Friday, May 17, 2013

James R. Mead, Wichita, and the Chisholm Trail

When I was in college, my friends and I would sit around and have imaginary conversations with historical figures. And the question would come up, "Who in the history of mankind would you most like to have a conversation with?" The idea was always intriguing, a chance to talk to someone who shaped the course of history, to get the inside view of what happened, before the historians reshaped history to their way of thinking.

There were, of course, many men and women with whom I would have loved to share dinner and a conversation with. But if the subject was the coming of the Chisholm Trail to Wichita, then surely I would invite James R. Mead to dinner. Mead came to Kansas Territory from Iowa in the spring of 1859. For almost ten years he traveled the plains hunting and trading with the Indians. In 1868 he took out a claim on the site of present day Wichita. His claim encompassed what would become Broadway to Washington and Central to Douglas avenues.

This claim might have remained an empty prairie had not Mead and others had the grit to bring the Texas cattle herds coming up the Chisholm Trail to Wichita. In Hunting and Trading on the Great Plains, 1859-1875, Mead tells the story of how this came to be.

And if I could invite some friends to join us at the dinner table, then I would invite the Texans themselves who drove the cattle up the trail.

 Here is a chance to converse with the Texas cattlemen who drove their herds north to Kansas during the heyday of the Chisholm Trail. It was a period of Texas and Kansas history from 1867 to 1885. A time when more than 5,000,000 head of cattle were driven north over the Chisholm Trail to the cattle towns of Abilene, Wichita, Ellsworth, Caldwell, and Dodge.

These "yarns" are told by the cattlemen themselves. They were collected by J. Marvin and published in 2004. Enjoy.

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