Monday, December 14, 2009

Round Rock, Texas, And The Chisholm Trail

Extending along the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country was the famous Chisholm Trail. Although some purists insist that the Texas portions of the trail were merely feeder routes, and the “official” Chisholm Trail only began in Oklahoma, the purist view, taking into account the broad view of history, makes little sense.

The historical significance of the trail, by whatever name, comes from the fact that Texas Longhorn cattle were driven by the millions up specific stretches of land to the railheads in Kansas. Without the cattle coming up out of Texas into the Oklahoma Territory, Jesse Chisholm’s Oklahoma trading trail would have become but a very small footnote in history. The historical meaning of the trail in the history of our country is not about its name, but about the fact that Texas cattle came from the southern regions of Texas to be sold in the north, and the cowboy legends, folklore, and myths it inspired. The cattle did not magically appear on the Oklahoma border, but walked up trails in Texas to get there.

The ranching of cattle in Texas began prior to the American Civil War, but ebbed during the war itself, as Texans went off to fight, and the markets were disrupted. After the war’s conclusion, however, ranching began in earnest. Texas Longhorn cattle were originally driven north, and east, through Arkansas and Missouri, but eventually it was discovered that the Texas Longhorns, who were immune to its effects, carried a tick which caused “Texas Fever,” that decimated local cattle. As a result, laws were passed in those states to prevent the passage of Texas cattle. In addition, the cattle bosses and their herds were often met with armed citizens to prevent access through their land.

Given these setbacks, the cattle were driven further west away from onerous laws and hostile landowners. But the movement west, was not without a price, where, drier conditions, and unwelcoming Native-Americans, caused different problems. Nevertheless, the cattle drives continued up the Chisholm Trail until the late 1880’s, when a combination of factors (laws in Kansas, farmers, barbed wire, and railroads in Texas) brought it all to an end.

The Chisholm Trail, and the cowboy lore it created, has captured the imagination of many generations since the time it was relevant, but, it really only lasted twenty years or so. It was an important part of the “Old West,” because it created the cowboy. In this country, because of movies, television, and myth, the cowboy best represents this period of history in the American West, and in some places around the world, the cowboy represents our country itself. In our thoughts today, the time period of the "Old West" was long-lasting, but, in reality, it only took place from just before the beginning of the American Civil War until the early 1900’s.

Round Rock, Texas, which lies along the eastern boundary of the hill country, was right on the Chisholm Trail, and gets its name from a round rock in the middle of Brushy Creek, where Native-Americans and the cattle drivers alike, knew, marked a spot of low water where passage for people and cattle was safe.

Today, Round Rock’s Chisholm Trail Road crosses Brushy Creek. On the west side of the road is Chisholm Trail Crossing Park, which commemorates the historic trail drives with sculptures of Texas Longhorns and early Texas pioneers. And, in the creek itself, just east of the bridge, is the round flat rock which was such an important marker during the trail drives, and which gave the city its name.

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