Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Following the Chisholm Trail on the Annual Girl Trip

Denisa, her Mother, and two sisters have been going on "girl trips" for more than twenty years. We've been to so many places that it is getting harder to find interesting places that we haven't already visited. So we're glad when a new tourist attraction suddenly appears on the radar. This year our destination is Waco, Texas. But as we left the Oklahoma City area, we realized that our path would take us along the old Chisholm Trail. In case you have forgotten your history (like we had), here's a refresher. The Chisholm Trail is the route of the cattle drives that brought millions of longhorns from the range land of south Texas all the way to the railheads in Abilene, Kansas in the late 1800's. Just outside of Yukon, Oklahoma, is a nice statue of a cowboy on horseback. But it also explains that we are standing on the land where those herds of cattle and cowboys crossed on the Chisholm Trail.

The statue is actually of Bob Funk, the founder of the Express Personnel Company. Just down the road is the red barn where the Express Clydesdales live until they are needed to pull their big wagon in parades. We saw a mare and her colt grazing in the pasture beside the road. 

Our next stop was the Chisholm Trail Museum about two hours down the road in Duncan, Oklahoma. Like usual, we arrived before the museum was open. We are probably the only group of women travelers that seem to always get places early. So we had time to take pictures of the large statue commemorating the cattle and cowboys of the trail.

A fitting flower picture of the day is the brightly blooming cactus flowers that would be found all along the Chisholm Trail. If we're not mistaken, that looks like an Engelmann cactus.

The outside exhibits include a map engraved in the sidewalk, illustrating the 1,000-mile route of the Chisholm Trail. We could see the many water crossings, and the few towns where supplies could be purchased along the way.

Denisa's sister, Connie, is pretending to be a cowboy, clearly happy to ride a horse all day for two months that the usual trip took. Most cowboys were paid $1 per day to eat beans and cornbread, sleep on the ground, and ride in the dust stirred up by 2,000 cattle.

Before the trip got started, all the cattle had to be branded. Denisa's Mother is proudly displaying the branch used on her ranch in the panhandle. Denisa stamped that "BL" at the branding station in the museum.

There were obviously fun exhibits and learning projects for kids in the museum. But we liked the 4D theater the most--where we experienced first-hand the wind, rain, lightning, and even rattlesnakes on the trail. Why in the world would cowboys drive so many cattle so many miles through all those hardships? It's because a steer worth less than $4 in south Texas would sell for more than $40 at the railhead in Northern Kansas. This trip brought those walking steaks closer to the markets of city-dwellers hungry for beef.

We headed on down the road, crossing the state line into Texas. Our next stop was Mineral Wells, a town we have driven through many times. But we never had stopped to see where the town got its name.

For many years, this town was famous for its mineral waters that offered medicinal effects from bathing and drinking. We are at the Crazy Water Company, where visitors can taste Crazy Water 1, 2, 3, and 4--based on the mineral content of each.

Available by the bottle or by the case, or straight out of the tap at the store, it seemed to be selling like crazy. They claim that it can cure what ails you.

Our last stop of the day is Cleburne, another Texas town with a cowboy history. Just to keep with the theme, we found that the new Chisholm Trail Parkway connects modern-day travelers from Cleburne to Fort Worth. Connie is standing beside one of the massive murals that decorate the plaza downtown.

We drove all over town looking for the murals, which we had read about. Imagine how silly we felt when we realized they were just across the street from the hotel where we were staying!

Instead of the usual chain hotel along the interstate, tonight we're staying in a suite at the Liberty Hotel in downtown Cleburn. Built as a luxury hotel in the 1920's, it was refurbished recently to its original grandeur.

From our second floor room, we had a great view of the old atrium style foyer of this well-reviewed hotel. We would add our first-rate review to the others.

The next morning we were on the road to our final destination--the city of Waco. We found that it is another stop on the Chisholm Trail. This city has memorialized these tough longhorns and even tougher cowboys in larger-that-life statues down by the Brazos River that meanders through town.

As hard as it is to drive 2,000 head of cattle across a prairie, it's even harder to get them across the rivers of the Chisholm Trail. As we look down the Brazos River, it looks like a formidable task.

That's why the Waco Suspension bridge was built in 1868. Ranchers were charged 5 cents per head to cross the bridge, but the cowboys (and cattle) appreciated a river crossing where the hooves stayed dry.

When it was built, this was the largest suspension bridge in Texas. It still stands ready for the pedestrian traffic that now uses it for free.

We've had a good history lesson on our way down the Chisholm Trail. From 1867 through 1884, five million cattle and a million mustangs made their way up this trail. During that short period it saw "the greatest migration of livestock in world history." But we have more to see and do while we are visiting Waco. It seems the tourist traffic to this little college town has picked up remarkably in the last few years. We hear there's more people coming through town now than the longhorns, in what might be the greatest migration of HGTV viewers in world history.

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