately, neither Hattie Cluck nor Lizzie Johnson Williams were mentioned in the displays. However, Henrietta King, the wife of Richard King owner of the King Ranch, has a special display dedicated to her. She took over the enormous half a million acre longhorn ranch in 1885 after her husband passed away. Their ranch is credited with inventing the cattle prod and the first cattle dipping vat which was used to help eradicate the tick fever that caused Texas Longhorns to be banned from entering the state of Kansas.
Cruising right along up the trail, we came to Decatur, TX where the cattle passed through many, many times. Their nice little roadside park had metal cattle and cowboys displayed along with a very nice placard showing the many routes the drovers used getting their cattle from the prairies in the south to the railroads in the north. We had high hopes of visiting the Stonewall Saloon Museum but it was closed when we came through - don't worry, we are definitely going back in late July or early August because of its special room, The Chisholm Trail History Center.  We are anxious to see what tidbits of information it holds.  This building was built in 1873 as a saloon and rest stop for the trail drivers so they could get good and ready for the long journey across Indian Territory.  

Our accommodations for the night included a beautifully decorated and themed room honoring Jessie Chisholm at the Red River Station Inn.  The owner, Bob Ferguson, is a Chisholm Trail history buff and gave us extensive information on the history of Nocona, TX (which did not exist during the cattle drives).  He gave us a map so that we could get to the area of Red River Station, a town where the drovers crossed the Red River into Indian Territory.  Nothing remains at the site of Red River Station except for a stone marker monument nearly completely hidden behind bushes and tall weeds.  This marker describes the importance of the ghost town to the travels of the drovers and their cattle.  Bob then further explained that even though Nocona was not in existence during the cattle drives, it is in fact significant to that era. When the train companies came across the plains to build their tracks, they placed a train station south of Red River Station and this place was called Nocona.  Since cattle drives were a thing of the past, the river crossing town was abandoned and the people relocated a few miles south to this new town.  Bob also explained how Nocona survived all these years, and why cowboys still kept riding into town - these hardworking men (and women) were coming to buy the famous crafted leather Nocona cowboy boots! 
While we were in Nocona, we visited their museum and were introduced to some very interesting details behind the stories of Nocona boots, Justin boots, Nokona ball gloves, and a woman who made some really amazing leather tooled wall hangings.  The museum property also has a small home on it that is furnished as it would have been 100 years ago, along

with a very nice chuckwagon replica.  We are definitely looking forward to coming back here to spend more time to learn about all the history in this town!

This full day exhausted us as usual and we hit the hay early so we could move on up the trail bright and early the next morning.

Day 4 - Crossing the Brazos River and seeing the sites!

After surviving a night full of storms, yellow skies, and high winds, we left Salado (pronounced Sa-lay-doe) this morning and continued our journey up the Chisholm Trail. The weather has been absolutely beautiful since we started and today is even better since the storm brought in some nice cool breezes.

Our first stop was to view the Up the Chisholm Trail Monument erected in Belton, TX at the Bell County Museum. This piece has 17 bronze pictorial  placards placed in a spiraling fashion up and around a column.  Each placard tells a story in itself memorializing the life the cowboys and the cattle as they made their way to Abilene, Kansas.  Some of the more noteworthy ones depict a stampede, another a cross representing a cowboy who died along the trail, and the final one shows the cows being loaded onto the rail car. Being the humanitarian that I am, I start visualizing and reflecting on this piece of architecture and it has made me feel sad for the cows - now I am feeling like the trip was kind of like a "trail of tears" for them.  They were peacefully multiplying by the thousands across the Texas plains when men came and herded them away from their familiar grazing prairies and made them walk hundreds of miles to get on a train to eventually be slaughtered...... all in the name of a good juicy steak. Hmmm.....

