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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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.

Beautiful Buffalo Springs

I visited Buffalo Springs in Clay County (TX), a little ghost town named after a nearby buffalo watering site. Founded around 1864, Buffalo Springs couldn’t hold out long due to a drought and Comanche raids, even though most of the town was built as a fortification. At one point, Buffalo Springs was supposed to become the location of a military fort, but a site in Jack County was selected instead (this became Fort Richardson).

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Lovely former homestead in Buffalo Springs

Buffalo Springs rebounded after the Civil War, and hung on well into the 1930s. By the latter part of the 20th century, however, people left Buffalo Springs for job opportunities in larger cities.

I took gobs of pictures, but my favorite places in Buffalo Springs were the old homesteads. Irises and daffodils and jonquils were blooming in the fields next to these abandoned places; I thought of the women who lived there long ago, following their husbands’ homesteading ambitions. With decades of their bulbs renewing every year, it’s these small pieces of civilized, domestic life that serve as reminders of their hard lives.

Buffalo Springs 20.jpgMy kind of gate!!!

Buffalo Springs 9.jpgFormer high school’s gym.

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Rock Springs Church near Buffalo Springs, built in 1936.
Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 2:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Cobble Cobble

The cobble stones, also called “cannonballs,” used in the structures (pictured below) constitute good examples of Indigenous architecture of the western Red River Valley.  The stones were quarried from the rivers surrounding the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. Oklahomans began using the native round, granite rocks at the turn of the 20th century to adorn school houses, homes, hotels, and even Fort Sill. Some of the stones made their way to buildings in northwestern Texas, too.

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Saddle Mountain, Kiowa County, Oklahoma. Not sure what the use of this building was. It is concrete, double pen, with cannonballs (granite stones) embedded in the mixture before it dried. (I’d live here!)

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Victory School near Saddle Mountain in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. I would have walked closer but there were A LOT of sticker bushes.

Medicine Park

Cannonball architecture exists all over Medicine Park, a beautiful resort town at the base of Mount Scott in the Wichita Mountains, Comanche County, Oklahoma.

Medicine Mound

The abandoned gas station in Medicine Mound, a ghost town in Hardeman County, Texas, also sports cannonball architecture.

 

Muriel Wright, Oklahoma Historian

Map

Boggy Depot Plan numbers Depot Muriel Wright 1927
1. Gov. Allen Wright’s residence.
2. John. Kingsbury residence.
3. House built by Mr. Lore (cobbler).
4-5. Wood shop and residence of A. J. Martin.
6. Dr. T. J. Bond’s residence.
7. Store of Reuben Wright—later store of Edward Dwight.
8. Temporary schoolhouse (hewed logs)—later Aunt Lou’s bakery,
9. Apothecary shop.
10. Joseph J. Phillips’ store.
11. Mr. Maurer’s blacksmith shop.
12. Mr. Maurer’s residence.
13. Miss Mary Chiffey’s residence.
14. Brick Church—Hospital during the War.
15. Livery Barn.
16. J. J. Phillips’ residence.
17. James Riley’s residence.
18. Old graves.
19. Dr. Moore’s residence.
20. Barn for Stage Coach Company.
21. Capt. G. B. Hester & John Kingsbury store.
22. Dr. Bond’s office.
Page 17
23. Store of Mr. Ford.
24. Barn for Hotel
25. Tom Brown’s blacksmith shop.
26. Capt. Charles LeFlore’s residence.
27. Col. Wm. R. Guy’s Hotel.
28. Old graves.
29. Capt. G. B. Hester’s residence.
30 New schoolhouse.
31. New Church—upper floor used by Masonic Lodge.

In 1927, Muriel H. Wright, a teacher and one of Oklahoma’s most detailed historians, mapped Boggy Depot (Atoka County, Oklahoma) from memories collected by her, her family, and other inhabitants. Today, Boggy Depot is a state park managed by the Choctaws, and the outline of the town is barely discernible.

Muriel Wright was the granddaughter of Rev. Allen Wright, principal chief of the Choctaw Nation from 1866 to 1870. She was born in Lehigh, Coal County, in 1889. Due to her prolific writing and research, she was one of the first people inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

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Current view of Boggy Depot. Not much there anymore!

