Humphreys’ History

The school in Humphreys closed in 1961 and is now used for storage for cotton farmers

The former elementary school in Humprheys, Jackson County, OK is a bit on the sunny side.

Even though Jackson County (Oklahoma) is home to the air force base at Altus, it is full of ghost towns. Many of them lost population during the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when the communities lost their schools (to me, the loss of a school is the hallmark of a ghost town).

I visited Humphreys in southeastern Jackson County and took a picture of its school, which closed in 1961. This was the “new” elementary school, at least for a while. Three teacherages (teacher homes) sat across the street, but they have been razed. I got a lot of my information from two extremely knowledgeable and pleasant people, Bill and Louise Snodgrass, who came out to talk to me. Mr. Snodgrass attended school in Humphreys. He was born not far from the Red River in a half dug-out. Ms. Snodgrass was the former county clerk of Jackson County!

There is nothing better than hitting the road with a vague destination in mind. You’ll never know what – or especially who! – you’ll find.

Bill and Ms Louise Snodgrass of Humphreys M. Snodgrass was the county clerk of Jackson County for nine years

Bill and Louise Snodgrass from Humphreys shared A LOT of history with me. Lovely people whom I’m so honored to get to know, even in passing!

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Transcontinental mapping

1861 John Pope survey expedition for southern transcontinental railroad route David Rumsey

The northern portion of John Pope’s 1854 map to survey a possible transcontinental route through Texas marks the Cross Timbers between Gainesville and Preston on the Red River.

In 1854, John Pope of the US Army (and a veteran of the Mexican American War) was tasked by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to plot out a transcontinental railroad route through Texas. Southern politicians worked very hard to convince the rest of Washington that a southern, not northern, transcontinental route was preferable.

Pope documented his expedition on this map, which was printed in 1861. He denoted where he set up camps along his journey, which started at the Rio Grande in El Paso and ended at the Red River in Preston (Grayson County, TX). This is a small portion of the much larger map – I especially like where he marked the “lower” and “upper” cross timbers around misspelled Gainesville (Cooke County).

It looks a lot like he didn’t “invent” the trail that he took – in many places, it mirrors the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach route, which suspended operations at the start of the Civil War. Southwest of Fort Belknap (Young County), he surveyed a more westerly direction, as the stagecoach route meandered towards Fort Phantom Hill.

When southern states left the Union in 1860-1861, the hopes for a transcontinental line from St. Louis to San Diego (through Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona) seceded with them.

Another portion of the1861 map from the John Pope expedition of 1854 shows that he took a route that closely mirrored the Butterfield

The middle portion of the 1854 Pope map has the proposed transcontinental route going straight southwest from Fort Belknap and bypassing Fort Phantom Hill. (David Rumsey Map Collection)

An Embarrassment of Architectural Treasures in De Soto Parish

According to the National Register, De Soto Parish, which lies between the Red and Sabine rivers in northwestern Louisiana, contains the highest concentration of Greek Revival architecture, outside of New Orleans, in the state.

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A perfect example is this beautiful 1850 mercantile in Keachie (aka Keatchie, aka Keachi), an antebellum town north of Mansfield. Keachie’s history is palpable in its buildings.

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The antebellum Baptist Church in Keachie is similar in style to the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in this beautiful town.

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An old farm house sits on the site of the former Female Seminary, which served as a hospital in the Civil War and later burned in an unrelated fire.

Fort Towson remains

Grant Foreman one of Oklahomas first historians took a photo of the ruins of Fort Towson hoctaw County in 1900 Oklahoma Historical Society

Grant Foreman, one of Oklahoma’s first historians, appears in this photograph overlooking the ruins of Fort Towson in 1900.

Although Fort Gibson in northeastern Oklahoma gets more publicity as “the first fort in Oklahoma,” its sister, Fort Towson in today’s Choctaw County, was established the same year – 1824.

Located close to where the Kiamichi River meets the Red River, the fort served several purposes. One, it was meant to protect the incoming Choctaws, who had signed the first removal treaties that eventually culminated in the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830. Two, it was supposed to stop the violence along the Mexican/American frontier, as Anglo settlers who had been forced out of Indian Territory upon its establishment in 1824 were none too keen on giving up their settlements and didn’t want to share their land with the Shawnees, who had received Mexican land grants. Three, it was charged with stopping Americans from entering Mexican Texas illegally.

The fort was well outfitted and usually held at least 75 to 100 troops. For the most part, the troops’ task was to build roads that connected to Fort Gibson, Fort Smith (Arkansas), and Fort Jesup (Louisiana).

After several acts of violence against the commanders of the fort by Americans just south of the Red River, the installation briefly closed in 1829 but then added more troops and served the US army until the end of the Mexican American War in 1848.

Abandoned by the 1850s, Confederate leaders from northeastern Texas took over the fort during the Civil War to recruit Choctaw and Chickasaw troops. The troops at the fort participated in the battle of Prairie D’Ane in 1864 as part of the Red River campaign.

