top of page

Abilene Cattle Trail, or was it the Chisholm Trail?

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Portion of an 1872 map of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory LOC
1872 map of the Red River cattle trail crossing at Red River Station – notice the cattle trail labeled “Abilene Cattle Trail” in Indian Territory northwest of the ford. (LOC)

The Chisholm Trail was known as the Abilene Cattle Trail on maps, but what about those who used the trail?

A lot of “to do”has been made over the years about the Chisholm Trail. And don’t the words, “Chisholm Trail,” just sound wonderfully exotic? That’s probably why Texas has made it its historical mission to promote its association with the trail, though technically, the trail never made its way into Texas… and technically, it was never known officially as the Chisholm Trail.

Texas cattle drivers trailed cattle throughout the state, but crossed the Red River in only a few areas where fords occurred. The drivers also tried to circumvent getting into the thick of the forests in the Cross Timbers, and stayed driving on the prairie between the forests- the forests served as natural boundaries for the cattle road’s open prairies, actually.

None of the trails the drovers took in Texas and crossed at the Red in the years after the Civil War had a name, but the drovers all had a destination: Kansas. The first officially sanctioned cattle trail after the Civil War was the one leading to Abilene, Kansas. Its promoter, Joseph McCoy, actually surveyed the route all the way into Indian Territory. Just after crossing the Red River at Red River Station in Montague County, the cowboys met with the actual trail, which was known to Congressmen, trail bosses, trail hands, meat packers, ranchers, and railroaders as the “Abilene Cattle Trail.”

Some called it the "Western Trail" as it was west of the Texas Trail/ Shawnee Trail, which was established before the Civil War. Some cowboys called it the "Chisholm Trail" as it met with a more established trail at the Canadian River by Jesse Chisholm's Store.

Want to know more about how the Abilene Cattle Trail became known as the Chisholm Trail – and all the other trails that crossed the Red River? Order my book!

The trail crossing – with the features identified from the 1872 map above – can be discerned in a Google Map aerial image.
148 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page