Road Trip: The Chisholm Trail
Sprinkled with history centers, landmarks and countless trail stories, the Chisholm Trail is known as a wonder of the Western world. The trail runs along what is now U.S. 81 and vehicles can traverse the route more efficiently than the chuck wagons and cattle drivers of pioneer days, making the trip perfect for the adventure seeker and history buff alike.
|Photo: Ted Streuli|
Packed with beautiful landscapes and wildly exciting history, a road trip along the Chisholm Trail is the ideal Oklahoma experience. This iconic cattle trail, carved into the red Oklahoma dirt, once provided a pass for south Texas ranchers to distribute beef to northern states. Today, the route maintains the small town charm that reminds folks they’re traveling through a legendary piece of the Old West.
Between 1867 and 1877, more than three million head of cattle passed along the Chisholm Trail through Oklahoma. The route left a permanent hoof print on the culture and heritage that remains in the region today, starting in Duncan.
One of the most famed strips of land in the American West, the trail was created by trader Jesse Chisholm, a character you’ll meet at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan. Here, you’ll be introduced to an assortment of historical figures who helped carve out this famous route. Visitors to the center are greeted by life-size sculptures of cowboys driving longhorns along the trail. Step inside to find the trail drawn out on a path to give visitors a sense of the trail’s geography and the cultural impact it had on the region.
Interactive exhibits let little cowboys and cowgirls try their hand at tossing a lasso on a steer or riding a bucking bronco. Step into the multi-sensory theater to feel the splash of the herd through a creek and smell the coffee cooking over an open flame. As fun as it is educational, step around the museum’s campfire to hear Jesse Chisholm himself impart the history of the trail.
Continue on the trail to Marlow and you’ll find a piece of the route packed with outlaw legends. Imaginations run wild in this town, named for the Marlow brothers, a group falsely accused of rustling cattle on the Chisholm Trail. Their story was most famously portrayed in the film, “The Sons of Katie Elder,” starring John Wayne. Head to the Marlow Area Museum to see artifacts from the Marlow family including the contract signed by the members of the family handing over the rights for the film. The museum also houses the original tombstones of Marlow brothers Alfred, Boone and Lewellyn.
At Marlow’s Redbud Park, a Western-themed playground called The Hideout adds to the outlaw experience. The playground gives young travelers the opportunity to play outlaw, while setting out on the half-mile walking trail gives visitors the chance to glimpse the rugged cattle route. A pleasant surprise along the Chisholm Trail, Redbud Park encompasses 10 city blocks and is also home to Redbud Chapel, one of the first churches built in the area.
Make a stop in Yukon on your trip and you’ll be following in the footsteps of cattle drivers who saw this pleasant piece of Oklahoma land as a great place to rest. Their stopping point is memorialized at the Chisholm Trail Watering Hole & Historic Marker. Located near the Freedom Trail Playground, it’s the ideal stop for young history buffs as they can enjoy a dinosaur dig in addition to the award-winning playground located on-site.
Another Yukon stop that beckons travelers is the Express Clydesdales Ranch. Step into a beautiful Amish-built barn that’s been standing strong along the Chisholm Trail since 1936 and you’ll be greeted by impressive horses weighing almost a ton each and standing about six feet tall at the shoulder. The Yukon Historical Society has paired with the ranch to present the history of the Old West cattle drives through exhibits in the barn’s loft area and throughout the property. From the loft, gaze out over miles and miles of rolling Oklahoma farm land.
Hit the trail again and before you know it you’ll be rolling into Kingfisher. This stop solidifies the impact the Chisholm Trail had on the community with a life-size statue of Jesse Chisholm standing right in the center of downtown. The iconic trailblazer is depicted on top of a horse, extending a peace pipe just as he might have done while traveling through Indian Territory to trade buffalo hides in Kansas.
The Chisholm Trail Museum & Governor Seay Mansion in Kingfisher is packed with impressive exhibits that reveal the timeline of the trail beginning with Jesse Chisholm and ending with the land runs at the end of the century. A frontier village on-site features a church, bank and a log cabin that was once home to the mother of the Dalton Gang, one of the region’s most famous outlaw outfits.
The perfect way to wrap up your road trip is in Enid, a town that pulls back the curtain on how this famous route through Oklahoma forever changed the state and its settlers. Head to the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center to see how the trail blazed by cattlemen later welcomed a boom with the Land Run of 1893 that settled Enid. The movement of cattle through the area laid the foundation for the farming and cattle industries that continue today.
In addition to a one-of-a-kind museum packed with educational exhibits, the center is home to the Humphrey Heritage Village, a living history village that reveals every aspect of pioneer life. Go back in time as you stroll through a one-room schoolhouse, Enid’s first Episcopal church, a family home built in 1905 and the only remaining land office from the 1893 Land Run. While in Enid, take a jaunt over to Simpson’s Old Time Museum & Movie Studio for a fun and fascinating glimpse of Wild West history. An authentic trail scene complete with a campfire, chuck wagon cook and life-size bison will take you right back to the dusty trail days.
- Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
- Oklahoma Travel Guide and Map Kit
- Oklahoma Western Experience
- Monthly TravelOK eNewsletter