The Boggy Depot cemetery is a treasure trove of Indian Territory history – graves include Choctaw and Chickasaw nation citizens. While none of the town’s buildings exist anymore, the outlines are still discernible if you don’t mind taking a walk. The Butterfield Overland Stagecoach made a stop at Boggy Depot before the Civil War, and if you squint, you can still make out ruts. On my sojourns through this very historic area, I did find a remnant of old Boggy Depot – a daubed log cabin, surrounded (and protected) by later additions.

cabin

If this daubed log cabin could talk, it would remember Boggy Depot when it was still inhabited. Between the state park and Atoka on Boggy Depot Road, Atoka County, Oklahoma.

ruts

Ruts from the Butterfield stage coach line are fairly discernible. (Boggy Depot, Atoka County, Oklahoma).

tombstone

D. J. Hendrickson
was born in Dekalb
Co., Tenn. Age 31 Yrs.
Killed Feb. 26, 1864
Co. E 20th T.D.C. Regt.
I am learning from my searches that T.D.C. might mean “Texas Dismounted Cavalry.”
20th (TEXAS) Cavalry Regiment, recruited in Hill County, TX, was organized during the spring of 1862 with about 850 officers and men. The unit was assigned to Cooper’s and Gano’s Brigade, Trans-Mississippi Department, and primarily confronted Federals in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma, VR) It was included in the surrender of the Indian troops at Doaksville on June 23, 1865. The field officers were Col. Thomas C. Bass, Lt Col Andrew J. Fowler and T.D. Taliaferro, and Majors Dempsey W. Broughton and John R. Johnson. (From Joseph H. Crute, Units of the Confederate States Army), p. 336

Published in: on February 2, 2018 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hobby for nosy people

I took up a new hobby last year – estate sale shopping. Like my “hobby” of ghost town collecting, this new pastime does not require amassing a large collection of finds that I have to find storage for, however. Going to estate sales is, for me, simply another way to satiate my nosiness.

But I have to make myself clear; I’m not nosy about other people’s possessions. Rather, I like to go inside houses to savor, comment, critique, enjoy, and marvel at their architecture. And the older the house, the better. At the Dallas-area estate sales I frequent, I have the opportunity to visit early and mid-century homes that had been owned by one family for decades. After the last of the parental generation dies off, their possessions go on sale and the house itself is also up for grabs. Often, that means that the house will no doubt become bulldozer fodder as the new homeowners wish to transform geographically desirable addresses into fashionably designer homes with the latest accouterments. I could pretend to be understanding in their desire to tear down the older homes to build more modern ones. It’s their money, right? And everyone wants the latest conveniences, right?

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Not a modern house.

But I’d be lying. I LIKE the older homes. I think pink, tiled bathrooms, with built-in toothbrush holders, are awesome. I cannot contain my enthusiasm when I encounter a vintage metal kitchen, often painted in a cheery yellow. Massive brick fireplaces with wooden mantles, built-in corner china cabinets, transoms, stained-glass windows, arched doorways, crystal door knobs, telephone nooks, linoleum, shag carpeting, scuffed wooden floors, decorative plaster… I’m a big fan.

Estate sales offer the rare opportunity for me to see these hidden gems before they’ve been demolished, and without having to employ a real estate agent, either. Visiting these sales is like capturing a small moment in time, before the future obliterates the past.

Published in: on January 13, 2016 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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An historic Death

In the US, death of history is frequent.

I’m not talking about historical events today, even though they have their own share of death and destruction. I’m referencing historic preservation, or to put it more bluntly, the complete and utter lack thereof.

I found myself driving through southwestern Arkansas just this past week, filled with the peculiar anxiety always reserved for the things I hold most dear – old, abandoned buildings that have historical significance but have been neglected and forgotten for new and shinier places. Each time I re-visit a ghost town or some abandoned place that I’ve previously chronicled, my nerves get edgy, as I am scared to discover that another piece of history may have been destroyed.

My fears were confirmed in Fulton, Hempstead County, Arkansas. I have a major soft spot for this little town, which has so much history behind it. It sits right alongside the Great Bend of the Red River, and its levees are still tall and sturdy. Since its inception, Fulton served as a major crossroads. First, it was the river crossing for people headed to Mexican Texas. Then, it was mentioned as the terminus of the first proposed transcontinental railroad (Cairo & Fulton RR). By the 1920s, the Bankhead Highway cut a path right alongside this once very important town.

