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Jesse Chisholm (1806 – March 4, 1868) was an Indian trader, guide, and interpreter, born in the Hiwassee region of Tennessee, probably in 1806. He is chiefly famous for being the namesake to the Chisholm Trail, which ranchers used to drive their cattle to eastern markets. Chisholm had built a number of trading posts in what is now western Oklahoma before the American Civil War. Ironically, he never drove cattle on the trail named for him.
His father, Ignatius Chisholm, was of Scottish ancestry and had worked as a merchant and slave trader in the Knoxville area in the 1790s. Around 1800 he married a Cherokee woman in the Hiwassee area, with whom he had three sons; Jesse was the eldest. Sometime thereafter Ignatius Chisholm separated from Jesse's mother and moved to Arkansas Territory. Jesse Chisholm was evidently taken to Arkansas by his mother with Tahlonteskee's group in 1810. During the late 1820s he moved to the Cherokee Nation and settled near Fort Gibson in what is now eastern Oklahoma. Chisholm became a trader and in 1836 married Eliza Edwards, daughter of James Edwards, who ran a trading post in what is now Hughes County, Oklahoma. Chisholm took trade goods west and south into Plains Indians country, was fluent in fourteen dialects, established small trading posts, and was soon in demand as a guide and interpreter. He was universally trusted for his fairness and neutrality, critical assets as diverse and often hostile cultures interacted for the first time. Eventually he interpreted at treaty councils in Texas, Indian Territory, and Kansas.
Chisholm was active in Texas for nearly twenty years. While he was the president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, who probably met Chisholm at Fort Gibson between 1829 and 1833 (and married Chisholm's aunt), called on him to contact the prairie Indian tribes of West Texas. Chisholm hence played a major role as guide and interpreter for several Indian groups at the Tehuacana Creek councils beginning in spring 1843, when he coaxed several tribes to the first council on Tehuacana Creek near the Torrey Brothers trading post eight miles south of the site of present-day Waco. Over the next year and a half he continued to offer his services to Houston, and on October 7, 1844, Chisholm got Comanches and others to attend a meeting at Tehuacana, where Houston spoke. In February 1846, while visiting the Torreys' post from a trip south of San Antonio, Chisholm was hired to bring Comanches to a council at Comanche Peak (Glen Rose today). The meeting was held on May 12. Finally, on December 10, 1850, Chisholm assembled representatives from seven tribes at a council on the San Saba River. At some of these meetings and on trading trips he was able to rescue captives held by Indians.
By 1858 Chisholm ended his trips into Texas and confined his activities to western Oklahoma. He left the Cherokee Nation and settled in the Creek Nation, near the mouth of the Little River, in what is now Hughes County, where he made his home. At various times he had trading posts out on the edge of the Great Plains, including one near the site of Lexington (in what is now Cleveland County) and one at Council Grove (near what is now Oklahoma City). Much of his trading was done by taking wagons and going to the villages of the Comanche and other tribes of the Great Plains. At various times he rescued captive children and youths from the Comanches and Kiowas by them. Most of these were Mexicans. He adopted them and reared them with his own family, treating them just as he did his own children. He went to Kansas with the Creek exiles, in the latter part of 1861, but soon drifted west to the site of what is now Wichita, Kansas, where the Wichita, Waco and other refugee tribes from southwestern Oklahoma were encamped.
During the Civil War he served the Confederacy as a trader with the Indians, but by 1864 he was an interpreter for Union officers. During the war Chisholm resided at the site of Wichita, Kansas; Chisholm Creek in the present city is named for him. In 1865, Chisholm and James R. Mead loaded a train of wagons at Fort Leavenworth and established a trading post at Council Grove on the North Canadian River near the site of the Overholser Lake dam in present-day Oklahoma City. Many of his Wichita friends followed, and their route later became the Chisholm Trail, which connected Texas ranches with markets on the railroad in Kansas. Chisholm attempted to arrange an Indian council at the Little Arkansas in 1865, but some tribes held out. In 1867, with the aid of Black Beaver, famous Delaware leader and guide, he induced the plains tribes to meet government representatives in a council that resulted in the Medicine Lodge Treaty.
Chisholm died of food poisoning after eating rancid bear meat at Left Hand Spring, near the site of present Geary, Oklahoma, on March 4, 1868. His grave is marked (see External links, below). As the only surviving site connected with his life, his grave is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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