Charles Samuel Robinson didn't go up the Chisholm Trail for the same reasons that most cowboys did.
More often than not, cowboys who braved the dangers of Texas trail drives went for the adventure. Robinson, on the other hand, didn't have that luxury.
Bob Welch, a contributing editor to the American Cowboy magazine, read the letters written between his great-great-grandfather, Charlie, and his wife, Mollie. From those letters, Welch was able to piece together why a farmer would brave the dangers of the Chisholm Trail.
Due to looming, desolate conditions in his native East Texas, Robinson realized that being a farmer and father of four forced him to look for a job farther west. The "Great Drought of 1886" followed a severe winter and lasted for almost two years, and farmers and ranchers throughout Stephens County and surrounding counties lost hundreds of cattle.
Another historical account of the drought found in Stephens County: Much to be Cherished, described the desperate conditions.
"It was said a man could walk to Sandy Creek on the carcasses of Muleshoe cattle cowhands organized and skinned the cattle regardless of brand, receiving a dollar to a dollar and a half each and skinned some 28 cattle a day,"
It was because of that drought that Robinson was separated from his family during the summer and fall of 1886 and 1887. Even though they had been married for nine years, the couple suffered from separation like newlyweds.
"Charlie, how much longer will it be until you come home? I never look up the road but when I think of you and wish I could see you coming," Mollie wrote to him.
Robinson joined a crew of trail drivers that took 1,300 2- and 3-year-old steers to Kansas to escape the drought. The outfit probably followed the Western Trail in Texas and picked up at the Chisholm Trail in Oklahoma for 400 miles. Earlier herds followed the Shawnee Trail, a more easterly route, to the Red River and picked up the Chisholm on to Abilene, Kan. Despite dangers from Indians and outlaws, plenty of water and grass fattened up the cattle along the way northward. Historians estimate that 5 to 10 million cattle went up the Chisholm Trail from the 1860s to the 1880s.
Robinson wrote that he was proud to have a good trail boss, cook and a good lot of boys. His wages were $35 a month, which he promised to send to Mollie as soon as he collected them. He said that his only expense was blankets.
Although Robinson most certainly had some perilous encounters along the way, the only thing he included in his letters was that night guard duties were from 12:15 to 2:30 a.m. Most likely, Robinson didn't want his wife to worry about him, as others' descriptions of trail drives were not so mundane.
Certainly cowboys lived with days of monotony, but a routine day could change in an instant.
Welch's article also described how easily a stampede could happen. Longhorns gathered on the open ranges of Texas were not "trail broke." Just a cowboy's cough at night could cause a stampede. Lurking Indians - not to mention the occasional panther - sent cattle into a wholesale panic. What was worse, a severe thunderstorm complete with lightning caused conditions straight from the "Twilight Zone," according to a cowboy's recollections in The Trail Drivers of Texas.
" I could see the lightning playing on the brim of my hat and the tips of my horse's ears. Suddenly a terrific bolt of lightning struck right in our midst and killed nine of our best cattle. It stunned my horse and he fell to the ground but was up in an instant and ready to go. The cattle stampeded and scattered, and it was all that we could do to keep ahead of them."
The town of Caldwell, Kan., was the end of the trail for Robinson's outfit. At trail's end, he knew he'd receive his paycheck and a pile of letters from his wife. Upon reaching the town, Robinson sent money home and paid his bills, and he felt his duty as a husband and father were finally completed. Unlike the faithful farmer, his younger comrades hit the saloons and the red-light district.
Robinson's letters stopped upon his arrival, and when he went back up the trail in 1871, his letters were fewer and more business-like. After the drought finally ended in 1887, Robinson never had to go up the trail again.
Although Welch sprinkled his account of his great-great-grandfather with descriptions of Texas trail drivers, he emphasizes that the article's main intent was to relate a love story between two Stephens County pioneers. Robinson resumed farming and raising his family when he returned to Caddo, and he and Molly had 10 children (two died at the age of 2).
Welch said that his great-grandmother, their eighth child, was born in 1906, 20 years after her father's first trip up the trail.
Mollie Robinson died before her husband, and then Robinson moved to Trent where he ran a cotton gin.
They are buried side by side in the Trent Cemetery.