Two trails that shaped the history of Texas and the nation in the days when great herds of cattle were driven through Fort Worth could gain national historic designation under a draft plan supported by cowboy heritage enthusiasts.
The recognition of the Chisholm and Western trails would be a first for the National Trail System, said Aaron Mahr, superintendent of the National Trails Intermountain Region in Santa Fe, N.M.
“This is the first time we are looking at the cattle trail routes to be considered as eligible as components of the National Trail System,” he said. Mahoney said the trails would be included on national historic trail maps.
Sylvia Gann Mahoney of Fort Worth said proponents of the designation want to see the name Great Western Trail used as the official name. Both have been used, but an environmental assessment currently calls it the Western Trail.
National Historic Trails honor historical routes in U.S. history. For example, the Trail of Tears — the route taken by about 17,000 members of the Cherokee Nation when they were forced out of their homeland — is recognized by the federal government.
The Chisholm and Great Western trails from South Texas to Kansas and other destinations were taken by cowboys driving about 10 million cattle in 1867 and the 1880s, according to the National Parks Service.
As National Historic Trails, the Chisholm and Western would start in the Kingsville area about 400 milies south of Fort Worth and move north in parallel. The Chisholm Trail passes through or near Austin and Fort Worth, then goes to Oklahoma and ends in Kansas. The Western Trail stretches north through San Antonio, Altus, Okla., Dodge City, Kan. and on to Nebraska.
Maps of the route are included in the study.
National historic recognition of the two trails would culminate grassroots efforts that have united members of Rotary Clubs and history associations in communities that were once stops on cattle drives.
Public comment period ends Friday
If the trails get the designation, the National Parks System would likely work with willing landowners and communities along the historic routes to help display historical landmarks, Mahr said.
For example, a ranch or general store that was used during the cattle drive days could be included in historical materials and open to the public.
“There is no land acquisition involved in this,” Mahr said. “It is strictly a partnership-oriented development.”
Mahr said the project is in its early phases and still requires approval from Congress.
The feasibility study is made possible by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2009.
A draft of the study and environmental assessment has been available for public review since Jan. 5 at parkplanning.nps.gov. A public comment period closed Friday. But supporters can still contact lawmakers with their opinions.
“Contacting our Congressional representative and senators will be critical then,” Mahoney says in a statement. “It is a win-win situation; however encouragement to move the bill forward will be needed. Our voices matter.”
Effort started in 2003
Efforts to recognize the cattle drive heritage started years ago in Oklahoma by Chisholm Trail scholar Robert Klemme, Mahoney said.
Supporters of the designation have also been involved in a project called “Marking the Great Western Trail. As part of that effort, about 200 historical posts were placed in communities along the Great Western Trail. Started in 2003 as a joint effort between Altus Historical Association and the Vernon, Texas, Rotary Club, it spread through Rotary networks from Mexico across nine U.S. states and into Canada.
“We think it is pretty important,” said Jeff Bearden of Vernon. “The cattle drives were what rescued Texas from depression after the Civil War.”
In the Fort Worth region, the Chisholm Trail is already honored on schools and roadways. For example, the Chisholm Trail Parkway was named after it. The Chisholm Trail is displayed on a mural in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square.
“Everybody loves the cowboy,” Mahoney said. “Everybody who comes internationally wants to see a cowboy.”
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675