Jesse Chisholm Biography

Jesse Chisholm

founder of the Chisholm Trail
Born: circa 1806
Birthplace: Cherokee Nation, eastern Tennessee

Born to a father of Scottish ancestry and a Cherokee mother, Chisholm went to live with the Western Cherokees in Arkansas as a youth. He became a skilled hunter, guide, and trader. In the 1820s, Chisholm settled near Fort Gibson, in what is now eastern Oklahoma, and became a trader. In 1836, he married Eliza Edwards, whose father ran a trading post in present-day Hughes County, Okla.

Chisholm traded goods with Plains Indians throughout Texas, Kansas, and Indian Territory, learning about a dozen Indian languages. Chisholm became a sought-after guide and adviser about Indian affairs. While president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston asked Chisholm to contact Indian tribes of West Texas. Chisholm was instrumental in setting up and interpreting at several meetings to discuss peace and cooperation between Indians and Texas settlers. During the Civil War, Chisholm traded with Indians on behalf of the Confederacy, but by the end of the conflict, he had become an interpreter for the Union.

In 1865, Chisholm hauled a wagon loaded with buffalo hides from his trading post near Wichita, Kans., to a site near what is now Oklahoma City. The wagon carved deep ruts in the prairie, creating a trail that eventually connected Abilene, Kans., with San Antonio, Tex. The route came to be called the Chisholm Trail. During the next 20 years, traders and cowboys herding Texas longhorn cattle to the railroad in Kansas followed the trail. Though the trail fell into disuse with the expansion of the railroads, it was immortalized in cowboy ballads and frontier lore.

Died: 1868