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Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: Branding the Brazos in Waco, Texas

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Back in the day, the only traffic you might see in Waco were droves of cattle. With many miles of river and few bridges, the goal of a cattle driver was to find a way to ford in a shallow area. Waco happened to be such a spot, and it proved beneficial not only for the cattle drives but for the town’s economy and growth. In the present day, Indian Springs Park, which runs along the western side of the Brazos River in Waco, speaks volumes of that time and tells more about the history of the city in a quiet way than many an eloquent orator ever could.

Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: Branding the Brazos in Waco, Texas

Photo: Facebook/Pamela Morgan

With cattle and stagecoach traffic being what it was back then, it became quickly apparent that Waco could do with a bridge. Hence, the construction of the Waco Suspension Bridge, which collected its first toll on New Year’s Day of 1870. Considered the first major bridge of its kind in the entire state, and the only one to cross the Brazos River at that time, the project was a huge undertaking, spanning 4 hundred and seventy-five feet length. What it meant for the Chisholm Trail was a safe crossing (at a cost of five cents per head) and what it meant for the town was the opportunity for great growth. It was constructed as the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River, wide enough to allow stagecoaches to pass one another as well as allow for a cattle crossing on one side and a human crossing on the other.

Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail: Branding the Brazos in Waco, Texas
Photo: Facebook/Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nowadays, the bridge has since been retired to regular traffic and is only maintained for crossings on foot, and the era that generated its need is honored with the Branding the Brazos bronze statue series along the western side of the river in Waco. Indian Springs Park is home to both the historic suspension bridge as well as this expressive sculpture project which was undertaken by Robert Summers from Glen Rose, Texas. In a site where the famed cattle drives actually took place, history now repeats itself, only in the form of these bold and beautiful statues, contradicting the idiom of life imitating art. After an eight-year project, Summers’ work was completed in 2014 with the final pieces of a sculpture series being placed, including three cowboys (one white, one Hispanic, and one black) driving 25 longhorn cattle. In homage to the Chisholm Trail lore of yesteryear and this important piece in the state of Texas’ development, the Branding the Brazos statues sit on the riverbanks for all to admire, within sight of the suspension bridge where the history of Waco and the Chisholm Trail is anchored in place.

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