In 2017, The Real Chisholm Trail Symposium made us rethink history and ruffled quite a few feathers. But even so, the reviews were overwhelming. The real
history of the cattle drives through North Texas to the Red River and then north on the Chisholm Trail was documented by an outstanding group of historians. The Texas routes weren't part of the Chisholm Trail and accepted "documented" history wasn't right.
Tom Weger's work on the Trail's history through Montague County received recognition by the Texas State Historical Commission. Tom received the Commission's Award of Excellence in Preserving History. This award recognizes a significant contribution to the understanding or preservation of Texas history. Tom’s tenacious pursuit to research to preserve the history of the Chisholm Trail in North Texas resulted in a documentary, a published book, and The Real Chisholm Trail Symposium, all of which have increased public awareness and appreciation of the great cattle drives in Texas.
The 2018 Symposium, Saint Jo's Historical Society chose to examine the
real cowboy that rode the trail and drove the cattle north to the rail yards. What did he wear, what munitions did he carry, what was his life like in the late 1800's? How did the drover evolve into the ranch hand and the iconic cowboy? What influences and challenges did he face?
We all know the "cowboys' of television and movies. Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, James Arness at Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke, Robert Horton as Flint McCullough in Wagon Train, and of course, John Wayne in Stagecoach, Red River, or countless other westerns portraying the life of a cowboy. We've romanticized and dreamed about being a cowboy, but he probably began as a boy or very young man wearing the name drover on the trail; a hard life.
Men were returning from the Civil War. There was little work. It may have been adventure that drew young men to the trail, but they would soon experience almost non-ending perils and little pay. They must have felt that the "cattle gods" were against them.
The weather was harsh; cold and hot extremes. Rain either flooded rivers and made the cattle move even slower, or water couldn't be found. Flooded rivers killed both cattle and men. Illnesses and accidents were always a fear. Raids by hostile Indians or rustlers required constant vigilance. The cry "STAMPEDE" was probably the most frightening sound in the drover's life. But there was a country crying for beef and the trail with all its perils was the answer.
As transportation changed, the cattle trails quickly became something of the past. The drovers would need to reinvent their work, leave the trail and settle into life on a ranch. We brought together historians, documentation, artifacts, and art that gave us an insight into the life of the real cowboy and his transition from drover to ranching.
We were privileged to include in the Symposium, a private collection of art by Frank Reaugh. As Reaugh stated, "It is my hope that my pictures portray those times . . .and will tell their story, and will be preserved because of historical value; for the steer and the cowboy have gone, the range has been fenced and plowed, and the beauty of the early days is but a memory." Reaugh's work provides an unparalleled picture of the Southwest in the days of cowboys, cattle trails, and a time before the land was tamed.