This was better than any parade.

Cowboys on horseback drove four hundred head of longhorns right through the center of Caldwell, Kansas. A couple of thousand spectators crowded around the edges of the street, cheering on the cowboys, snapping photos, and enjoying every second of this return to the days of the Chisholm Trail.  This all happened Monday, Sept. 5, the highlight of the opening weekend of the 150th Anniversary Kansas Cattle Drive.

Caldwell is known for its connection to the Chisholm Trail, where longhorn cattle were driven from Texas to the railroad lines in Kansas during the final decades of the 19th century. With the famous trail passing right through town from 1871-1885, Caldwell once had everything you might expect in a western cattle town, including cowboys, saloons, gambling halls, gunfights, and dance hall girls. With this special edition of the Kansas Cattle Drive passing through town, Caldwell was once again transformed to its cowtown days.

 

Over the next three weekends, the Kansas towns of Kingman (Sept. 9-10), Ellinwood (Sept. 17-18), and finally Ellsworth (Sept. 24) will likewise relive their own cowtown heritage with plenty of special events and cowboy music performances as the longhorns are driven along the Ellsworth/Cox Cattle Trail to the Kansas Pacific Rail Head.

During weekdays between each weekend celebration, look for the herd along the way as the cowboys lead the longhorns along the original trail route that was set in 1873. Each night cowboys and cattle will bed down in the same campsites that were used over 100 years ago. Chuckwagons lead the drive and modern day drovers work the herd down the road, just as they did long ago. Of course, sometimes the herd has its own mind, like in Caldwell on Monday. A few choice longhorns decided the grass in a resident's front yard looked mighty tasty and broke away from the herd as they were being driven out of town. It took a few minutes and some scrambling by the horse-mounted cowboys, but order was restored and the herd made its way out of town, to the cheers of spectators who came from across the Midwest to observe the scene.

This year's Cattle Drive is called the 150th Anniversary Kansas Cattle Drive in celebration of Kansas' own sesquicentennial. The cattle drive helped shape Kansas culture at the close of the 19th century, creating cowtowns across the prairie landscape, many with a lawless reputation. Those cattle drives, however, were also big business and brought economic growth to the state. This is your opportunity to relive those days and learn something about how your past shapes your present. So plan now to head 'em up, move 'em out and watch the cattle drive as it moves along the trail. All the details, including trail map, schedule of special events, and a daily drover diary can be found at the event's Web site at www.kansascattledrive2011.com.

Dennis Toll is a native of Kansas — his Swedish ancestors settled in Wallace County in the 1890's — and graduated from Kansas State University in 1980 with a degree in landscape architecture. Then Dennis and his wife Amy, a Manhattan native, went to Indiana where Dennis got a master’s degree in theology and then to France. They returned to Kansas with four daughters in 2000 and settled in The Little Apple. Dennis enjoys writing for various publications about the Sunflower State and wishes he had more time to spend hiking the prairie. You can learn more about his appreciation for the Flint Hills at his blog, flinthillstallgrass.org.