Although it lasted only two decades (from 1867 to ca. 1886), the Chisolm Trail era is steeped in cowboy and cattle drive history, folklore, and mythology. The trail’s route through Texas is known, but little research has been conducted on the towns and businesses that sprang up in support of this short-lived industry. In 2020–2021, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDoT) and Cox McLain Environmental Consulting, Inc. (CMEC) sponsored a collaborative public archeology project with the North Texas Archeological Society (NTAS) to investigate two archeological sites that are intimately tied to the Chisholm Trail in north-central Texas.
These investigations focused on the Sartin Hotel (41DN593) pictured above and the Tom Cook Blacksmith Shop (41DN617), two late-nineteenth-century commercial businesses located in Bolivar, a small town along the Chisholm Trail route in western Denton County. The latter site is especially significant because Thomas Cook, Sr., was an African American freedman who owned and operated his own blacksmith shop. As part of the ongoing research, the project seeks to understand the role of successful black entrepreneurs like Tom Cook during and after the Chisholm Trail era.
The Bolivar Archeological Project is an excellent example of a collaborative archeological research project that promotes general public outreach but also directly involves a descendant community in the archeological site investigations. In particular, the project brought Tom Cook descendants and members of the Denton County African American community into the planning process and made them partners in the historical and archeological research. Mr. William Howard Clark, the great, great grandson of Thomas Cook, Sr. joined the CMEC archeology crew for the duration of the fieldwork and became a valuable team member. Notably, he learned that his ancestor was a blacksmith because of this project, and in an odd coincidence, Mr. Clark forges knife blades as a hobby. Because of this project, Mr. Clark is now enrolled in blacksmithing classes at Brookhaven College under master blacksmith Kelly Kring.
Pictured to the left are four generations of Thomas Cook, Sr.’s descendants standing on the steps of the Denton County Quakertown House Museum. One of their ancestors, Tom Cook, Jr., once lived in Quakertown, probably in a house much like this one.
Clockwise from left: Halee Wright, Betty Kimble William, Howard Clark, and Myla Wright .
From 2020-2021, NTAS coordinated with Doug Boyd and TxDoT to create volunteer opportunities at historic archeological sites of the Old American West. Public outreach and education is a core part of NTAS' mission. Volunteers (pictured above) worked with professional archeologists and even meet a descendant of an owner of one of the archeological sites. Twenty-five NTAS members participated in excavations.
In April 2021, NTAS was awarded with the Council of Texas Archeologists' E. Mott Davis Award for Public Outreach. The award is in recognition of organizing volunteer activities between the public and professional archeologists.
Congratulations to all who had a hand in making this happen!
“Come along, boys, and listen to my tale, I’ll tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm Trail” are the opening words to the cowboy folk song called: The Old Chisholm Trail (first published in 1910 by John A. Lomax in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads).
One of the most famous renditions of this song is by Gene Autry.
Do you have field projects that you could use a hand with? NTAS would love to help!
Whether it's for field, lab, or reporting assistance, our society has a talented group of volunteers ready to help.
Please email any inquiries and/or project information to Catrina Banks Whitley at firstname.lastname@example.org .
North Texas Archeological Society
P.O. Box 24679, Ft. Worth, Texas 76124
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