Indian trader Jesse Chisholm first marked this famous cattle trail for his supply wagons. Beginning near San Antonio, Texas, the trail entered Kansas in Sumner County at Caldwell. Thence crossing the Arkansas River south of Wellington, past Wichita, Newton, (U.S. Highway 81), where it crossed the Cottonwood River and Smoky Hill River and finally to Abilene. Stockyards were built at Abilene, the end of the extended Chisholm Trail in 1867 and advertised throughout Texas. From 1867 to 1874, more than 5 million head of cattle and 1 million mustang horses were driven up the Trail.
The Union Pacific (later the Kansas Pacific), took the cattle east. By 1871 as many as 5,000 cowboys were paid off during a single day. The cowboys celebrations after payday purchased for Abilene the reputation as one of the roughest cow towns of the Old West.
The Chisholm Trail was finally closed by barbed wire and an 1885 Kansas quarantine law; by 1884, its last year, it was open only as far as Caldwell.