After having some sadness for the cows, we had to move on up the trail, just like the cowboys, no time to waste, because as the trail boss was known to say, "time is money." The cowboys were paid by the day to make this trip so he had to keep everyone moving along.  The next stop up the road was the Suspension Bridge over the raging Brazos River in Waco, TX.  Since it had rained the night before, the river was rockin' and rollin'!!  If the cowboys had gotten to this location (before the bridge was built) they would have had to wait several days for the water to go down so they could cross.  After the bridge was built, the trail boss paid a fee to take his cattle, wagons, cowboys, and horses safely across.  It was a fee gladly paid by the drovers because water crossings often resulted in fatalities of cowboys, horses, and cattle.  We walked the wooden bridge from one side to the other and back, many of the boards looked VERY old and it made me a bit nervous. I was glad to be safely back on the other side.

The Cleburn Outdoor Chisholm Trail Museum was next on the agenda.  This exact location was a popular overnight camping spot for many drovers. Generous donations transformed this historical grassy hill location into a very nice walking park.  Leading you in is a line of black iron cattle and horses with cutouts on their flanks showing many of the brands that passed through this area.  I found mine, marked with PM and then there was Cash's, it was marked by a "$$" symbol.  In this nice little park, we also found a chuckwagon that was often used for various town festivals and educational tours at the park and we stopped to read all of their historical placards.  The most interesting one told about G.W. Saunders, a prominent businessman back in the cattle drive era.  He was recorded as saying that he hoped one day that there would be a monument placed somewhere between San Antonio and Abilene in memory of the trail drivers.  It was suiting when this location was chosen over a 100 years later because this is where his own dusty footprints were left behind along with those from many 'a cowboy.

Our scheduled stop for the night was this wonderful piece of history, the Stockyards Hotel, in Fort Worth.  This place spared no details as it has ornately carved wood covering the entire inside of the hotel.  After checking in, it was not long before it was time for the daily "running of the longhorns" down Exchange Avenue. Even though the animals are quite docile and they actually meander down the middle of the road, it was cool to see some spectacularly long horns up close.  I could envision them actually going through town as they might have back in the 1870s.   After this fun-filled day, we felt like we had just gotten out of our covered wagon and decided to bed down here for the night, we were exhausted!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Day 3 - Walking on the path of the drovers

Finally, we got out of the big cities and into the outlying areas (Yay!).  Our first stop was at the Chisholm Trail Crossing Park in Round Rock, TX, it was there that we got to see actual wagon wheel tracks that were ground into the soft limestone creekbed from the cattle drive days. Round Rock was one of only four places along the Chisholm Trail where all drovers went through because of its safe low water crossing of Brushy Creek. Round Rock, originally named Brushy Creek changed its name in 1854 at the request of postal officials.  Since the round rock in the middle of Brushy Creek was a well-known landmark for the locals and for the cattle drovers, the postmaster and his blacksmith buddy (who often fished while sitting on top of the round rock) chose the name, Round Rock.

It was obvious that hundreds of wagons passed through when you walked down the creekbed and saw the deep ruts that wagon after wagon used until their tracks became permanently etched as historic reminders of days gone by.  We were surprised to see the tracks went right down the middle of the creekbed rather than straight across. Upon investigation, we learned that it was both easier and safer to ride in the creekbed rather than through the bush. Plus, wagon wheels needed to be run through water to keep the wooden parts swelled; therefore, it was necessary to spend some time in the water.

In the little city park, there is a monument of Hattie Cluck, who was believed to be the first woman to have traveled the Chisholm trail, not as a herder but in a wagon with her husband George and their three children, Allie, Emmett, and Harriet. They left Williamson County in the spring of 1871 while Hattie was pregnant, and arrived in Abilene, Kansas in the fall where she gave birth to their fourth child Euell.  They returned to Williamson County the following spring and settled near Running Brushy where Hattie would later become the Postmaster of that community.

In addition to being a great place to cross the creek, this small town became a common stop along the trail. The number of cattle composing each drive varied from as few as several hundred up to 40,000 and, depending on the size of the herd, the cowboys took either a couple of hours or as long as several days to pass through town. This became a welcomed spectacle for the citizens, especially children. Townspeople would stop what they were doing to to watch the herds cross Brushy Creek at the round rock and then cowboys led them right up the main street of Old Town. The cowboys used the services of the blacksmith, mercantile, and saloons and contributed to Round Rock's growth from a tiny community to the thriving city of 40,000+ people today.

