Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Chisholm Trail Should Be Called Black Beaver's Trail: The Amazing True Story of an American Hero

Something caught my attention in today's Enid News and Eagle newspaper (Nov. 19, 2016). A news photographer took a photo of a mural that is being painted on the side of Garfield Furniture "to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail in 2017." 

I saw two mistakes immediately. The Oklahoma portion of the famous trail known as "The Chisholm Trail," was actually blazed in May 1861, not 1867, Further, it was the famous Delaware Indian Chief and U.S. army scout named Black Beaver who blazed the trail, not Jesse Chisholm. Black Beaver, Jesse Chisholm's good friend, led 750 Union soldiers and some civilians (including Jesse Chisholm) on a dangerous route north out of Indian Territory at the beginning of the Civil War. Four years later, Jesse Chisholm followed Black Beaver's Trail south as he left Wichita to return to Council Grove (Oklahoma City) to open again his trading business with the Indians. The story of how Black Beaver came to blaze this trail in May 1861 is the culmination of The Civil War's First Secret Mission.

After the Confederate bombing of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, which officially began the Civil War (1861-1865), President Abraham Lincoln and United States General-in-Chief Winfield "Old Fuss and Feather's" Scott, sent U.S. Cavalry Lieutenant William Averell to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) with orders to evacuate the 750 Union officers and troops stationed in Indian Territory. The soldiers were to evacuate to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then move to Washington Capital. Lincoln needed these troops - the finest in the United States military - to protect the vulnerable nation's capital from what the President called "the insurrection."

Dressed as a Confederate, Lieutenant Averell made his way from the nation's capital to Arkansas and then entered Indian Territory (Oklahoma) through Fort Smith. The Union fort called Fort Smith had been captured just hours earlier by the Confederates. Observed by a Confederate commander who thought he was up to no good, Averell was chased by Confederate cavalry through Oklahoma Territory in one of the greatest horse rides in American history. Averell eventually made it to Fort Arbuckle, the Union's headquarters in Oklahoma Territory, where he presented to Colonel William H. Emory the order from Lincoln and Scott to evacuate.

The Cherokee Outlet (Yellow)
The problem the Union troops faced in fulfilling this order was the route out. The Union soldiers had come into Indian Territory through Fort Smith - now controlled by the Confederates - and the Union commanders had no experience traversing the Cherokee Outlet to the north. This land was Indian land, given by the government to the Indians as "an outlet to the hunting grounds of the west." However, the soldiers stationed at Fort Arbuckle did know a man who was acquainted with the Cherokee Outlet - it was Black Beaver. He had worked as a scout for the United States Army during the Mexican War (1846-1848), and he had also been the personal guide for John James Audubon (1785-1851) during exploratory expeditions of Colorado. Black Beaver had crossed the Rockies and made his way to the Pacific many times, and he was very familiar with Indian Territory, including the Cherokee Outlet. Black Beaver was considered to be the best guide on the western frontier. He was now retired and living about 30 miles from Fort Arbuckle on his farm near present day Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Black Beaver 
On May 3, 1861, just hours after Averell had reached Fort Arbuckle, a Union cavalry party was sent to entice Black Beaver to guide the Union troops north through the Cherokee Outlet. Black Beaver was disinclined to help. He was 55 years old - an age considered elderly in his day - and he didn't want to leave his family alone on the farm. The Union troops appealed to his patriotism and added to their enticement by promising the United States government would pay him for his services. Finally, Black Beaver agreed.

On May 4, 1861 the flag was lowered at Fort Arbuckle. For the next 27 days, Black Beaver guided a mile-and-a-half long train of troops, supplies, dependents, and livestock on their way to U.S. Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Black Beaver knew exactly where to stop along the route north, allowing for the people and horses to drink deeply from the natural springs that dotted the landscape. Black Beaver also knew where to ford major east/west rivers in Oklahoma (Washita, North Canadian, Salt Fork, and the Arkansas). The Union troops made it safely to Fort Leavenworth on Friday, May 31, 1861. Of the 750 troops that Black Beaver led to Fort Leavenworth, at least seven went on to become Union Generals during the Civil War, leading the United States to ultimate victory against the Confederate States of America. In addition, two of the men would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism and valor.

