Wild West

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE OL’ CHISHOLM TRAIL

On April Fools’ Day 1868 cattleman M.A. Withers rode north out of Lockhart, Texas, with a herd of 600 Longhorn steers, eight hands and a cook. They were bound for the railhead at Abilene, Kansas, which had opened the previous summer. Just south of a trading post on the site of present-day Wichita, Kansas, Withers rode several miles ahead of the herd and stopped at a lake to water his horse and slake his own thirst. His horse suddenly jerked to attention, and the cattleman looked up to see seven mounted Osages galloping straight at him. As the lake hemmed him in, he had no choice but to face them.

The Indians, all well armed, raced right up to Withers and reined to a stop. After an uncomfortably long pause the leader held out his hand and asked for tobacco. Withers, thinking perhaps his time on earth was about to expire, handed over all the tobacco he had. Much to his relief, the Indians abruptly whirled and raced away. Withers rejoined the herd and continued the slow trek north. A little farther up the trail toward Abilene he came across a human skull with a bullet hole in the forehead. The events that led to its appearance on the Kansas plains were just as mysterious as the identity of the skull’s previous owner, but there was no doubt about his fate. Withers took the events in characteristic stride. His matter-of-fact recollections and those of fellow cattlemen are recorded in the 1924 book The Trail Drivers of Texas.

Over the decades misconceptions about the cattle drive era have wormed their way into

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