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The Chisholm Trail: Joseph McCoy's Great Gamble

Public Lands History
Narrated by: Kirk Winkler
Length: 13 hrs and 1 min
Categories: History, American
1 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

One hundred fifty years ago, the McCoy brothers of Springfield, Illinois, bet their fortunes on Abilene, Kansas, then just a slapdash way station. Instead of an endless horizon of prairie grasses, they saw a bustling outlet for hundreds of thousands of Texas longhorns coming up the Chisholm Trail - and the youngest brother, Joseph, saw how a middleman could become wealthy in the process. This is the story of how that gamble paid off, transforming the cattle trade and with it, the American landscape and diet.

The Chisholm Trail follows McCoy’s vision and the effects of the Chisholm Trail from post-Civil War Texas and Kansas to the multimillion-dollar beef industry that remade the Great Plains, the American diet, and the national and international beef trade. 

Joseph McCoy’s enterprise forged links between cattlemen, entrepreneurs, and restaurateurs; between ecology, disease, and technology; and between local, national, and international markets. Tracing these connections, The Chisholm Trail shows in vivid terms how a gamble made in the face of uncontrollable natural factors indelibly changed the environment, reshaped the Kansas prairie into the nation’s stockyard, and transformed Plains Indian hunting grounds into the hub of a domestic farm culture.

“This engaging book, by a leading historian of America’s central plains, clearly and beautifully renders a sense of place....” (Jeffrey K. Stine, curator for environmental history, Smithsonian Institution)

“Deftly spans the continent, synthesizing economic and environmental histories to reveal the fascinating evolution of one of the nation’s first big businesses - cattle. ” (Sara Dant, author of Losing Eden)

©2018 University of Oklahoma Press (P)2019 Redwood Audiobooks

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I rode out the trail to the end, but it was rough.

The Texas cattle drive era fascinates me. I've read a lot on the subject and have even wandered out in to isolated "Red River", Texas where the Chisholm Trail began and drove it all the way to the Kansas shipping points. Over the years I've visited and revisited these Kansas cattle towns, each time armed with a little more information which allows me to see them differently. Picking up this book felt like a great opportunity to build another layer of information. If my current self could give advise to my former self, I would say don't waste your time. The author has no doubt spent a lot of time (measurable in years) harvesting information. The preface to the book outlines this, which I can respect being a researcher myself. He wraps up said intro by inviting you to come along for a ride down the Chisholm Trail. I was excited at this point. It equated to packing for a one in a lifetime vacation, but never actually leaving the house.

What you won't get in this book is the opportunity to actually be on the Chisholm Trail. You won't get any dirt on you, you won't meet any people along the way, you won't walk in to the Kansas cattle towns, you won't travel anywhere, you won't have a better understanding of the life span of the Chisholm Trail usage or a better intimate sense of its interworkings. What you will get is dictionary style writing, average rainfall amounts measured down to the tenth of an inch per month (in Kansas as well as England....yes I said England), an in depth look at prairie grasses, the history of prairie grasses, repeating of history of prairie grasses, and the repeated phrase "stored solar energy" over and over and over and over. I cannot discount that learning weather patterns and ecology of that time to be important and interesting factors in to the success, failure and risk of Joseph McCoy's endeavor, but these become to focal points of the book which comprise 90% of your reading. All information critical to understanding these points could fit in a magazine article, yet this information drolls on and on and on. Every chapter, which as a different title, felt like a continuation of the previous chapter, repeating the same information, never advancing the reader in to a logical advance of story and intrigue. After getting half way through the book, I couldn't believe half of it was wasted on this, only to realize the monotony of over emphasis was just beginning. You do get a fairly good view of McCoy and more background on him than you can find in a lot of other books, but I would not suggest to anyone that they should pick this book up solely for that given how much other dissatisfying content you have to wade through to get it.

I saw this book through to the end, despite my continuous frustrations. I figured if author Sherow could spend so much time in his life working towards this book, I could at least give it a full listen. I also kept faith that at some point the book would come around. It never did. I grew more and more frustrated. I've tried to frame my frustrations for anyone thinking of reading this book so that they can make a better buying decision or "enter and your own risk".