By Al Myers
I’ve had the great fortune of living in Abilene, Kansas my entire life. Most think living in Kansas means that you live in a “fly over State”, but my community is deep in history like all other places. One thing of historical significance includes being part of cowboy history and the Chisholm Trail. Next year marks a big year for the Chisolm Trail in Abilene – the 150th year kickoff celebration marking the trail beginnings. The actual anniversary of the trail is in 2017, but we are going to start the celebration a year early! The Chisolm Trail was named for a venture trader by the name of Jesse Chisholm. Jesse was not a cattle driver, but used this pathway for other trade purposes before any hooves had even hit the famous Chisolm Trail. The unique thing about these long cattle drives on the Chisholm Trail was that originally it ended in Abilene, Kansas. The years of the cattle drives were not that long (1867-1885) but this time frame shaped the beginning of Abilene. Abilene at that time was a “rough and tough” time as cowboys were often tired and exhausted from the many months on the trail, and wanted to have a little fun once they got their paycheck. They spent this money on various forms of entertainment in Abilene, and things often got out of hand. It took a Sheriff that knew how to rule with an upper hand to keep things under control. And we had that in Sheriffs Wild Bill Hickok and Tom Smith which made them famous law enforcing icons in the Old Wild West.
Now it’s that time of the story that I make the tie between the Chisholm Trail and the USAWA. Once the cattle drives of Texas Longhorns arrived in the Abilene Stockyards, they were loaded on railcar for the long train ride back east where top dollar was being paid for beef. This only happened because of a man named Joseph McCoy, who convinced the community of Abilene to support his Stockyards for the Kansas Pacific Railway to run rail from Abilene for cattle transport and convincing legislatures to allow movement of Longhorns in Kansas. Joseph McCoy indeed was the “real McCoy” to make all this happen to support his business interests, a phrase he often referred to himself as. He built a hotel, saloon, bank, and many other buildings to support his enterprise. His first shipment of Longhorns left Abilene September 5th, 1867 headed to Chicago. All in all, over 3 million head of cattle flowed through Abilene driven up on the Chisholm Trail. This put Abilene on the map as a true cowboy town.
Now for some of you, you may have recognized the name Joe McCoy as being the name of a past all round weightlifter. That’s where these stories interweave, as the Joe McCoy that we know in the USAWA was a great-great grandson of Joseph McCoy. I knew Joe pretty well, and competed with him on several occasions. Before his death in 2014 we visited at least once on the phone every month. Joe always wanted to make it to Abilene to research his family history, but never did as in his later years physical limitations prevented him from traveling. Joe McCoy was appointed as the first IAWA Registrar in 1987, the year of the beginning for the International All Round Weightlifting Association. Joe competed in the second USAWA Nationals in 1989 held by John Vernacchio in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. In that meet he lifted 170 kilograms in the Zercher Lift at 46 years of age, one of his favorite lifts. He was one of the members of the “inaugural class” of USAWA members in 1988. Joe had a great passion for taking pictures and later producing videos of meets which he shared with all. I have several of his videos. He was a very likable guy, and would visit for hours with anyone. In our visits I would always be amazed at the things he remembered – names of lifters, specifics that happened at various meets, and obscure weightlifting trivia. He was immensely involved in the Missouri Valley Weightlifting Association, which I consider to be the precursor of the now USAWA. At that time only in the Missouri Valley Region the all round lifts were contested in competition, promoted mostly by Bill Clark. Joe supplied many of the pictures that were in the original USAWA Rulebook. He was a very good lifter himself, and always gave everything he had on the platform. He was involved in USAWA meet promotions, with his most famous being the Texas Deadlift Classic. Joe was always full of enthusiasm at meets, and in his deep booming Texas voice would encourage fellow lifters nonstop above the sounds of the other meet noises.
Joe McCoy spent most of his life in Glen Rose Texas, on the family ranch. Interestingly, Glen Rose offers up much Chisholm Trail history as well as Abilene. Glen Rose was right on the path of the Chisholm Trail, and features the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum which is one of the largest collections of Chisholm Trail history. I’m betting the first group of 2400 Longhorns that hit the Chisholm Trail came from the grasslands very close to Glen Rose.
Just as Grandpappy Joseph McCoy had a big part of the history of the Chisholm Trail, so does his lineage Joe McCoy has had in the USAWA.
(This story is dedicated to the memory of Joe McCoy for his contributions to the USAWA and the IAWA.)