The Chisholm Trail, named for Indian trader and guide Jesse Chisholm, was the primary route for cattle and longhorns heading north to the Kansas cattle market from south Texas between 1867 to 1885. More than five million cattle and a million mustangs completed the most remarkable livestock migration in world history. Let’s explore the Chisholm Trail, then and now, from Kingsville to Fort Worth, and points in between.
Kingsville, southwest of Corpus Christi, is known for its small-town charm and Texas-sized pride. The King Ranch, sitting on 825,000 acres, an area larger than Rhode Island, is a National Historic Landmark and offers daily ranch history tours. Founded by Henrietta M. King and named after her husband, Captain Richard King, Kingsville is a leading center for ranching, trade, technology, and industry. In a restored icehouse near downtown, the King Ranch Museum displays photographs of the famous vaqueros and ranch life in the 1930s and ’40s. The 1904 Train Depot Museum takes you back to the local railroad system, linking Corpus Christi to Brownsville, which helped establish Kingsville as a trading center in South Texas.
Editor’s Note: If you’re new to birding, our own Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris have some tips for planning the best birding trip.
Pro Tip: Stay at Birds of Paradise Inn and Gardens, about 17 miles southeast of Kingsville on the serene Baffin Bay. It’s cozy and out of the way, has fully equipped kitchens, and is great for birding and fishing.
2. Corpus Christi, The Gulf Coast Capital
In Chisholm Trail days, Nueces County flourished with over 56,000 cattle and 10 meat packing plants, making Corpus Christi the main gulf port that shipped cattle to New Orleans.
Get your See You Soon CC Attractions Pass and learn more about the cattle industry at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, one of five attractions included in your pass. See the USS Lexington Museum, the WWII aircraft carrier with ship tours and an expansive flight deck.
You’ll see sharks and stingrays, dolphins, birds, and turtles at the Texas State Aquarium on the North Shore. Get a bite to eat at the Pepsi Shoreline Grill or get wet at the H-E-B Splash Park. Explore nature trails and floral gardens on the south side at the South Texas Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. Located in the Bayfront/Downtown area, see the Art Museum of South Texas with a waterfront view.
Get up close and personal with the sea turtles at Padre Island National Seashore, the most extended undeveloped barrier island globally and the most essential U. S. nesting beach for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.
Pro Tip: I love staying at the Omni Hotel in the downtown Marina District with beautiful bay views. Dine at the Republic of Texas Bar and Grill for chef-prepared fresh seafood and prime cuts.
3. San Antonio
Many cattle herds started their long journey around San Antonio, a gathering location for the critical local cattle industry. See local exhibits and artifacts and learn more about Texas cowboy life at the Witte Museum and Buckhorn Saloon and Museum.
The San Antonio River Walk is the number one attraction in Texas. Don’t hesitate to splurge for a River Walk hotel with a river view. Be sure to visit El Mercado and La Villita Historic Village near the downtown River Walk. Visit the museums along the Museum Reach and the Spanish missions that date back to the 1600s along the Mission Reach River Walk Trail.
Pro Tip: I like to stay at the St. Anthony Luxury Collection Hotel just off the River Walk or the Hotel Contessa, with the Las Ramblas Restaurant for gourmet eats and the Cork Bar for daily happy hours.
Two herding routes converged in Lockhart, and on some days, five to six thousand heads of cattle passed along this outpost during the old Chisholm Trail days.
Today, Lockhart, northeast of San Antonio, is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Black's Barbecue, since 1932, is one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in Texas. In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson asked Black’s to cater barbecued sausage, and it was served on the U.S. Capitol grounds in front of the Smithsonian Institute.
Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites) serves beef, sausage, and pork on brown butcher paper with no sides. Enjoy cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onion, and avocado with your favorite beverage. Don’t ask for barbecue sauce here. The owners say “good barbecue doesn’t need the sauce.”
