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The Story of the The Chisholm Trail Marathon

Wichita, KS is a city which has been at the center of commerce and trade since the western expansion of the United States in the 19th century. Partly due to its centralized location, but also partly due to the pioneering spirit of settlers like Jesse Chishom, the namesake of the The Chisholm Trail.

Jesse Chisholm 

Jesse was born in Tennessee in 1803. The son of a Scottish father and a Cherokee mother, he eventually settled in the Arkansas territory with the Western Cherokees.

Reported to have speaking knowledge of 14 Indian languages, Jesse came to Wichita as an interpreter for the great peace council which included Comanche, Kiowa and Wichita tribes among others. He then became a well-known and established trader among the tribes.

During the Civil War, he was commissioned by the Wichita Indians to bring them out of harm's way. Jesse led the tribe east eventually settling in south central Kansas near the Arkansas River. There he re-established himself as a trader, and saw the need to connect Wichita with the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.

This is when Jesse established the trail that would eventually bear his name. 

The Chisholm Trail

Looking at The Chisholm Trail on the map, you notice it follows very closely with the natural topography of the land. The Indians had used this same trail while following the migration of buffalo. In essence, the trail follows the easiest path through the territory.

As Jesse was establishing this trail for trade with the Indian territory, a crisis was emerging south in the Texas cattle market. Following the Civil War the plains of Texas were swarming with cattle for which there was no market. Cattle were being sold for just a dollar or two per head without buyers readily available.

But the situation was much different in the north in states like Kansas and Missouri. In northern states cattle were selling for 10 times what they were selling for in Texas, but there hadn’t been any large-scale attempts to move cattle north before the war or since.

This is when the cattle industry began using “Chisholm’s Trail” to move their cattle north. The trail was the perfect route because it followed the natural topography of the land and created the easiest route north.

In 1867 the first Texas cattle known to have passed over The Chisholm Trail was guided by none other than Buffalo Bill himself, William Mathewson. To illustrate what being on the trail was like, Charles Moreau Harger described it later in 1892:

“From two hundred to four hundred yards wide, beaten into the bare earth, it reached over hill and through valley for over six hundred miles, a chocolate band amid the green prairies, uniting the North and the South. As the marching hooves wore it down and the wind blew and the waters washed the earth away it became lower than the surrounding territory, and was flanked by little banks of sand, drifted there by the wind. Bleaching skulls and skeletons of weary brutes who had perished on the journey gleamed along its borders, and here and there was a low mound showing where some cowboy had literally "died with his boots on." Occasionally a dilapidated wagon frame told of a break down, and spotting the emerald reaches on either side were the barren circle-like "bedding-grounds," each a record that a great herd had there spent a night.”

It’s said that the wealth of an empire passed over the trail, leaving its mark for decades to come. Cities where the trail passed through still mark where the trail lies and pay homage to its legacy in the naming of schools, streets and landmarks.

The Legacy that Inspired The Chisholm Trail Marathon

The Chisholm Trail Marathon commemorates and continues the pioneering legacy of Jesse Chisholm and the Chisholm Trail. By using the example Jesse set, we want to establish the easiest course to achieve marathon success while paying tribute to the beautiful history of Wichita as a place where people from everywhere can come together.

The Chisholm Trail Marathon follows the old Chisholm Trail through Wichita on what is now known as Douglas St. For marathon runners, this is a unique opportunity to run a “fast and flat” marathon course with minimal turns in order to more easily qualify for major marathons like Boston and New York.

Just like the cattlemen of old, runners in the The Chisholm Trail Marathon are using easiest path to achieve their goals. The legacy of Jesse Chisholm and The Chisholm Trail carry on today by teaching us to use the knowledge of the past and the inclusive sense of community to help move us forward.

Compiled with information from the Kansas Historical Society and Patrick Murphy, the 3x great grandson of Jesse Chisholm.