Jesse Chisholm , trader, trailblazer and peace negotiator on the southwestern United States frontier, is a major character in Chickasaw Nation Productions’ “Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher.” The full-length feature film details a portion of Chickasaw citizen Montford T. Johnson’s adventures as he carved out Indian Territory ranches where he bred and raised thousands of cattle and horses. Johnson founded ranch sites in the Chickasaw Nation (now part of the state of Oklahoma) and one outside of Chickasaw territory at Council Grove on the North Canadian River (now western Oklahoma City).
Chisholm Encourages Johnson’s Ranching Ambitions
Chisholm, Johnson’s close friend, played an important role in the development of this vast ranching empire. On a buffalo hunt with Chisholm after the Civil War, Johnson remarked that the grassy prairies on the western edge of Chickasaw lands would be wonderful cow country. First Americans living there had been forced by the United States government to move onto small reservations in southwestern Oklahoma Territory. Chisholm, a trusted friend of the Plains tribes, said he would talk with tribal leaders about Johnson’s plans [2, p. 36].
The Plains tribal leaders gave Chisholm their word that if Johnson would hire no white men, especially Texans, but only other First Americans, African Americans and Mexicans, they would not raid his livestock nor harm his people. Johnson complied with their stipulation, and the Plains tribes kept their promise [2, p. 38].
In March 1868, while on a hunt on the North Canadian River in northwest Oklahoma Territory, Chisholm became sick and died after consuming contaminated bear grease. He was approximately 62 years of age. The road he created and used for his trading business would eventually become the famous Chisholm Trail [2, p. 38].
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society