The lone commercial building that still stood in Fulton, Arkansas…

There are only a handful of reminders that point to this hamlet’s history. There’s the railroad bridge, rebuilt after the flood of 1927. Then there’s the water well, now ensconced in a derelict wooden building. You can still see the steamboat docks and moorings on the eastern bank of the Red River, too. And lastly, a lone commercial building, probably built around the turn of the 20th century, stood in a dilapidated state across from the post office.

When I visited Fulton in August of 2015, I discovered that this beautiful old building had been razed. The facade, with its tin cornice, was nowhere to be seen. All foundations, bricks, wood, shingles… everything had been bulldozed. All that sits there now is an empty, gaping maw.

… is now gone.

I don’t know if anyone in Fulton cried when it went away, this last vestige of a once-important town that the interstate unceremoniously bypassed. But I did. I cried bitter, bitter tears over this death.

The building was in a horrible state, for sure. The back had caved in, and its crumbling walls – whatever was left of its walls – exposed the interior to the elements. But the front part of the building was in good order. It could have been sheered off and then braced. It could have been simply a gateway that stood to frame the levee… anything rather than just some other damned hole in the ground.

You may wonder, what if the property owner didn’t have the money to do all this? The building was a hazard and could have well exposed the owner to lawsuits if someone trespassed. These are all good arguments. But, here’s the thing – we cannot keep letting private property rights and obligations get in the way of historic preservation. This country, these states, this town need programs that allow for the reclamation of history. Let eminent domain take over, if it has to. Compensate the owner and then preserve the building, through federal and state grants. Don’t tell me this country doesn’t have the money, either. We’re the richest country on earth. We just allow our wealth – oil wealth, coal wealth, manufactured wealth – to remain in the hands of the oligarchy who provide mere snippets to the rest of us plebeians,and that’s why we think our country is bankrupt. Believe me, we’re not. If we were, we wouldn’t be able to fight all these wars over which our plebeian sons and daughters get killed.

We’re a nation that loves private property. I get that. I also get that it has been, historically, a detriment for most put-upon people. Native American tribes understand that all too well. So do African Americans, whose ancestors were forced into perpetual slavery and were not even considered fully human. Women get it, too – for centuries, they were their husband’s property and as married women, could not rightfully claim property of their own unless it was specifically bequeathed to them.

And you know what else is put upon? Our heritage. That little building in Fulton was a fantastic link to the past – our shared past, warts and all. And we simply have to stand back and watch our history get destroyed, one building at a time, because we’re not allowed to own that past. And then we scrape up all the money we can to visit Europe, so that we can marvel at their old buildings. Am I missing something here?

Published in: on August 8, 2015 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Antebellum Ghost Towns and the Railroads that did them in

I’ve been making several trips around the Red River Valley to discover forgotten towns for my book project this summer. However, I don’t just look for cemeteries, even though they’re the best way to find old settlements. I want to find actual ruins! I think that remains speak much louder than anything can, so I look for towns with remains.

The other day, I took a trip around Louisiana and found the antebellum town of Allen’s Settlement, which was built around intersecting roads. Because nothing remains of Allen’s Settlement,  I don’t consider it necessarily a “ghost town” that needs to be visited.

Allens Settlement

Allen’s Settlement in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, 1863.

But it makes me wonder – why did some towns thrive and others falter? I guess it’s because most antebellum towns west of the Mississippi River did not survive the railroad boom. It’s not necessarily just because the existing towns didn’t provide enough incentive for the companies to lay tracks, though. These corporations – the original “corporate personhoods”- often had settlement, or rather town building, subsidiaries that speculated on selling land plots. They didn’t want to (or need to) compete with established towns as the state granted them charters, like the land grant companies of old, to entice settlers. They simply built new towns, and the profits of both freight hauling and land sales could be gained by the railroads exclusively.

Examples of the railroad land schemes can be found all over the Red River Valley: Hope (Hempstead County, Arkansas) and Texarkana (Miller County, Arkansas and Bowie County, Texas) were founded by the railroads, as was Denison (Grayson County, Texas).

Hope UP train

Trains made Hope, Arkansas what it is today – including the Hempstead County seat.

Luckily, some antebellum cities along the Red River still exist – Dallas, Sherman, Alexandria, Shreveport, Natchitoches, and Marksville, for example. Being a county seat helped them to survive, of course – however, Hope wrestled the county seat status away from Washington, as did Ashdown from Richmond (Little River County, Arkansas) – so political status was no guarantee. The take-away is that in the American capitalist system, money talks. Cities that were able to incentivize railroads enough for them to lay tracks were able to “weather” the corporate land take-overs.