The fort gradually disappeared due to fires, and because local citizens would “borrow” stones from the fort to build their own places. Eventually, very little remained of the fort. In 1900, eminent Oklahoma historian Grant Foreman took a photo of the fort’s ruins. I took photos of the same ruins about 100 years later.

Today, Fort Towson is an Oklahoma historical park and sponsors a number of special events throughout the year.

Check out the Red River Fort Tour on RRH!

The same ruins that Grant Foreman photographed are even more ruined 100 years later when I took this picture of Fort Towson, Choctaw County in 2000

The same ruins that Grant Foreman photographed at the turn of the century are still there, but have become smaller in the intervening years.

Fun with maps

map 1754

French map from 1754 (Library of Congress)

Did you know that the now- states of Arkansas and Louisiana once bordered Georgia, North, and South Carolina? It’s true! Until 1785, the original English colonies (after 1783, the original U.S. states) stretched their western boundaries all the way to the Mississippi River. In doing this, the colonies refused to recognize the Indian Reserve that the English had established between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River after the French Indian War in 1763. Inside this “middle ground” lived the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Shawnees, Delawares, and other tribes.

The Northwest and Southwest Ordinances (1785 and 1790, respectively) transformed the lands into territories for the creation of new states.Though George Washington proposed that the Indian tribes use the opportunity to form their own states, this suggestion was not taken seriously. Instead, new states were formed, and ultimately, their citizens advocated for Indian removals.

Abilene Cattle Trail

English cowboys Special Collections UT Arlington

An English cowboy paid to have his picture taking at Red River Station in Montague County, Texas before heading up the Abilene Trail through Indian Territory. (University of Texas Arlington, Special Collections)

A lot of “to do”has been made over the years about the Chisholm Trail. And don’t the words, “Chisholm Trail,” just sound wonderfully exotic? That’s probably why Texas has made it its historical mission to promote its association with the trail, though technically, the trail never made its way into Texas… and technically, it was never known as the Chisholm Trail by contemporaries.

Portion of an 1872 map of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory LOC

1872 map of the Red River cattle trail crossing at Red River Station – notice the cattle trail labeled “Abilene Cattle Trail” in Indian Territory northwest of the ford. (Library of Congress)

Texas cattle drivers trailed cattle throughout the state, but crossed the Red River in only a few areas where fords occurred. The drivers also tried to circumvent getting into the thick of the forests in the Cross Timbers, and stayed driving on the prairie between the forests- the forests served as natural boundaries for the cattle road’s open prairies, actually.

None of the trails the drovers took in Texas and crossed at the Red in the years after the Civil War had a name, but the drovers all had a destination: Kansas. The first officially sanctioned cattle trail was the one leading to Abilene, Kansas. Its promoter, Joseph McCoy, actually surveyed the route all the way into Indian Territory. Just after crossing the Red River at Red River Station in Montague County, the cowboys met with the actual trail, which was known to Congressmen, trail bosses, trail hands, meat packers, ranchers, and railroaders as the “Abilene Cattle Trail.”

Want to know more about how the Abilene Cattle Trail became known as the Chisholm Trail – and all the other trails that crossed the Red River? Order my book!

Google Map image of the current day 1872 map of a portion of the Chickasaw Nation

The trail crossing – with the features identified from the 1872 map above – can be discerned in a Google Map aerial image.

Published in: on May 30, 2018 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cactus Jack’s home town

gas station in detroit

Lovely former gas station in Detroit, Red River County, Texas.

DEE-troyt was the home town of “Cactus Jack” John Nance Garner, a Speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, contemporary of Sam Rayburn, and Vice President to Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1933 to 1941. He ran for the presidency in 1940, but Roosevelt was re-nominated for a record 3rd term, and after Roosevelt won, Cactus Jack left politics soon thereafter.

The Garner family home is still extant in Detroit, but I tend to shy away from posting pictures of private homes. I prefer abandonments, so that’s why Cactus Jack gets a gas station treatment. Sorry, Jack.

Published in: on May 19, 2018 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coal Country

coalgate

(Library of Congress)

A geological map of coal claims around Coalgate, Coal County, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) from ca. 1900 shows that following companies contracted with the Choctaw Nation and the federal government for lease rights: Atoka Coal and Mining Company (16), Southwestern Coal & Improvement Company (22), and the McDougall Company (28). The Perry Brothers’ national lease (i.e., before leases with the Indian nations) is designated by the encircled C.

From what I gather, none of the companies were owned by Choctaws or Chickasaws. The companies were subsidiaries of railroads – for example, the Atoka Coal & Mining Company was an off-shoot of the Missouri Pacific Railway.

I am not a historian on mineral rights or resources, but from what I’ve learned, most of Indian Territory’s natural resources did not do much to enrich the majority of tribal members.Several immigrants moved to Indian Territory to work as miners, and unsafe working conditions led to hundreds of deaths. The coal mines in Indian Territory were considered some of the most dangerous in the U.S.

