A new frontier: K-State Libraries hosts Chisholm Trail exhibit

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From now until Oct. 13, Kansas State students have the opportunity to discover more about a vital part of Kansas and American history: the Chisholm Trail.

As the Chisholm Trail celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017, K-State Libraries is celebrating the Chisholm Trail through the Hale Library exhibit “The Chisholm Trail: History and Legacy.”

This free exhibit, located on the fifth floor of Hale Library in Special Collections, contains items ranging from artifacts and maps to books and photos. The exhibit provides a window into the past of Kansas’ role in the Wild West and the Texas cattle trade.

Contributors to this exhibit include the Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections, the Kansas City Museum and K-State’s Historic Costume and Textile Museum.

For those who are not familiar with the Chisholm Trail, it was a major cattle drive route that ran through Texas, Oklahoma and, of course, Kansas. The trail provided a much-needed economic resuscitation to these states, from the ranchers in Texas to businesses in Kansas that shipped the cattle via railroad.

But there is more to the legacy of the Chisholm Trail than the role that Kansas played in it. In tandem with the final weeks of the exhibit, Michael Searles, retired professor of history at Augusta University and co-editor of the book “Black Cowboys in the American West,” lectured at Hale Library about an unknown but vital part of the Chisholm Trail and the American West: black cowboys.

Besides its namesake, Jesse Chisholm, the Chisholm Trail saw the lives and adventures of individuals such as Bronco Sam, who supposedly gallivanted through a clothing store on his horse while taming a longhorn steer.

A more factual example is the life of Addison Jones, who could stop a horse running at full speed by lassoing it with a rope he had anchored around his waist.

“[Jones] was such a spectacular figure,” Searles said in his lecture. “This was an individual who didn’t tell stories about himself. … Someone would see what he could do and say, ‘I have got to tell you about this.’”

Searles said he has been fascinated with cowboys and the vibrant history and lore of the Old West since he was a child.

“When I was growing up, going to the movie theaters, I saw Roy Rogers, I saw the Lone Ranger, I saw Hop-Along-Cassidy … but never any black cowboys,” Searles said.

This lack of representation is what inspired not only his career-long research on black cowboys, but presentations and lectures such as the one held at Hale Library.

One attendant of this lecture, Eric Barton, representative for the Manhattan Juneteenth Festival, said he was pleased with Searles shedding light on the history of black cowboys.

“Not a lot of us do the research, much less to share it the way [Searles] does,” Barton said. “It’s lectures like [Searles’] that expound on this diversity in America’s history that is often left unsung.”

While the opportunity to learn more about the Chisholm Trail and black cowboys through the exhibit ends on Oct. 13, Roger Adams, associate professor at Hale Library, said there is still more to learn.

“Regarding the rich history of the Chisholm Trail, these are just the tip of the iceberg,” Adams said.

There is not only historical knowledge to be gained from this lecture and exhibit, but societal wisdom as well.

“It broadens our perspective about who makes up America,” Searles said. “For many people, America is defined by its Western history. If other races are included, we begin to realize it was always a multicultural nation.”

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