The Old Chisholm Trail: From Cow Path to Tourist Stop

The Old Chisholm Trail: From Cow Path to Tourist Stop

The Old Chisholm Trail: From Cow Path to Tourist Stop

The Old Chisholm Trail: From Cow Path to Tourist Stop


The Old Chisholm Trail charts the evolution of the major Texas cattle trails, explores the rise of the Chisholm Trail in legend and lore, and analyzes the role of cattle trail tourism long after the end of the trail driving era itself. The result of years of original and innovative research—often using documents and sources unavailable to previous generations of historians—Wayne Ludwig’s groundbreaking study offers a new and nuanced look at an important but short-lived era in the history of the American West.

Controversy over the name and route of the Chisholm Trail has persisted since before the dust had even settled on the old cattle trails. But the popularity of late nineteenth-century Wild West shows, dime novels, and twentieth-century radio, movie, and television western drama propelled the already bygone era of the cattle trail into myth—and a lucrative one at that.

Ludwig correlates the rise of automobile tourism with an explosion of interest in the Chisholm Trail. Community leaders were keenly aware of the potential economic impact if tourists were induced to visit their town rather than another, and the Chisholm Trail was often just the hook needed. Numerous “historical” markers were erected on little more than hearsay or boosterish memory, and as a result, the true history of the Chisholm Trail has been overshadowed. The Old Chisholm Trail is the first comprehensive examination of the Chisholm Trail since Wayne Gard’s 1954 classic study, The Chisholm Trail, and makes an important—and modern—contribution to the history of the American West.


Ask almost anyone to “draw an American” and more likely than not the depiction you will get back is of a cowboy. the cowboy, the laborer of the ranch, has become the quintessential American hero, the nation’s icon of record. Books, essays, personal narratives, and commentaries associated with ranching, cattlemen, cowboys, and related topics in the American West date from well over a century ago. Such an image remained popular as the twentieth century turned to the twenty-first and began to include works on cowboy poetry, music, fiction of the kind found in Beadle’s dime novels, myth, films, television programs, diaries and journals, and serious discourses. Their themes were myriad and covered sheepherders and sheep raising, details of agricultural husbandry, range wars of various kinds, drovers and trail driving, rustling, lawmen, agricultural financing, and more other topics than one can imagine. Combined, they began to make the cowboy, the ranch, and the expanses of the “West” the equivalent of the American Camelot, the mythical ideal of what Americans saw in themselves, that “rugged individualist” who brought justice and order to a chaotic land and time.

The reality of the cowboy, and his profession of raising and tending cattle, is different than the myth. the cowboy, or a “hand” or “waddie,” which is more accurate when you speak of the worker who tended cattle on a ranch, was anything but a lone individual. the hands on a ranch worked together in pursuit of a common goal. Their working days were long, twelve to fourteen hours, and they worked for meager pay, often for an absentee owner. Ranching, as a business . . .

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