It has been almost 150 years since the first shipment of Texas longhorn cattle moved out of Abilene on the railroads, headed for the hungry cities of the east coast.
On Labor Day weekend of 2016, Abilene will kick off a year of commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Chisholm Trail, the route that brought those longhorns north from Texas to the markets of the east.
Trail, Rails and Tales, the Spirit of the Chisholm Trail, ha sbeen chosen as the theme of the kickoff event, planned for Sept. 2 and 3 of 2016.
The trail, made famous through stories, movies and song, started in Texas, where herds of wild longhorns had multiplied during the Civil War, provided a way to drive herds longhorns across Indian territory in Oklahoma and through Kansas to railhead towns, the first of which was Abilene.
The Trail, Rails and Tales celebration will be the first of a number of Abilene events focusing on the town's role in the historic events of the cow town era.
Deb Sanders, kickoff event chairwoman, says the event plans to offer a number of activities to attract families to visit Abilene and learn more about the cattle drives and the Old West era.
"Drive your family 'herd' to Abilene and experience the longhorn cattle being loaded onto a cattle car and carried out of town by a steam locomotive; heck, you can even ride the same train as the longhorns," Sanders says.
Cowboy poets, historic re-enactors, can-can girls, a chuckwagon cook-off, and a buckaroo camp for the younger cowboys and cowgirls will be part of the event.
Sanders says a book, "All Along the Chisholm Trail, 1867-1889" by James W. Parker, gives the account of the Sept. 5, 1867 celebration in Abilene when the first shipment of longhorns headed East and was inspiration for the kick-off celebration planned for next year.
"The first herd using the new Chisholm Trail consisted of 2,400 longhorns that started out from San Antonio, Texas and reached Abilene in 1867," Parker writes in the book. "When the first shipment of Texas cattle left Abilene by railroad for Chicago, the event was celebrated in festive tents with feasting, wine, speeches and song."