Trail Rides Again
by Clay Coppedge
wanting to follow the Old Chisholm Trail through Bell County would
find part of the quest relatively easy, at least as easy as driving
on IH-35. The old trail roughly paralleled the Interstate from Salado
After that following the old trail might get a little trickier, though
anyone who spends much time here passes or crosses it many more times
than they could ever know. If you've ever been to downtown Belton
you've no doubt been on the old trail, not that you had any way of
The Old Chisholm Trail, the primary route out of Texas for livestock,
was considered one of the wonders of the western world in its day.
From 1867 until 1884, more than five million cattle and a million
mustangs followed the trail, making it the largest migration of livestock
Despite a short history, the legend of the Chisholm Trail and cattle
drives in general endures. Larry McMurtry found that out when he won
the Pulitzer prize for his cattle-drive adventure story, "Lone-some
"For more than a dozen tempestuous years, beginning in 1867, the Chisholm
Trail was the Texas cowhand's road to high adventure," Wayne Gard
wrote in his 1957 book on the trail.
"It held the excitement of sudden stampedes, hazardous river crossings
and brushes with Indian marauders. It promised, at the end of the
drive, hilarious celebrations in the saloons, gambling parlors and
dance halls of frontier Kansas towns."
noted that the trail, on a map, would resemble a tree. The roots were
feeder trails from South Texas, the trunk was the main route from
through Indian Country and the branches were extensions to various
railheads in Kansas
Following the trail into Bell County from the south, you would come
Hill in Williamson County on FM 1105 and make your way to
IH-35, through Prairie Dell. The trail crossed Salado Creek
and the Lampasas River at the Old Shanklin Crossing.
The Camp Tahuaya Boy Scout Camp near there is one of a few
places where evidence of the trail can still be seen. Wagons wore
ruts in the limestone there that survive to this day, and will survive
for many more days. Similar reminders of the trail are scattered here
and there, mostly on private property.
Up until this point, you have roughly been following the Old Military
Road, which old timers usually called the Old Corn Road.
It was actually an old buffalo trail that the Army used as a supply
route between a string of forts in West Texas. It went from San
Antonio into Bell County, roughly along the path IH-35, then branched
off into two forks.
The prairie grasses through this area were rich and luxuriant. The
drives usually started about the first of April, passing through Central
Texas during the height of wildflower season. Herds varied in size
from 500 to 10,000 and averaged between 2,500-3,000 head. The Longhorns
ate their way north, until they reached market, at which point they
became the food.
Before leaving the county, you cross Stampede Creek, the scene
of the largest stampede in the history of West. About 3,000 cattle,
apparently spooked by a thunder-storm earlier in the day, simultaneously
bolted that night, under clear skies, and about 2,700 plunged to their
death off a bluff along the creek. It happened on July 4, 1876, America's
Barbed wire and a Kansas quarantine law put an end to the Chisholm
Trail. But its existence spurred the building of railroads in the
state and did more than anything else to pull Texas out of poverty
in the wake of the Civil War.
the state historical commission and towns along the old trail are
relying on it again. The commission has a slick color brochure touting
the old trail and tourist stops along the way.
Belton uses its connection
to the historic trail to tout Bell County tourism, and the historical
commission's brochure highlights a stop at the Bell County Historical
Museum, which has an exhibit on the Chisholm Trail.
More emphasis on the trail is in store for the future. Salado sculptor
Troy Kelly is working on a bronze sculpture for the museum. It's expected
to be completed in about 16 months, Bell County Museum director Stephanie
In the meantime, the museum is a good place to learn about the trail.
After all, you will practically be standing on the old trail as you
learn about it.
© Clay Coppedge
June 11, 2006 column
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