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 San
Antonio 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 through Corn
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
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 100th birthday.
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.
"Letters from Central Texas"
11, 2006 column