Jesse Chisholm was born in the Hiwassee region of Tennessee.
His father, Ignatius Chisholm was of Scottish ancestry and had worked as a merchant and slave trader in Tennessee in the 1790’s. Around 1800 his father married a Cherokee woman. Jesse was born around 1806, and sometime around 1810, his mother left his father and Jesse and two baby brothers went to live with the Cherokee in Arkansas.
Jesse grew up to become a skilled hunter, guide, trader, and interpreter.
Around 1820, Jesse moved with the Cherokee into Indian Territory, settling near Fort Gibson in what is now eastern Oklahoma.
In 1836, Jesse married Eliza Edwards, daughter of James Edwards who ran a trading post in what is now Hughes County, Oklahoma.
Jesse met Sam Houston around this time at Fort Gibson, when Sam married a sister of Jesse’s mother.
Jesse became successful trading goods throughout the Indian Territory, as he could speak not only English, but fourteen native dialects as well.
Soon Jesse became a sought after guide and interpreter.
Jesse was trusted for his fairness and neutrality, both critical assets as diverse and often hostile cultures clashed in the new Indian Country.
Jesse built a number of trading posts in what is now western Oklahoma and interpreted at treaty councils in Texas and Kansas as well as throughout Indian Territory.
Jesse’s uncle Sam Houston, who was by then the president of the Republic of Texas, called on Jesse to contact the prairie Indian tribes of West Texas.
Jesse, as such, played a major role as guide and interpreter for several Indian groups at the Tehuacana Creek councils beginning in spring 1843, when he coaxed several tribes to the first council on Tehuacana Creek near the Torrey Brothers trading post eight miles south of the site of present-day Waco.
Over the next year and a half, Jesse continued to offer his services to his uncle Sam Houston, and on October 7, 1844, Jesse convinced Comanches and others to attend a meeting at Tehuacana.
In February 1846, while visiting the Torreys’ trading post, Jesse was hired to bring Comanches to another council at Comanche Peak (Glen Rose today). The meeting was held on May 12, 1846.
Finally, on December 10, 1850, Jesse Chisholm assembled representatives from seven tribes at a council on the San Saba River. At some of these meetings and on many of his trading trips, Jesse was able to rescue captives held by Native Indians.
By 1858, Jesse had ended his trips into Texas and confined his activities to western Oklahoma.
Jesse moved his family from the Cherokee Nation and settled in the Creek Nation, near the mouth of the Little River, in what is now Hughes County, where he made his new home.
Much of Jesse’s trading was done with wagons traveling between villages of the Comanche and other tribes of the Great Plains. Most of the men working for Jesse were Mexicans. Jesse adopted them and raised them with his own family, treating them just as he did his own children.
Jesse traveled to Kansas with Creek exiles, in the latter part of 1861, but soon drifted west to the site of what is now Wichita, Kansas, where the Wichita, Waco and other refugee tribes from southwestern Oklahoma were encamped.
During the Civil War, Jesse served the Confederacy as a trader with the Indians, but by 1864 he had switched sides and become an interpreter for Union officers.
During the war, Jesse kept his family near Wichita, Kansas; Chisholm Creek today is named for him.
In 1865, Jesse Chisholm and James R. Mead loaded hauled a wagon loaded with buffalo hides from his trading post near Wichita and traveled south. The wagon carved deep ruts in the prairie, creating a trail that eventually connected Abilene, Kansas with San Antonio, Texas. Jesse then established a trading post at Council Grove on the North Canadian River near the site of the Overholser Lake dam in present-day Oklahoma City.
Many of Jesse’s Wichita friends followed, and their route came to be known as the Chisholm Trail, which connected Texas ranches with markets on the railroad in Kansas.
Chisholm attempted to arrange an Indian council at the Little Arkansas in 1865, but some tribes held out.
In 1867, with the aid of Black Beaver, the famous Delaware leader and guide, Jesse induced the plains tribes to meet government representatives in a council that resulted in the Medicine Lodge Treaty.
Over the next 20 years, traders and cowboys herding Texas longhorn cattle to the railroad in Kansas followed the Chisholm trail.
Though the trail fell into disuse with the expansion of the railroads, it has been immortalized in cowboy ballads and frontier lore.
Ironically, Jesse never drove cattle on the trail named for him.
Jesse Chisholm died of food poisoning after eating rancid bear meat at Left Hand Spring, near the site of present Geary, Oklahoma, on March 4, 1868.
Now WE know em