Black Beaver would not return to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) until after the Civil War. He couldn't. The Confederates placed a bounty on his head - dead or alive. In addition, news reached Black Beaver while in Kansas that the Confederates who had come north from Texas into Indian Territory and had destroyed his crops, burned down his house, and taken his family as prisoners. Black Beaver stayed in Wichita for the remainder of the Civil War with his good friend Jesse Chisholm. Black Beaver and Chisholm had been friends for more than thirty years/ Both of them had been part of the historic Leavenworth-Dodge Expedition of 1834, the first meeting between whites and the southern Plains Indian tribes, which occurred at the present site of United States Army Military Post Fort Sill

Jesse Chisholm
Jesse Chisholm (1805-1868) was a remarkable cowboy, Indian trader, hunter, guide and scout in his own right.  Chisholm's father, a Scotsman, married Chisholm's mother, a Cherokee in Tennessee. Chisholm came with his mother to future Oklahoma in the early 1820's from their home in Polk County, Tennessee. Fluent in 14 different Indian dialects, Chisholm made his money trading product with Indians in Indian Territory. However, during the Civil War, he stayed in Wichita (Kansas) with his good friend Black Beaver. After the war was over, Chisholm asked Black Beaver the best route to go back to Chisholm's trading post on the North Canadian River (future Oklahoma City). Black Beaver responded, "Follow the trail I blazed with the Union troops four years ago." Chisholm followed that trail. It was Black Beaver who had pointed out the water holes in 1861. It was Black Beaver who had marked the river crossings to avoid the quicksand. Chisholm followed this trail. When cattle drovers from Texas followed the same trail beginning in 1867, they called it Longhorn I-One, a name initially applied to the entire trail, from deep in the heart of Texas to the Kansas railheads. After Jesse died in March 4, 1868, near Geary, Oklahoma the Longhorn I-One trail was renamed the Chisholm Trail in his honor.  Without detracting from the remarkableness of Jesse Chisholm, the trail should have been named Black Beaver's Trail from the very beginning.

Wade with Black Beaver's family 
Black Beaver moved back to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) after the Civil War and rebuilt his house, replanted his crops, and reunited with his family after a long absence. Black Beaver was not fully reimbursed by the government for his services in guiding the Union army out of Indian Territory. His financial loss was $20,000 - a vast sum in his day. The U.S. government, after forceful urging by Colonel Emory, gave Black Beaver $5,000 for his services.  In Black Beaver's later years he converted to faith Christ and became a Baptist preacher among the Indians. A direct descendant of Tamanend, Black Beaver was the keeper of the original Great Treaty which William Penn had signed and given to Tamanend (or Tammany), the Chief of the Delawares in 1682, the first treaty between white man and Indians. Before Black Beaver's death, a newspaper reporter asked him if he had any regrets guiding the Union Troops north out of Indian Territory in 1861. Black Beaver paused, then said, "The only regret I have is that when the Confederates burned my home, the Great Treaty which I kept above my mantle was destroyed." Black Beaver died May 8, 1880, at his home on the outskirts of present-day Anadarko, Oklahoma

On August 10, 1975, the United States military exhumed the body of Black Beaver and with full military honors, reburied Black Beaver on the grounds of U.S. Army Military Post Fort Sill, Oklahoma. As Black Beaver's coffin was lowered into the ground, a 21-gun salute fired. Then, Lieutenant General David Ott, base commander, gave a moving tribute to Black Beaver's legacy, closing with these words:
"It is with a great deal of pride that Sill accepts Chief Black Beaver."
Unfortunately, the name Black Beaver is mostly unknown to Americans. Were the Chisholm Trail properly named, Black Beaver's contributions to our nation's heritage would be front and center.


Byron said...

I find these blogs about this area of american and Indian history very informative and inspiring. I make two suggestions:
1, Please keep posting such information for us.
2. Do you recommend some sources where we can find and read additional articles?
I studied history in college and maintain an interest in such matters and would like to pursue additional study.

God bless you and your continued ministry in Enid.


Wade Burleson said...


The best I can do is suggest you Google "Black Beaver" and then look at the footnotes on any article. The source material is the best place to find books or articles that might be of interest.

I use the Oklahoma Chronicles all the time as well (online editions).

Thanks for your kind words.


ScottShaver said...

Fascinating. Does the Chisholm Trail run through Kingfisher Oklahoma?

Rex Ray said...


We see how many years passed when Wade exposed the truth that Black Beaver was the real trail blazer of the ‘Chisholm Trail’.

