I was driving my Jeep Wrangler in western Oklahoma on a lonely blacktop county road and saw a sign “Jesse Chisolm Grave —>”. I immediately turned around and headed five miles down a gravel road to a remote bend in the North Canadian River and found this grave marker. Luckily the site had been protected by the Oklahoma Historical Society with pipe fencing to keep it from getting knocked down by a wayward tractor.
Who was Jesse Chisolm? From Wikipedia
Jesse (circa 1805 – March 4, 1868) was a mixed-blood Scottish-Cherokee fur trader. Although Chisholm died before the heyday of the Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives, he was nevertheless a participant in several important events in Texas and Oklahoma history.
Chisholm’s father, Ignatius, was of Scottish descent, and his mother Martha (née Rogers) was a Cherokee from the region of Great Hiwassee. He moved with his mother to (what is now) Oklahoma during a period when Cherokees were migrating voluntarily. In 1826, Chisholm became involved in a gold-seeking party, which blazed a trail and explored the region to present-day Wichita, Kansas. In 1830, he helped blaze a trail from Fort Gibson to Fort Towson. In 1834, he was a member of the Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition, who made the first contact with the southern plains Indians on behalf of the United States federal government.
In 1836, Chisholm married Eliza Edwards. They resided in the area of her father’s trading post on the Little River near its confluence with the Canadian River, where Jesse worked in the Indian trade.
Chisholm was an interpreter and general aid in several treaties between the Republic of Texas and local Indian tribes, as well as between the United States federal government and various tribes after Texas joined the United States. This diplomatic work spanned 20 years, between 1838 and 1858. During this period, he also continued in the Indian trade, trading manufactured goods for peltry and for cattle.
During the Civil War, he mostly remained neutral. Many residents of Indian Territory feared they might be massacred, either intentionally or as an accident of war if either side attempted to contend for control of the territory. He led a band of refugees to the western part of the territory. For some time, they suffered privation, as the trade had dried up during the war, as well.
At the end of the war, he settled permanently near present-day Wichita, and recommenced trade into Indian Territory. He built up what had been a military and Indian trail into a road capable of carrying heavy wagons for his goods. This road became known as Chisholm’s Trail. Later, when the Texas-to-Kansas cattle drives started, the users of the trail redubbed it the Chisholm Trail.
He died at his last camp near Left Hand Spring due to food poisoning on March 4, 1868, and is buried there. Chisholm was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners in 1974. His grave site in Blaine County is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.