“We raised $9 million for the Simmons Center plus a $2 million escrow account, which has grown in size…..Our Chisholm Trail Heritage Center was built with $7 million raised locally….We raised $4 million in only sixty days to build the new cancer center that you see going up over there…..We’re also building a new nursing school.” My head was swimming as Jimmy Collins and Lyle Roggow, head of the Duncan Area EDC, showed me around town and pointed out some of the wonderful projects that were completed in the past fifteen years in Duncan because of the generosity of the local citizens.
One of my favorites was the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center which started when a local oil family commissioned a $1 million sculpture depicting the cattle drives of the 1870s which ran through Duncan. Bill Benson, Executive Director of the Center, gave me a tour of the museum which depicts the world famous Chisholm Trail which flourished from 1867 to 1875 until the railroads and barbed wire civilized a Texas frontier. During those 8 years over 6 million head of cattle moved from south Texas up to the rail lines of Kansas.
Benson explained one famous drive by Dr. Richard King of the King Ranch in 1873, “He shipped 30,000 head in 2,500 head herds up the Chisholm Trail. It took them four months to get up to Abilene, KS from South Texas. From the time when you saw the first head go by it would be 18 days until you saw the last. Those cattle drank 35 to 40 gallons of water/day so it required about 1.2 million gallons of water every day to keep the herd moving. Think of the logistics of moving that many cattle over the thousand or so miles. It was the first and only interstate for cattle.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Heritage Center was the Experience Theater, a sensory experience that only Disney could match. A film depicting a cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail allowed you to smell the bacon cooking on the campfire, smell the dust and weeds from the trail, feel the wind rustling through your hair and even get sprayed with water during a river crossing. The storms and stampedes on the screen were as lifelike as though you were on the trail.
The Simmons Center, located across from the junior high school, includes a 750 seat theater, convention center and recreational center with basketball courts, running track and Olympic sized pool.
Duncan also boosts a new championship golf course, The Territory, that was ranked as the 10th best new golf course by Golf Digest in 2005. As you would expect, it was built by a local family, reinvesting into their hometown.
I told my audience that night, “If Dallas tried to do what you’ve done they would have to raise about $1.5 billion dollars in donations. It wouldn’t happen in a million years.”
Bell Benson presenting me a book he wrote on the King Ranch
Chisholm Trail Sculpture