If you have an interest in history, in one day it will be 53 years since a picture was made on Air Force One at 41,000 feet.

That picture is on the front page of today’s paper (Herald Democrat at Sherman, Texas.)

Above the picture:
“Dallas has a problem with JFK’s assassination”.

Below the picture:
“Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field Airport two hours and eight minutes after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Jackie Kennedy, right, [her shoulder is touching LBJ’s] still in her blood-soaked clothes, looks on.”

The newspaper did not print as reported by:
(I believe a lot of this but not everything)

1. “Mrs. Kennedy refused to remove her bloodstained clothing, and regretted having washed the blood off her face and hands as she stood next to Johnson on board the plane when he took the oath of office as President, she said later, "I want them to see what they have done to Jack."

2. “LBJ had Federal Judge Sarah T Hughes come to the airport to administer the oath of office, but she didn’t have a copy of the ‘Swearing in Ceremony’, LBJ gave her one from his pocket.”

3. “Frames of the Zapruder film were cut out to hide the fact that the car had come to a complete stop for 2 seconds between two yellow strips on the curb when shots were fired. Beverly Oliver got yellow paint on her shoes because the paint was still wet.” (Had the driver been told to stop there for photographs?)

4. LBJ told his mistress about the assassination, the night before Kennedy was killed.

5. Billy Joe Martin, a motorcycle cop, saw LBJ ducking down in his car 30 seconds before the first shot was fired.

6. Dorothy Kilgallen a writer for numerous political columns had interviewed Jack Ruby in prison and told some friends she had information about the JFK assassination that would "blow the case wide open." Days later she was discovered dead in her apartment, and her manuscript was gone.

7. Robert Kennedy smashed his fist into one of the White House pillars when he asked Johnson: "Why did you have my brother killed?

8. Robert asked CIA director John McCone and his Cuban friend Enrique “Harry” Ruiz Williams if their people were responsible for his brother’s murder. Robert said: “One of your guys did it.”

9. Sirhan's lawyers say the audiotape reveals that a second gun fired at least five shots in addition to the eight shots fired by their client. (Sirhan’s gun held 8)

10. RFK assassination witness tells CNN: There was a second shooter


Sirhan was a pasty convicted of killing Robert just like Oswald!

At Sirhan’s trial the jury was denied the autopsy report that revealed powder burns were from the rear. (Sirhan was in front)

Also the bullets in Sirhan’s victims were different from those in RFK, but at the trial substitute bullets (all the same) were shown the jury. I believe President LBJ had his finger in the pie.

Robert was sure to be elected as President. I believe LBJ didn’t want that for fear he would be in a courtroom hearing “Why did you have my brother killed!”

The Herald Democrat newspaper article only referred to a proposed exhibit: “Transition from Tragedy, a President is Sworn in at Love Field.”

It also said, “…Johnson and Mrs. Kennedy were rushed back to the airport, the vice president huddling below window level of his limousine to avoid potential snipers.”

Ha ha ha ha ha! What an actor!

Wade Burleson said...


It does - and Dover, Hennessey, Enid, etc.. - all the land where cities were formed had major natural springs. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Rex Ray,

It may be in heaven, but one day the truth will be known!

Rex Ray said...


I know what you mean, but I think hell already knows the truth and we’ll know only good stuff in heaven.

BTW, I was wrong about the picture being taken at 41,000 feet; it was taken with the plane on the runway.

ScottShaver said...

Thanks Wade. Our company has a liquid truck terminal at Kingfisher. Going to bone up on Chisholm trail before next visit up there.

Anonymous said...

"Woke up one mornin' on the old Chisholm Trail, a ribbon on a heifer and a bull by the tail, come a-ti yi yippie yippie yippie yippie yea, ti yi yippie yippie yea."

Great story. Great stuff.

Thanks for sharing.

Happy Thanksgiving Wade!


dmerrell said...

Jesse Chisholm was a 3rd Gen. Slave Broker. 1860 Census Shows him owning 5 Black Female Slaves average age of 15.Why would he take them on a Cattle trail? He was a Fugitive Slave Hunter. He Hung 5 Slaves. His Fatherinlaw was Killed by Runaway Slaves and he and his Uncle hunted them down and killed them Back. Wade I like your style and I would love to share 21 years of research for posterity. As a Texas Cowboy, I opposed to naming a National Historic Trail after this Gutless Coward.