“Come along boys and listen to my tale, I’ll tell you of my troubles on the Old Chisholm Trail.”
So sang Gene Autry in his tribute to those hardworking cowboys, whose exhausting life on this famous cattle trail often bore scant resemblance to the romance portrayed in 1930s-80s literature and film.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma, shares that popular lore in its art deco movie theater display. The center’s new $4.5 million facility also offers visitors other leading-edge technology, bringing the dust back to the Old Chisholm Trail, which began near Cuero, Texas, and continued north through Oklahoma and into Kansas.
The center’s signature attraction is the Chisholm Trail Experience Theater, an IMAX-style, high-definition projection, special effects theater. During the film, a beautiful sunrise flashes before your eyes, the prairie wind brushes your arm, cowboy campfire smoke fills your nostrils, and then the thundering hoofs of hundreds of stampeding longhorns fill your ears as lightning strikes and raindrops fall on your head.
A Special Collections gallery features paintings and sculptures that depict the freedom and dangers of the trail, such as those by Oklahoma artist Harold T. Holden. In 2004, the center hopes to exhibit art from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, says Executive Director Chris Jefferies.
The People of the Trail exhibit displays Chisholm Trail artifacts and brings to life the types of people who used them. The perspectives of Native Americans, U.S. cavalrymen, cowboys and townspeople who traveled or lived along the trail are shown in video presentations.
The Romance of the Trail display pays homage to the enchanting legends of the cattle drives, cultivated by songs, such as “Back in the Saddle Again” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and movies, such as The Culpepper Cattle Company and Red River, all of which are available to sample.
And if your kids don’t know the difference between a swing rider and a pointer, the Youth Gallery offers education and fun, teaching your young cowpokes how to tell the age of a steer by its teeth and horns or how to devise their own cattle brand. The Jesse Chisholm Campfire Theater thrills kids with entertaining, yet, history-based trail stories of life in the 1880s, told by the father of the trail, Jesse Chisholm, and his companion Tex, both animatronic figures.
As Gene Autry once sang, “come a ti yi yippee, yippee yea, yippee yea,” and you’ll find out why the old trail cowboys never dared to quit punchin’ cows except in the sweet by and by.
Visit www.onthechisholmtrail.com for more information.