Cleburne, Texas is home to the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum. Accessible by the public, it’s an open area where visitors can learn about how the cattle drives along the trail impacted life and the history of the first county seat of Johnson County, which was, in fact, Wardville. It includes the original courthouse, a stagecoach station, a blacksmith shop, and additional appurtenances that mimic life and times back in the day, and during the sesquicentennial of the Chisholm Trail, that’s 150 years of history well worth witnessing.
Celebrating 150 Years of the Chisholm Trail in Cleburne, Texas: 2 Exhibitions in 1 Hearty Town
No longer in existence, the town of Wardville was situated approximately five miles west of Cleburne. Named after a hero of the Texas Revolution (Thomas William Ward), the town which was chosen as the first county seat of Johnson County in 1855 had a post office and a tiny population. Within a matter of a year’s time, however, that all came to an end. Texas state law dictated that county seats were required to be as near to the geographic center of a county as was physically possible (for ease of voting purposes). Wardville was determined to be slightly off the mark, and by 1856, an election was held determining the fledgling town of Buchanan to be the actual county seat. The citizens relocated to the new county seat, the post office closed, and eventually, Wardville was no more.
But adding to the great history and melodrama of the area, the Chisholm Trail experience in Cleburne added to its cache of amazing artifacts, depth, and perspective with the opening of the Big Bear Native American Museum in 2015. With exhibits of artifacts dating back to 15,000 B.C., the new museum takes its patrons through a historical journey from the perspective of the first Native Americans in the area, up through to present-day Texas, focusing on the state’s prehistory and archaeology. Prior to his death in 2012, Leonard J. “Big Bear” Beal, a Texarkana native and Cherokee descendant, donated all of the Native American artifacts which he and his children had collected for 50 years previous to the Johnson County Heritage Foundation.