The first great cattle ranch of Texas traces its origin to Mission Nuestra Señora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga, originally established in present-day Victoria County in 1722 and moved to its present location in Goliad, Texas in 1749. Together with the nearby Presidio La Bahia, these settlements were granted jurisdiction over enormous holdings of land and reportedly controlled upwards to 40,000 head of branded and unbranded cattle. These herds that roamed freely along the Gulf Coast, San Antonio River and Guadalupe River, were descended primarily from Spanish Andalusian cattle brought to the New World by missionaries, explorers and ranchers as early as the 16th century. After hundreds of years, these cattle developed into what we know today as the Texas Longhorn.
Fast forward to 1865 and the conclusion of the Civil War and — more importantly — the beginning of Reconstruction. Hard times had fallen upon Texas ranchers who held plenty of land, but little income. Crockett Cardwell was one of those hard-bitten, yet resilient men who saw the potential profits in the abundance of Longhorns coupled with the growing demand for beef in Northern markets. In 1866, he called upon Thorton Chisholm to lead an ambitious and unprecedented cattle drive all the way to St. Joseph, Missouri.
Thus, DeWitt, Gonzales, Victoria, Goliad, Lavaca, Karnes Refugio, Bee, Calhoun, and other counties were at the heart of early ranching tradition. Numerous organization points and tributary routes, where herds were assembled and driven north to various railheads were located in the area. Millions of Longhorns were driven up the now legendary Chisholm Trail and to points further north and west. Thousands of Texas cowboys made the job an enviable distinction, one that separated him from an otherwise average ranch hand.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum will chronicle those tumultuous post-Civil War years and interpret the story of two icons that made the Chisholm Trail famous — the Texas Longhorn and the Texas cowboy.