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Caldwell County and The Chisholm Trail


On the second weekend of June every year, Lockhart celebrates its position on the historic Chisholm Trail by holding a four-day festival. Although Lockhart and Caldwell County have changed a good deal in the century since the cattle drives, the festival's horseshoe pitch, fiddling contest, barbeque cook-off, and Kiwanis Rodeo bring to mind the days when men gathered herds from all over South Texas and drove them north.

After the Civil War, veterans returned to their homes in Texas only to face economic hardship fueled by a devastating drought. The hard scabble soil of Caldwell County could not support the lush crops of East Texas, but where vegetables wouldn't flourish, cattle would. The country's abundance of fresh water and grass afforded an excelent range for cattle. This plethora of beef cattle, coupled with the need for meat in the Northern states, inspired ranchers to look into this ready market.

The lack of railroads proved the only obstacle to access to northern markets, but this did not stop the enterprising Texans. The first drive took place April 1 1866 when Thornton Chisholm, the son of settlers from Scotland, gathered a herd of 1800 head. The herd started out at Cardwell Flats, two miles east of Cuero and split in two, with Dave Augustine the boss of one herd and Frank White bossing the other.

The route taken was north from Cuero to Gonzales, then northwest to San Marcos, following the Caldwell/Hays County line. From there, the herd went to Austin, then straight north through Kileen to Glen Rose before bearing northwest again to Seymour and Vernon, crossing the Red River into Oklahoma. The trip ended at the nearest railhead at St. Joseph, Missouri, taking 7 months and 10 days to complete.

The passage of years saw slight variations in this route, as some herds were driven up from the Rio Grande Valley and along the Gulf Coast. The Old Beef Trail ran from Gonzales through Harwood, east of Plum Creek, then north past the Mannix store. It crossed Plum Creek at the old Gonzales Crossing, then went through the Stokes Mesenheimer land, proceeding to Sea Willow. Here, the herd was held up while someone went in to Lockhart to fetch a cutter to pilot the herd through Lockhart and cut out cattle which did not belong. Some spring days saw five to six thousand head pass through Lockhart, leaving damaged gardens and broken fences in their wake.

There were occasional stampedes, the most famous occuring in 1882 involving a herd from the King Ranch near the coast. The herd, bedded down on Plum Creek east of Lockhart, stampeded during a slight storm and headed home. The cowboys spent several days regathering the herd which was scattered from Lockhart to Gonzales.

The trail from Lockhart ran due north where it joined with another main trail near Lytton Springs. This trail, the San Antonio to Nacogdoches Trail, entered Caldwell County at the Old San Marcos crossing a few miles above present-day Martindale.

It is generally thought that the first herd to go up the trail from Lockhart was driven by Lockhart resident Colonel J.J. Meyers in 1868. By 1872 Jim Ellison, J.W. ''Black Bill'' Montgomery, Mark Withers, and others were buying cattle in Caldwell county to form herds for the drive north. Often, owners of small herds either sold their cattle outright to these men, or formed larger herds with others so that at the end of the trip, the proceeds and expenses were to be evenly divided.

Each year, 200 herds composed of about 2,500 head of cattle each, went up the trail. The cattle were marked with the road brand of the man in charge of the herd. The typical outfit consisted of a dozen men, six horses per man, a mess wagon and team. They generally covered 15 miles a day. The heyday of the herds, from 1870 to 1890 saw 10 million head of cattle travel up that long and sometimes dangerous trail.

Sons of DeWitt Colony is a wealth of biographical information about settlers of this county, including Lockhart's namesake, Byrd Lockhart.

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