Spanish Bluff

Spanish Bluff by Ben Jones

Reader Ben Jones graciously shared a vantage point of the Red River that’s rarely seen nowadays – Spanish Bluff on the southern bank of the Red River. Thank you for this lovely photo, Ben!

Located between Bowie County, Texas and Little River County, Arkansas, Spanish Bluff was named after an event that took place in 1806.

An American expedition team from the Corps of Engineers was sent by President Thomas Jefferson to study the flora, fauna, and geology of the Red River as part of the Louisiana Purchase expeditions. Led by Peter Custis, Thomas Freeman, and Richard Sparks (military commander), the ultimate goal was to see if the Red River reached to Santa Fe. However, New Spain believed the Red River to be part of their territory. The Spanish commander Francisco Viana learned about this expedition from James Wilkenson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory and reputedly a spy for the Spanish. Viana pursued the American party and halted its trek at the bluff pictured here. Because the Red River Expedition was not supposed to be a military action, the Americans immediately stepped down from their journey and returned to Natchitoches.

The Spanish mistook their border claims. Since the Louisiana Territory included all western water sheds that drained into the Mississippi River, the entire Red River should have been American territory… as well as the Sulphur River, which drains into the Red River. However, the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty established the U.S. and Mexican boundary at the Red and Sabine Rivers in exchange for Spain relinquishing Florida to the U.S.

 

Advertisements

Slices of Sibley

John 2

Sibley (1757-1837) is buried in the American Cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

John Sibley was the first Indian Agent in the Louisiana Territory. Born in Massachusetts, Sibley became a physician in North Carolina and joined the army during the Revolutionary War. Years later, he offered his services again to the army along the Red River frontier. While there, he served as an Indian Agent in Natchitoches. He helped to procure the provisions and guides needed for Thomas Freeman, Peter Custis, and Col. Sparks to explore the Red River after the Louisiana Purchase.

The purpose of an Indian Agent was to ensure the security of the United States and its claims, which meant negotiating treaties, land sales, and agreements with tribes in the areas where they worked. Dr. Sibley documented his work as an Indian Agent through copious correspondence, some of which is reproduced below.

John 1

In 1804, Sibley described the final peace negotiations between the Caddos and Choctaws at the Indian factory in Natchitoches in a letter written to his commanding general. In this excerpt, he explained that the availability of liquor in the “little town of Natchitoches” had a bad effect on all inhabitants.

Sibley all

In 1806, Sibley sponsored an expedition to “recover” a large meteorite from the lands between the Brazos and Red Rivers in Spanish Texas that Indian Trader Henry Glass had relayed to him.

Of course, “recovering” this medicine stone was highly illegal for at least two reason. For one, the Spanish had made their claims on the lands of Texas abundantly clear, and they definitely did not want the Americans invading their lands. Secondly, the Wichitas and the Comanches considered the meteorite an important medicine (religious /medicinal artifact). Sibley thus paid for this expedition out of his own pocket, as he had hoped the meteorite was made of platinum and, I assume, he could retire in luxury if he was able to sell it.

IMG_20171228_112606118.jpg

The “platinum rock” turned out to be an iron meteorite, which eventually up at the Peabody Museum at Yale University.

Sibley’s expedition stole the meteorite from the Texas lands and sent it to geologists in New York once the sample was determined to be iron, not platinum. Purchased by rock collector George Gibbs, eventually the 1,600 lbs meteorite – the largest recovered as of that time period – centered Gibbs’s extensive collection.  Gibbs’s wife donated the rock to  Yale University’s Peabody Museum.

Stage Coach Times

Adverts in old newspapers help to provide context to history, such as how much the Red River Valley was interconnected long before our modern interstates.

Clarksville to Shreveport stage coach via Washington Dallas Herald aug 9 1856

I was perusing several historic newspapers on the Library of Congress when I came across this notice for a stage coach route that traveled from Clarksville (Red River County, TX) to Shreveport (Caddo Parish, LA) via Washington (Hempstead County, AR) in the Dallas Herald.

Note the misspelling of “Clarkesville” – it seems that Mr. Crutchfield needed spell check. It is also comforting to know that the drivers will be sober.

hotel

The Texas Hotel in Sherman (Grayson County, TX) most likely accommodated guests for the many stage coaches that went through town weekly or even daily. Sherman was serviced by stage coaches to McKinney (via Mantua); to Bonham (via Warren); and to Greenville (via Pilot Grove).

After 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage Coach that was the first transcontinental stage coach line and mail line had a stop in Sherman, in the wee morning hours.

This ad was found in the Dallas Herald of August 9, 1856. I think that modern hotels could take some pointers.

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!

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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  
Tags: , , , ,

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  
Tags: ,