Old Chisholm Trail Drivers put anniversary year in the books
Fifty years ago, five men rode into San Antonio for the 12th annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. John Hamilton, Gene Carson, Albert Ley, R.G. Trent, and Lias Steen, all of Cuero, are credited with establishing the Chisholm Trail Association. These five met in the Cuero City Hall, with J.T. Newman, the former mayor of Cuero, presiding as they organized the new group.
The name came from the group’s origins near the historic trail where the original Chisholm cattle drive set out from a site near Cuero on April 1, 1866, headed for Missouri.
After returning from San Antonio in 1961, the men “appointed additional well-known area trail ride representatives to serve as officers in the newly formed Old Chisholm Trail Drivers Association.” This tradition, that the election of officers and directors is held in Cuero in March after the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo ride, continues today. The main events of the organization are three rides, one each in the spring and fall, and the “big ride” to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
Three of the six local clubs that comprised the Old Chisholm Trail Drivers carry on the tradition -- the Rawhide Riders of Cuero, the Sandhills Trail Drivers of La Vernia, and the Cross Country Riders of Nixon. The other three local clubs include the Town and Country Trail Riders of Westhoff, the Old Indianola Riders of Port Lavaca, and the Mesquite Trail Drivers of Adkins.
Six men have served as trail bosses during the first 50 years -- John Hamilton, Leo Garber, Bobby Hyatt, Than Wheat, Steve Walthall, and Mike Breiten Jr. On March 6 of this year, Rip Gibson of Cuero was elected the next trail boss. Today, according to Old Chisholm Trail Drivers President Jerry McWhorter, 300 active members including 100 riders, comprise the group. In its heyday in 1969, the group sold more than 1,500 badges for the group, known for its “strong family association.”
The first event to mark their golden year in 2010 was the Old Chisholm Trail Drivers 50th reunion round-up, held July 10 in the American Legion Hall in Cuero. Participants shared stories and viewed photos of past rides, including their silver anniversary.
McWhorter, who joined the group in 1997 with his wife and son, recalls the story told of a wagonmaster from Westhoff who had a chicken riding along the entire trip to San Antonio. While McWhorter said the 50th anniversary ride is one he will remember the most due to the extremely cold weather, he also recollected another incident that occurred during a fall trail ride.
McWhorter made a bet with one woman whose son was playing football in a matchup between Cuero and La Vernia. If McWhorter won the bet, the woman had to wash the dishes; if she won, he had to prepare breakfast for her. Since he lost the bet, he prepared her breakfast -- two raw eggs, two slices of raw bacon, old tortillas, and a cup of coffee grounds. As he made a quick exit after delivering the breakfast, he reminded her the bet said nothing about the breakfast being cooked!
While McWhorter is a “newcomer,” others, such as Michael Breiten, who served as trail boss for a second time this year, made his 29th ride to San Antonio in February. His parents, Mike and Charlotte Breiten, have been involved with the group for 42 years.
The first days of this year’s “big ride” from Cuero to Westhoff, then to Nixon and Stockdale, were pleasant for the 136 riders who started the trek of more than 100 miles into San Antonio. They began their journey Jan. 28.
In each town they visited, the group presented a special commemorative plaque to city officials, thanking them for their hospitality to the group. First Vice President Robert Barnett and his wife, M.J., handmade the eight plaques for this purpose.
In the early hours of Feb. 1, however, as the riders prepared to leave Stockdale for Sutherland Springs and La Vernia, the group had to contend with Mother Nature. An arctic air mass brought four consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures to the region. As the riders continued to China Grove and their final destination of San Antonio, their numbers dwindled to 21 riders, one wagon, and the sound truck, the only members of the group to complete the ride. The Old Chisholm Trail Drivers made their way to the rodeo grounds in the nick of time as Mother Nature delivered ice and snow across the area.
This year’s ride honored the “memory of the past Chisholm Trail Drivers that are now having trail rides in the sky.” Soon after the ride, however, members were honoring another longtime supporter, Herb Carroll, the owner of Herb’s Hat Shop on Rigsby Avenue in San Antonio. This avid supporter passed away just days after the ride. Carroll and the China Grove Lions Club had provided breakfast for the riders for many years.
Another farewell came with the announcement that this year was the last time the riders would visit the Nixon-Smiley Elementary School, as the riders will be in Smiley on a Sunday for next year’s ride.
Although it was a year for farewells, there were also celebrations. On March 6, the annual Chisholm elections were held in the Cuero American Legion Hall. Rip Gibson of Cuero was elected as the new trail boss, Jerry McWhorter of La Vernia was re-elected as president, and Lupe Briseńo of Port Lavaca and Louis “Bull” Aguirre of Cuero were re-elected as assistant trail bosses. Cross Country Queen Erin Aguirre of Nixon and Rawhide Riders Mascot Dylan Novak of Cuero were selected as the Old Chisholm Trail Drivers queen and mascot, respectively.
As this golden anniversary year comes to an end, the Old Chisholm Trail Drivers are continuing their family-oriented tradition, blazed by the “pioneers who blazed the trails in the wilderness before us.”