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The Chisholm Trail and the American Cowboy Exhibit Opening

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail, where ranchers would drive cattle north through Texas, Oklahoma, and on up to Abilene, Kansas. Museums, libraries, art galleries, and historical centers in all three states will commemorate the anniversary with events throughout the year. (For information about the Chisholm Trail and other events, visit the website ChisholmTrail150.org.)

On Sunday, March 12, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum (the clock tower building downtown) will host a special exhibit opening of Chisholm Trail Sesquicentennial: Driving the American West 1867-2017 and a special program at 2 p.m., “Singing the Cattle North.” Admission to the exhibit opening is FREE for everyone.

“The cowboy has become an internationally recognized symbol of America, and his music gives us insight into how this icon developed,” says Jim Hoy, professor, author and director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University. In his talk, “Singing the Cattle North,” Hoy explores how cowboy folksongs were more than entertainment on the lonely prairie.

If you can’t make the opening, this traveling exhibit will be on view at the historical museum through May 2, 2017. Regular museum admission is only $5 for ages 12 and up, $2 for ages 6-11, and free for kids 6 and younger.

Here’s more information about the exhibit, which looks like a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the history of our area:

The Chisholm Trail fundamentally changed the American West. From the birth of the cowboy as icon to the revival of the cattle industry, the Old Chisholm Trail helped shape our popular culture by altering how we thought of the American West and the individuals who lived there.

From 1867 to 1872, the Old Chisholm Trail, which ran from various ranches in Texas to stockyards in several Kansas towns, saw nearly a million head of cattle pass from Texas ranchland through Oklahoma to Abilene, Newton, and Wichita, and from there by rail to major American markets such as Kansas City and Chicago. The cattle industry in Texas had been throttled by the Civil War, but with the establishment of the Chisholm Trail, ranchers had a path to riches.

The men who kept the herds together and moving in the right direction were called cowboys, and while cattle had been attended by men on horseback for centuries, it was not until the Chisholm Trail came to prominence that the cowboy became an iconic figure in the American imagination. Stories from the trail, from nighttime stampedes to brushes with Southern Plains tribes, helped to cement the cowboy as the symbol of the hardscrabble American West.

Chisholm Trail Sesquicentennial: Driving the American West 1867-2017 is a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. This traveling exhibit, originating from Symphony in the Flint Hills and sponsored by Lost Trail Soda, invites visitors of all ages to explore the Chisholm Trail from its inception in the 1860s to today.

Exhibit highlights include interactives, video interviews with historians and scholars, video and audio clips of movies and songs, and life-size longhorn cattle.

Chisholm Trail Sesquicentennial: Driving the American West 1867-2017 is a joint project by Symphony in the Flint Hills and Flint Hills Design. Major funding comes from Lost Trail Soda.

Support for this exhibit at the Historical Museum is provided by 3KSN, Radio Kansas, The Wichita Eagle and a gift from Bill and Donna Ard.

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