Situated in Indian Spring Park along the base of the Waco Suspension Bridge, the Branding the Brazos public art sculpture paints a vibrant picture of Waco’s early history. The sculpture, which features three bronze cowboys on horseback and 25 bronze cattle, depicts a Chisholm Trail cattle drive.
Named after Jesse Chisholm, who in 1864 paved a trail heading north from San Antonio, through Waco, and to a post north of modern-day Wichita, the Chisholm Trail was the main route for cattle and mustangs. In fact, more than five million cattle and one million Mustang horses passed along the trail until it officially closed in 1885, which made the trail one of the greatest migrations of livestock in world history.
Because of a donation from local businessman Clifton Robinson and his wife, Betsy Robinson, and with the help of sculptor Robert Summers, the Waco Cultural Arts Fest was able to create the Branding the Brazos Sculpture. It now stands as an important piece of cultural heritage for Waco while providing an element of artistic beauty in Indian Spring Park.
History of the Chisholm Trail
In the modern age, interstate shipping of goods and food is an everyday occurrence. Back in the mid-19th century, however, where individual states had greater legislative power before and immediately after the Civil War, shipping goods was much more tedious.
For example, one of Texas’s major potential assets in the 1850s and after the Civil War was its longhorns, and in the Eastern states, beef from Texas cattle was in high demand. Getting the beef to the East often meant traveling through Kansas, but since the 1850s, Kansas and Missouri closed their borders to Texas Cattle because of widespread fear of Texas fever.
In 1864, however, the Scot-Cherokee Jesse Chisholm found himself with many wagon loads of buffalo hides, and he and his cattle drive team had heard that the best market for the hides was in Wichita. Chisholm then blazed a trail up through Fort Worth and into Wichita, leaving deep tracks due to the overloaded wagons.
Three years later, in 1867, Kansas officials opened up a small section from the quarantine zone and created a large pen for cattle outside Abilene, Kansas, to hold and transport thousands of longhorns. With the Chisholm Trail already blazed, cattle drivers would then follow the old Shawnee trail from San Antonio to Waco, and then join the Chisholm Trail heading north to Wichita.
Because of this trail, Waco was able to develop economically and socially, and Waco was continually connected with other major Texas cities such as San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, and Dallas. With the cattle drives combined with Waco’s cotton production, the city was able to set itself apart as a significant economic force. Unfortunately, the Chisholm Trail closed in 1885, mostly due to a strict 1885 Kansas quarantine law.1
Creation of the Branding the Brazos Sculpture
Beginning with a donation from local businessman Clifton Robinson and his wife, Betsy Robinson, the Branding the Brazos sculptures pay tribute to Waco’s role on the Chisholm Trail and the cattle drives from South Texas to Kansas.
Acclaimed sculptor Robert Summers was tasked with building the art piece, which consisted of three cowboys on horseback - one white, one Hispanic and one black - and 25 longhorn cattle. The first pieces were unveiled near the base of the Waco Suspension Bridge in 2008, and the piece wasn’t completed until 2014. In total, the sculptures cost about $1.65 million. Nowadays, however, they serve as a reminder of Waco’s unique position in cattle drives. The sculptures, along with the bridge, remain as a popular tourist spot.2