Jesse Chisholm, Indian trader, guide, and interpreter, was born in the Hiwassee region of Tennessee, probably in 1805 or 1806. His father, Ignatius Chisholm, was of Scottish ancestry and had worked as a merchant and slave trader in the Knoxville area in the 1790s. Around 1800 he married a Cherokee woman in the Hiwassee area, with whom he had three sons; Jesse was the eldest. Sometime thereafter Ignatius Chisholm separated from Jesse's mother and moved to Arkansas Territory. Jesse Chisholm was evidently taken to Arkansas by his mother with Tahlonteskee's group in 1810. During the late 1820s he moved to the Cherokee Nation and settled near Fort Gibson in what is now eastern Oklahoma. Chisholm became a trader and in 1836 married Eliza Edwards, daughter of James Edwards, who ran a trading post in what is now Hughes County, Oklahoma. Chisholm took trade goods west and south into Plains Indian country, learned a dozen or so languages, established small trading posts, and was soon in demand as a guide and interpreter. Eventually he interpreted at treaty councils in Texas, Indian Territory, and Kansas.
He was active in Texas for nearly twenty years. While president of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, who probably met Chisholm at Fort Gibson between 1829 and 1833, called on him to contact the prairie Indian tribes of West Texas. Chisholm played a major role as guide and interpreter for several Indian groups at the Tehuacana Creek councils beginning in Spring 1843, when he coaxed several tribes to the first council on Tehuacana Creek near the Torrey Brothers trading post eight miles south of the site of present Waco. Over the next year and a half he continued to offer his services to Houston, and on October 7, 1844, Chisholm got Comanches and others to attend a meeting at Tehuacana, where Houston spoke. In February 1846, while visiting the Torreys' post from a trip south of San Antonio, Chisholm was hired to bring Comanches to a council at Comanche Peak (present-day Hood County). The meeting was held on May 12. Finally, on December 10, 1850, Chisholm assembled representatives from seven tribes at a council on the San Saba River. At some of these meetings and on trading trips he was able to rescue captives held by the Indians.
By 1858 Chisholm ended his trips into Texas and confined his activities to western Oklahoma. During the Civil War he served the Confederacy as a trader with the Indians, but by 1864 he was an interpreter for Union officers. During the war Chisholm resided at the site of Wichita, Kansas; Chisholm Creek in the present city is named for him. In 1865, Chisholm and James R. Mead loaded a train of wagons at Fort Leavenworth and established a trading post at Council Grove on the North Canadian near the site of present Oklahoma City. Many of his Wichita friends followed, and their route later became the Chisholm Trail, which connected Texas ranches with markets on the railroad in Kansas. Chisholm attempted to arrange an Indian council at the Little Arkansas in 1865, but some tribes held out. In 1867, with the aid of Black Beaver, famous Delaware leader and guide, he induced the plains tribes to meet government representatives in a council that resulted in the Medicine Lodge Treaty. Chisholm died of food poisoning at Left Hand Spring, near the site of present Geary, Oklahoma, on April 4, 1868.
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Stan Hoig, Jesse Chisholm: Ambassador of the Plains (Niwot, Colorado: University of Colorado Press, 1991). Thomas Ulvan Taylor, Jesse Chisholm (Bandera, Texas: Frontier Times, 1939). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Guides, Scouts, and Interpreters
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
T. C. Richardson,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 21, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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