Floyd Wilhelm opened Chisholm Trail Barbeque in 1978 after selling his boat to start up his business. Order by the pound, family packs, plate lunches, sandwiches, sides, and desserts like brownies, pecan pie, or homemade banana pudding. The daughter of Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt opened Smitty’s Market in October 1999, serving their barbeque on brown paper with all the same fixings, plus Grandpa Smitty’s secret recipe -- beans!
Pro Tip: After antiques shopping along Main Street, take a selfie in front of the historic Caldwell County Courthouse.
5. Austin, The Texas Capital
Cattle herds crossed the Colorado River near Austin. One of the herders, Colonel Jesse Driskill, settled in Austin, bought an entire city block for $7,500, and opened the Driskill Hotel in 1886. The Driskill is still a legendary Austin landmark offering luxurious accommodations.
Visit the Texas State Capitol Building, which is 14 feet taller than the United States Capitol. When you walk into the grand rotunda, look down to see the seals of the six countries that have governed Texas, then look up to the beautiful dome. Opened in 2001, the Bob Bullock Museum is the state’s official history museum, honoring Bullock, the 38th lieutenant governor of Texas.
See the Elizabet Ney Museum, a tribute to an early leader in the Texas Women’s Movement, with the sculptures of world figures on display. Catch live music at Austin City Limits at the Moody Theatre or Antone’s for blues. Spend a day on the water at Lake Austin or Lake Travis with Keep Austin Wet, who will provide a professional crew and mandatory captain to keep you entertained.
Pro Tip: Enjoy dinner at Jeffrey’s with prime steaks, king crab and avocado toast, lobster bisque, and chocolate souffle with salted caramel anglaise.
6. Round Rock
Cattle herds continued north of Austin by crossing Brushy Creek near the famous circular limestone rock that marked the lower-water crossing near Round Rock. Stop at Chisholm Trail Crossing Park with scenes of the old cattle drive. A gunfight between train robber Sam Bass and Texas Ranger A.W. Grimes called the “Sam Bass Shoutout” resulted in Sam’s capture and death. Find his grave in the Round Rock Cemetery northwest of Old Town.
See the historic, Victorian Woodbine Mansion, constructed 1895-1900, home for weddings and social events. Other historical architectures in Round Rock built between 1876 and 1881 tell an ongoing story of the old days.
Pro Tip: Kalahari Resorts is America’s largest indoor water park with 14 restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, and coffee, plus luxury accommodations. It’s huge!
In 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge, a National Historic Landmark, provided a costly but convenient bridge for cattle herds to cross the Brazos River in Waco. A sculpture of trail riders near the bridge still honors the famous Chisholm Trail.
Visit the Magnolia Market and Silos, of Chip and Joanna Gaines fame. Waco is home to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Baylor University, and the Dr. Pepper Museum. Visit Cameron Park with the zoo, Lovers Leap, Jacob’s Ladder, and more. Ride the Silo District Trolley to explore the downtown cultural district’s restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, wineries, and famed farmers market.
8. Fort Worth
Fort Worth was the last main stop for rest, raucous behavior, and restocking of supplies before heading into Native American territory along the Chisholm Trail. Today, the Fort Worth Herd, the only twice-daily longhorn cattle drive, commemorates the old Chisholm Trail, and it goes right down Exchange Boulevard.
Visit the Fort Worth Stockyards and be transported back to Cowtown history. Stay at the new Drover Hotel beginning in March, dance the two-step at Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky-tonk, and dine at Chef Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove restaurant. Stroll the new Mule Alley with stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, and a winery. Shop for Lucchese boots and Stetson hats on Main Street and sit astride a saddle at Booger Red’s saloon in the Stockyards Hotel.
Pro Tips: Visit the Fort Worth Zoo, the number one zoo in the nation! And, as Will Rogers once said, “Always drink upstream from the herd.”
Editor’s Note: For more Texas inspiration, consider our picks for Best Of Texas: From Big And Bold To Quaint And Charming, These TX Towns Deserve A Visit. For more on the Chisolm Trail, see our source for the info provided in the first paragraph of this article here.