John Chisum

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Portrait of John Simpson Chisum from The Story of the Outlaw[1]

John Simpson Chisum (August 15, 1824 – December 23, 1884) was a wealthy cattle baron in the American West in the mid-to-late 19th century. Born in Hardeman County, Tennessee, Chisum's family moved to Texas in 1837, with Chisum finding work as a building contractor. He also served as county clerk in Lamar County. He was of Scottish, English and Welsh ancestry.[2]

Chisum got involved in the cattle business in 1854 and became one of the first to send his herds to New Mexico. He obtained land along the Pecos River by right of occupancy and eventually became the owner of a large ranch in the Bosque Grande, about forty miles south of Fort Sumner, with over 100,000 head of cattle. In 1866-67, Chisum formed a partnership with cattlemen Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving to assemble and drive herds of cattle for sale to the Army in Fort Sumner and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to provide cattle to miners in Colorado as well as provide cattle to the Bell Ranch.

Chisum depicted in bronze with Ruidoso, his lead bull.

Chisum died in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on December 23, 1884, aged 60. He was unmarried and left his estate worth $500,000 to his brothers Pitzer and James. While living in Bolivar, Texas, he lived with a young slave girl named Jensie and had two daughters with her. The relationship is described in a book entitled Three Ranches West.[citation needed] Chisum had an extended family living with him at the South Springs ranch in Roswell, and this family, along with hired help, often numbered two dozen at the main ranch headquarters. Chisum's niece, Sallie, daughter of his brother James, became a beloved figure in the area where she lived until 1934. Both she and her uncle John are honored by statues to their memory in Roswell and Artesia.[citation needed]

Lincoln County War

Chisum was a business associate of Alexander McSween, a principal figure in the Lincoln County War with money, advice, and influence behind the scenes, he played a role in the dispute between the opposing factions of cattle farmers and business owners. When Lewis Wallace took office as Governor of New Mexico on October 1, 1878, he proclaimed an amnesty for all those involved in the bitter feud. However, after Billy the Kid surrendered to the authorities, he was told he would be charged with the killing of Sheriff William J. Brady.

Chisum Ranch near Roswell, NM[3]

Billy the Kid escaped from custody and went to see Chisum. Billy believed he was owed $500, but Chisum refused to pay, claiming that he had given the Kid horses, supplies, and protection over the years in lieu of payment. The Kid responded by promising to steal enough cattle to make up this sum. The Kid's gang also stole from other cattlemen and became a serious problem in Lincoln County. His gang included Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson, Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre. In 1880, Chisum was involved in getting Pat Garrett elected as sheriff of Lincoln County. In December 1880, Garrett shot dead two of the Kid's gang, Tom O'Folliard and Charles Bowdre. Billy the Kid, Dave Rudabaugh and Billy Wilson were later either captured or killed by Garrett.[citation needed]

Media portrayal

Chisum and his story have been portrayed several times on film. Some of the prominent performers to play him include John Wayne in Chisum (1970 and James Coburn in Young Guns II (1990).


  1. ^ Hough, Emerson (1907). The Story of the Outlaw-A Study of the Western Desperado. New York: The Outing Publication Company. p. 198. 
  2. ^ History of New Mexico: Its Resources and People, Volume 2 By George B. Anderson, Pacific States Publishing Co page 1023
  3. ^ Hough, Emerson (1907). The Story of the Outlaw-A Study of the Western Desperado. New York: The Outing Publication Company. p. 330.