Interestingly, early attempts at unionization in Coalgate were not met with much violence from either side. A strike by the majority of white coal miners, who wanted wage increases, lasted five years. During this time, black “scabs” from Alabama and other southern states were hired instead, which increased racial tensions rather than class tensions between the labor and owning classes – but not much inter-racial violence was recorded.

Though the tribal governments tended to side with the employers, the United Mine Workers finally successfully organized in 1903. Coal mining became a major industry in the decades after Oklahoma became a state,  but by the 1980s, the mines closed after an episode of violent attacks against Union officials.

Coalgate tourist court cropped

Abandoned tourist court on the outskirts of Coalgate, Coal County, Oklahoma.

Published in: on May 15, 2018 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ay Chihuahua!

I often spend my evenings (as well as days, weekends, times when I should be grading papers…) perusing old maps. One of my particular interests is mapping the Chihuahua Trail.

The Chihuahua Trial was a short-lived road blazed by merchants from Mexico and the U.S. In 1830, Mexican merchants traveled from Chihuahua to Fort Smith, Arkansas for trade. After the Texas Revolution, American merchants (in particular a Missourian named Henry Connelly) wanted to ensure a continued trade path with Mexico.

Map 1

I superimposed some geographic markers on this map. I figured out that it was Belknap Creek where the Chihuahua bound trading party got stuck in the mud in 1840.

So, in 1840, several American merchants, Mexican dragoons,and circus performers (who were to entertain townspeople along the way so that the party wouldn’t be tolled too much) left Fulton (Hempstead County, Arkansas) and traveled westward. Their route pretty much paralleled today’s U.S. Highway 82.

I found an 1846 map outlining routes to Santa Fe, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Matamoros at Oklahoma State University’s digital map collection. I saw that at one point, the Chihuahua Trail bisected the Military Road that connected Santa Fe to San Antonio and the Route of the misguided Santa Fe expedition of 1841.

Map 2

I was very curious about this cross roads. One would think it would be an important cross roads even today, but that’s not the case.

As the nosy person that I am, I wanted to pinpoint the cross roads, which, as noted in the 1846 map, was conveniently situated in the Cross Timbers. According to Roy Swift from the Handbook of Texas, it was at this location where the trading party encountered boggy soil that took them weeks to get through. Their mucky delay cost them dearly, because while they were mired, Mexican and U.S. tariffs had increased to the point that trade was severely handicapped. When the party finally arrived, no one was really thrilled, and the Chihuahua Trail was abandoned.

I wonder if this is when the clowns began to cry. Ha ha, I couldn’t resist. <Rim shot.>

Map 3

The place where the west-bound Chihuahua Trail crossed the north-bound route to Santa Fe was along a small arm of Belknap Creek. The proximity to the headwaters of the West Fork of the Trinity River – which are a series of springs – may have contributed to the bogs that the trading party encountered in 1840.

Of course, I could be wrong in my estimation. I’m sure the trading party didn’t call the creek it encountered by its current name of Belknap. When you’re mired for several weeks in mud as they were in 1840, you’d probably call it by the name of that proverbial place you end up where you do not have access to a paddle, ha ha.

Map 4

Using Google maps, I figured that the Chihuahua Trail crossed the military road between today’s Belcherville and Stoneburg (Montague County, Texas).

 

Your mom may have gone to this college, Napoleon.

The buildings at McKenzie College, j depicted in photographs in the WPA Guide to Texas

From 1841 to 1868, McKenzie Institute (also called McKenzie College) was the pride of Clarksville, Red River County, Texas.

Until the end of the Civil War, high schools and colleges along the old southwestern frontier were invariably private (also called “by subscription”) and available only to the free middle class. Even with limited educational opportunities, a solid classical foundation remained very important, as the institute’s ad in the Dallas Herald (Aug 9, 1856) attests. Smith Ragsdale, by the way, was the Reverend McKenzie’s son-in-law.

Many of its students volunteered for service in the Confederacy, which left the school with a limited enrollment. The mandates of public schools during the Reconstruction era (by 1876, the Texas Constitution guaranteed free public schools throughout Texas) and the lack of tuition forced the institute to close its doors.

An advertisement for McKenzie Institute was published weekly in the Dallas Times Herald in August 1856

Spelling may have been an optional class at McKenzie – can y’all spot the spelling error in the ad?

KY town

Another advertisement in an 1866 newspaper, this time for an academy at Kentucky Town, Grayson County, TX. Until the railroads bypassed it, Kentucky Town was a very prominent community in the 19th century. During the Civil War, William Quantrill and his notorious guerilla gang even camped out here, and the citizens did not take kindly to him.

KY town tombstone

Today, not much of the town – named after the origin state of its settlers – remains. It does have a pretty neat cemetery, though.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 2:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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