I know most of us have heard of the Corn Trail, but we may not really have an idea of just what that trail was or why it carries the name corn. So…today, I thought we’d back up into the 1850s, a time when Central Texas was about as open as it could get, with the only “road” through the area being what came to be known as The Corn Trail.
The Corn Trail really was not much more than a trail when it was laid out by the military as a road on which to haul supplies to the various forts at the time. The trail connected Fort Gates (which was abandoned in 1852) to Forts Belknap, Chadbourne, and Phantom Hill.
Historians differ as to when this military road was built; however, the account of J.H. Crisman (Chrisman, Christman), who would go on to become Comanche County’s first “mail man,” seems to be the most logical. His description indicates that the road came into being sometime between 1850 and 1852. According to Crisman, the road was first known as the Phantom Hill Road, later becoming known as the Corn Trail. He explained the new name.
“O.T. Tyler, H. McKay, and Col. Wm. C. Dalrymple formed a partnership and took a contract to furnish corn, hay, etc. to the troops while still at Fort Gates, and afterwards to furnish them at Fort Phantom Hill and Fort Chadbourne.
“The ‘Old Phantom Hill Road,’ as it was called by the early settlers, was the first mark of civilization in the territory out of which Coryell, Hamilton, and Comanche were afterwards carved, but the old road has long since been abandoned and occupies a place in many farms and pastures.
“This road was laid out by the soldiers moving to those outposts and by Tyler, McKay, and Dalrymple hauling corn to Fort Phantom Hill and Fort Chadbourne. In 1854, I was with a party…and we crossed Indian Creek about one mile west of the present town of Comanche.
“Along that road, we saw a sight that we never witnessed before or since and which challenges the belief of anyone unless he be an old Texan. When the soldiers moved along that trail the spring before, Tyler, McKay, and Dalrymple sent along wagons loaded with corn, and the corn scattered and dropped in the wagon tracks and, being a wet spring and summer, the corn came up and grew to maturity.
“It was scattered along the trail and every now and then a stalk with a good ear on it was to be seen anywhere from ten to one hundred yards apart. We could trace the trail in advance as far as we could see by the row of corn.
“It was strange to see corn growing in the open prairie fifty miles from any inhabitant and where the farmer’s plow had never penetrated the soil…There were no stock in the country to molest it.”*
The Corn Trail was used primarily by the military to haul corn from what was called corn country (area from Gatesville to Belton) to the various forts. The corn was extremely important to the cavalry who realized that a corn fed horse could go much farther and last longer than one which was grass-fed.
In a land filled with nothing but a few soldiers and warring Indians, a fast horse could be all that stood between a soldier and certain death.*J.H. Crisman as quoted in The View From The Old Oak Tree, Fredda Davis Jones Photo from Googleimages.com