John Chisum

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John Simpson Chisum

"Cattle King of the Pecos"


Born August 16, 1824
Hardeman County
Tennessee
Died December 22, 1884 (aged 60)
Near Roswell
New Mexico Territory
Spouse Never married

John Simpson Chisum (August 16, 1824 – December 22, 1884) was perhaps the most successful open range cattleman of the American frontier.

Constantly under attack by rustlers, Chisum operated a ranch in the New Mexico Territory which stretched for two hundred miles along the Pecos River. At times, his herds numbered eighty thousand. He acquired such sobriquets as the “Cattle King of the Pecos,” the “Stock King of New Mexico,” the “Cattle King of the West,” and even the “Cattle King of America.”[1]

Born in Hardeman County in western Tennessee, Chisum at the age of thirteen joined his parents, Claiborne and Lucinda Chisum, in resettling in Lamar County in the newly formed Republic of Texas. After working on his father's farm, he helped to buildthe county's first brick courthouse, and clerked in several stores. He was elected at the age of twenty-eight as county clerk but soon lost interest in a political career. Instead, he purchased steers and sold them to butchers in Paris, the seat of LamarCounty, and other emerging locations in the area.[1]

In 1854, Chisum met Stephen K. Fowler of New Orleans, who began investing in the emerging range cattle industry. the two entered a partnership through which Chisum purchased animals as cheaply as possible and grazed them on the open range. Chisum's first ranch was in Denton County, north of Dallas, Texas. Ranch expenses included a small plot for headquarters; otherwise, the cattle were cheap, grazing was free, and the drovers received only about $30 a month. With new markets becoming available, the profitscould be significant. While ranching in Denton County during the American Civil War, Chisum supplied beef to Confederate troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana. By 1864, farmers hungry for the fertile land of Denton County, as well as the growing presence of Confederate deserters, prompted Chisum to move his operation southwest to the empty rangelands of Coleman and Concho counties, Texas. Within a few years he moved again, following Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving into New Mexico.[1]

In 1867, Oliver Loving was slain by a war party, and Goodnight worked as partner with Chisum for three years. Goodnight called him "a great trail man. No one had any advantage of him as an old-fashioned cowman, and he was the best counter I ever knew. He could count three grades of cattle at once and count them accurately even if they were going at a trot.”[1]

Chisum often rode with his men on the range with his revolver, binoculars, and his fiddle used for entertainment around the campfire. Because he presided over the vigilante execution of rustlers, he was called “Judge Lynch.” He built his elaborate headquarters complex south of Roswell, New Mexico. In 1884, at the age of sixty, hewas stricken with a large throat tumor, and died three days before Christmas. A bachelor, he was buried beside his parents in Paris, Texas. Former state historian Bill O'Neal described Chisum as arguably the most successful open range rancher of the American frontier; he passed away just as open range ranching was disappearing from a changing West.[1]

The actor Michael Constantine was cast as the historical John Chisum in the 1965 episode, "Paid in Full", on the syndicated television anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Ronald Reagan. Keith Andes portrayed Rob Hunter, a former Confederate colonel who visitst Kathy McLennan (Aneta Corsaut), the wife of a soldier killed while serving under Hunter in the American Civil War. Hunter discovers that McLennan and her neighboring ranchers have been defrauded by Chisum, who issued legally unclaimable IOUs when he purchased their stock. Hunter works to recover the money owed to the ranchers.[2]

John Wayne played Chisum in a 1970 film of the same name.


References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Bill O'Neal (September 30, 2018). JohnChisum: Frontier Cattle King of Texas. Caprock Chronicles reprinted in The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved on October 1, 2018.
  2. Paid in Full on Death Valley Days. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on October 3, 2018.