A passion for the Chisholm Trail

Ken Selzer gave to support award-winning book by historian, Jim Sherow

What motivates people to invest in a person, a project or a place?

For Ken Selzer ‘75, his “passion for Kansas and the Chisholm Trail” met opportunity when Jim Sherow, former professor of history at Kansas State University, was writing the four-time award-winning “The Chisholm Trail: Joseph McCoy’s Great Gamble,” an authoritative environmental history of the famous cattle-drive trail. Ken grew up “directly on the Chisholm Trail” in Goessel, Kansas, and supporting Jim’s work on the book was a way to help tell the story and honor Ken’s dad whose farm was intimately connected with this big piece of Kansas history.

Making the connection

What began as a conversation with former K-State President Jon Wefald, became an opportunity for Ken to fund research assistants to help make Jim’s history of the Chisholm Trail possible. By chance, Ken also helped acquire illustrations to be included in the publication. What may not seem like a big gift of $5,000, was the catalyst for Jim, a fourth-generation Kansan, to finish what would become a book with the help of his undergraduate researchers.

“It’s unique to have someone invest in a historian’s work. I was really grateful to Ken and how his donation meant that the undergraduate researchers could help acquire the information so I could analyze and synthesize the data,” Jim said. “Ken has connections across the state and helped with permissions and illustrations. He played a big role. He set up speaking arrangements across the state and in Rotary Clubs, and we had a great time presenting.”

An important story

“The Chisholm Trail” spun from a larger story Jim was working on about the environmental history of the central grasslands between 1780 and 1870. It tells how early entrepreneur, Joseph McCoy, created a market for Texas cattle in far off New York City, which included moving beef cattle from Texas to the Abilene and Wichita railheads. McCoy was motivated to broaden the beef market and to help provide affordable beef to the working class people in the Northeast. He saw his life’s work not only as a purveyor of new markets, but as one to improve the human condition.   

Because of the philanthropic support Ken established and his willingness to connect Jim with groups across the state, the story of how the book was completed is as compelling as the book itself.

When asked how he feels about the book’s success, Ken replied, “He (Jim) did all the work. My small part was to help provide needed funds to do research. He translated it.” And Ken encourages others to “support your K-State passions through the KSU Foundation. It does not need to be a lot to make a difference.”

Your gift to K-State has power

Ken and his wife, Deb Grimes, have long supported the university through service and donations to the College of Business Administration, K-State Alumni Association and K-State Athletics, to name a few. Thanks to this generous and timely $5,000 gift to the history department in the College of Arts and Sciences in support of essential research to complete “The Chisholm Trail: Joseph McCoy’s Great Gamble,” this Kansas story and its K-State author have earned the following four book awards:

  • 2019 – Westerners Co-Founders Award, Best Book, Westerners International:  runner-up
  • 2019 – Hal K. Rothman Award, Western History Association: winner
  • 2018 – Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize, Center for Great Plains Studies: short listed
  • 2019 – Center for the Study of the American West Book Award, Outstanding Western Book, Center for the Study of the American West: winner

Originally published in summer 2021.

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Tracy Robinson

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Tracy Robinson

Josh Rosin Student Gift Officer