Railroads might be romantic and all, but above all, they were corporations that changed the very nature of human settlement patterns, at least in the US. They are the true Goliaths.

Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ruins Tell Stories

Lots of the pictures I post on my website, www.redriverhistorian.com, tend to be of ruins – disused buildings and such – and sometimes, I’ve been accused of worshipping “ruin porn,” as if I am some voyeuristic pervert.  I find that such an obnoxious term, and wonder if the same people who tell me this also insult people who visit and take pictures of the pyramids in Egypt, Mexico, or Guatemala.

Before I get accused of comparing cultural icons like the Sphinx to a disused gas station in Italy, Texas, hear me out.

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Modern American culture and history are built on commercialism, not ancestor worship (note I wrote “modern American culture” – that means I’m not talking about Cahokia or Spiro). The first European settlements in North America consisted of trading posts and plantations. Religious and governmental structures, like the missions and presidios in San Antonio, were erected to support the colonial exploitation of the continent. And while American children have been taught that the pilgrims came to Massachusetts to found a religious settlement, that intention was secondary; they were part of the Plymouth Colony, the primary goal of which was to send beaver pelts, copper, and timber back to Mother England. (** Please note that Pilgrims and Puritans are both from the Anglican Separatist tradition and only became distinctive as American history was documented in latter years).

Therefore, I argue, the demise of American capitalism is well worthy of documentation. Detroit, as well as the thousands of ghost towns dotting the United States, are all prime examples of the disintegration of a culture based on economic gains. Think about it – the eerie beauty of the abandoned Michigan Central Station in Detroit is directly related to the city’s demise as an industrial center. The same goes for the derelict storefronts in small towns like Gotebo, Oklahoma, because they serve as a very tangible reminder of how corporations have come to dominate and homogenize the cultural landscape.

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Michigan Central Station, Detroit and Gotebo, Oklahoma

What can I say? People who derisively label photographs of American abandonments as “ruin porn” are historically illiterate.

Published in: on June 19, 2014 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Simply, a Vexing Question

Every time I give a presentation on ghost towns, invariably I’m asked this question: “What exactly is a Ghost Town? And why are you wearing that shirt with those pants?”

While I usually just shrug off the latter question, the first one is one of my favorites, because the answer is actually fairly obvious.

Dundee school close up

Ghost Towns come in a variety of different ways: they might have several paved roads, or they only exist as a cemetery, or they are surrounded by people’s well-kept homes, or they have a post office, or they have a city hall, or they are inside a state park. Whatever and however they represent, the constant in a ghost towns is that it no longer has a school.

Believe it or not, the United States has always been a big believer in education. A mere 30 years after the Puritans came ashore, they formed Harvard. In quick succession, several other schools opened, with an emphasis on literacy and reason… the idea being that men and women both should be able to read the bible and conduct trade in a free market economy. Their zeal to be educated led the colonists to read treasonous philosophies, print banned books, and question authority. After all, Thomas Paine would not have been well received by a people who could not exhibit critical thinking skills.

Thus, often the first public building erected by a fledgling community was not a courthouse or a church, but a school (in Texas & Oklahoma, I’ve discovered that many towns’ first building was the Masonic Lodge, which doubled as a school during the week). Having a school meant the town believed it had a future. Schools embodied optimism.

Dougherty school door
As modern economies of scale encroached on communities, centers of trade began to shift (when you want to visualize “economies of scale,” just think about a local hardware store versus Home Depot, or the small grocer versus Wal-Mart). Kids who might have stayed in their towns after graduation discovered that they had to move to larger cities to take advantage of opportunities there. Their progeny went to the larger schools, which became ever larger, and so on – until the small town schools had to close their doors.

There’s nothing sadder than a shuttered school. It’s as if the locks on the doors murdered the very soul of the community. No longer are school events like football season, the big dance, or the open house the focal point. Everyone in a town – regardless if one had a kid in school or not – invested in the school in some way. Without it, the citizens of those towns lose their commonality.

Bucher School-side

Little towns like Ravenna (Fannin County, Texas) or Dougherty (Carter County, Oklahoma) might not like having me denote them as “ghost towns.” After all, they still have town halls and post office, and maybe a gas station or two. But, without their schools, they only exist as an outpost of the bigger cities in their midst.

And that is the simple answer to a seemingly complex question.

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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