Next up, Georgetown - we had lunch in this small city located along the Chisholm Trail. The local historians attribute much of Georgetown's stable, healthy economy to the fact that it was a major tributary where the cowboys drove their cattle right through the heart of downtown. The financial recovery in the 1870s was aided by the growth of the cattle industry putting Georgetown in the middle of various feeder routes to the Chisholm Trail, without the cattle drovers, this town may have turned into a ghost town.

We bedded down tonight at the Stagecoach Inn, a historic inn that has been hosting guests since the days of the cattle drives.  Tomorrow's adventures include the suspension bridge over the Brazos River and the outdoor walking museum in Cleburne.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Day 2 - Austin (the state capitol)- cattle drives deeply entrenched in politics

We headed north out of San Antonio this morning, as many of the cowboys would have done back in the day. Our first stop was the Bullock Texas State History Museum. It was fascinating to read that even though the cattle drives in the late 1800s only lasted about twenty years, this migration of livestock had a tremendous impact across the country. It lifted Texas out of post-Civil War poverty, provided much-needed affordable beef to the Northeast, and gave birth to the classic American cowboy legend. Back in the northeast there was a demand for beef in the growing cities, the U.S. Government needed to feed soldiers in forts, and they needed to feed Plains Indians on reservations - Texas had the obvious solution with a growing supply cattle. 

Surprisingly, we've learned that there were several women cattle ranchers in Texas.  The most noteworthy from Austin is Lizzie E. Johnson Williams, schoolteacher, cattle dealer, and investor.  On June 1, 1871, she registered her cattle brand under the name of Elizabeth Johnson. Two days later she made her first real-estate transaction by purchasing ten acres of land in Austin for 3,000 gold dollars. She achieved legendary status as an early Texas "cattle queen" and is thought to be the first woman in Texas to ride the Chisholm Trail with a herd of cattle that she had acquired under her own brand. 

After perusing the museum, we checked in to the Driskill Hotel, a four-story hotel that was built in the 1880s at the same time the Capitol and the first building of the University of Texas were under construction. Jesse Driskill wanted to have a hotel was even grander than those in the big cities and his vision and cattle money produced one of the grandest in Texas. It quickly became the meeting place of legislators, lobbyists, and the social leaders of Austin.  Just walking through the immense and historical lobby fills your eyes with so much to see you instinctively want to stop as soon as you step through the front doors.

We got settled in our room on the historic wing and headed out on foot for our next stop - the Austin State Capitol building to view the monument erected to commemorate the cowboys of the cattle drive era. 
The walk from our hotel to state capitol to see the statue was hot and sweaty to say the least.  It was 94 degrees out there and the city streets did not afford much shade in the middle of the afternoon.  Back when the drovers and cattle passed through Austin, the cattle barons stopped to conduct business in and around the State Capitol, not far from a spot where herds of Chisholm Trail cattle crossed the Colorado River.

It was commonplace for politicians to leave the Capitol building and head over to the Driskill to belly up to the highly decorated bar of the landmark hotel. Pretty soon a cattle baron would come in and the "politikin'" would commence. The baron wanted a new law or regulation that would benefit him and the politician wanted votes. One of the biggest political issues of the era was with conflicts between ranchers fencing public land and opponents cutting those fences. Fence cutting in Texas in the summer and fall of 1883 was a part of the conflict between landless cattlemen who wanted to retain practices of the open range and those who bought barbed wire to fence the land to establish themselves on permanent ranches.  It is recorded that politicians shied from the explosive issue, but on October 15 Governor John Ireland called a special session of the legislature to meet on January 8, 1884.  After a deluge of petitions and heated debates, the legislature made fence cutting a felony punishable by one to five years in prison - even carrying wire cutters was punishable by a hefty fine.

Today's adventures gave us insight into some political issues surrounding the cattle drives that we had not even thought about before arriving in Austin.  Tomorrow we get out of the cities and start seeing some sights along the actual trail itself.