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.

 

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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.

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.

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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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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Dallas founding document

deed

I was snooping around the online archives of the Texas General Land Office and found this document. It’s for John Neely Bryan, the founder of the city of Dallas.

Bryan came from Tennessee in the 1839 to establish an Indian trading post at a natural ford along the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Here, he dealt with bison hides taken from the Grand Prairie. He enticed fellow Tennesseans and other settlers to follow him to this little hamlet, which became a much safer place for Americans after Sam Houston negotiated peace treaties with Wichita tribes and Comanche bands at nearby Tehuacana, Fort Bird, and Grapevine Springs.

By 1841, the Peters Colony Land Grant Company was charged with distributing land in North Texas, which included the Dallas area. After a string of disputes by settlers who arrived prior to the company’s empressario (land grants based on Spanish law), and alleged records mismanagement that led to the burning of land records in today’s Denton County, Bryan retroactively certified his 640 acre homestead through this document in 1854.

The oath is interesting. First, the document falls under Nacogdoches District (the gargantuan county from which most of northeast Texas was carved). Bryan, “a married man,” does “solemnly swear that I emigrated to Texas, and entered the Colony, which was granted to Peters and others, as a Colonist, February and March 1st 1840 with my wife, and that I have since continued and still remain a setter in said Colony, and I have performed all the duties required of me as a good citizen, and that I have never heretofore received land from the Government of Coahuila and Texas, nor of the Republic or State of Texas, as an emigrant or Colonist. So help me God.”

The Spanish system of empressarios (original land grants) is still in place in Texas, unlike any other state of the Union. In order to obtain the maximum grant, one had to be a married man, too. This document helps to explain that.

Published in: on April 21, 2018 at 4:05 am  Comments (3)  
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A trip to historic Shreveport

In 1958, Martin Luther King, Jr.  met with community and NAACP leaders to formulate a school integration plan at the (old) Galilee Baptist Church on Williamson Street in Shreveport. Shreveport resident William Hines, who was one of the city’s first African American police officers, gave an oral history to Shondra Houston and her student Senae Hall about his experiences with protecting Dr. King during this historic but also dangerous trip. The interview can be located in its entirety in the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.

Mr. Hines offered a good description of St. Paul Bottoms, the neighborhood in Shreveport that was mainly inhabited by blacks during the period between Reconstruction and desegregation. A quote from the interview, re-printed below, shares some interesting information about the area when Dr. Martin Luther King visited Shreveport’s Galillee and Evergreen churches.

Shreveport Dr. King meets with civil rights leaders at the Galilee Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA in 1958. Photo courtesy NAACP Simpkins & Brock, LLC).

Dr. King meets with civil rights leaders at the Galilee Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA in 1958. Photo courtesy NAACP Simpkins & Brock, LLC.

Dr. King stayed at the Castle Hotel on 1000 Sprague Street, which sadly, no longer exists. Being an ardent admirer of Dr. King as well as forgotten architecture, I searched around until I found its former location and an image of the hotel while it was still in use.

Shreveport Castle Hotel 1000 Sprague Street from Shreveport Historydotcom

The Castle Hotel at 1000 Sprague Street in Shreveport’s St. Paul’s Bottoms, where Dr. King stayed during his trip to the city.   Historydotcom

“When Martin Luther King came here, I was assigned to offer security for him. I had the privilege of shaking his hand when he first came because myself, Tisdon… We had four black officers and we had to go to Evergreen Church and Galilee to offer security for him. He lived down at the Sprague Street Hotel because blacks didn’t live in the Holiday Inn and all those places. There was a pretty good hotel out on Sprague Street and so that’s where he lived. I gave him security while he was here.”

Shreveport Castle Hotel former site Google Maps

The Castle Hotel is now an empty lot across from the historic Oakwood Cemetery.

I found it odd that I didn’t find a listing for the Castle Hotel in The Green Book, a travel guide published specifically for African American road trippers in the post-war era. Then it occurred to me – maybe the Castle Hotel didn’t pay to have itself listed?

1956 Greenbook Shreveport

The only lodging listings I could find in the Green Book for Shreveport in 1956 did not include the Castle Hotel on Sprague Street.

The only lodging listings I could find in the Green Book for Shreveport in 1956 did not include the Castle Hotel on Sprague Street.

However, I did find other places from the Green Book in Shreveport.

1956 Greenbook Shreveport Esso advertisement 1560 Anna and Pierre

An ad for a new Esso Service Center at Anna and Pierre Streets from the Green Book, a guide for “Negro Travelers,” in 1956

1956 Greenbook Shreveport Esso today

Here’s the old Esso station today (courtesy Google Maps). It really bothers me that this historic area has become so neglected.

The church that Dr. King visited has since moved on to a bigger and more modern sanctuary, but the ca. 1917 building, where the meeting took place, still remains. Galilee Baptist, founded in 1877, is one of Shreveport’s oldest freedman’s churches.

The old church building still stands today Its maintained, though its large congregation has moved on to more modern accommodations

The old Galilee Baptist Church, where Dr. King gathered with other civil rights leaders to plan school integration in the city, is empty but still stands, as of now.

king at smu

Dr. King gave a speech at Southern Methodist University (Dallas) in the same time span. A quote:  “There is a need for all people of good will in this nation to become involved participants, for all too long we have had silent onlookers. But now there must be more involved participants to solve this problem and get rid of this one huge wrong of our nation.”

Grayson County Rails (that aren’t Denison. Denison deserves a separate post).

RR City

Note that the map’s cardinal directions are a bit different. From left to right is north to south. To see a larger image of this map, click here.

According to this map filed by the Houston & Texas Railroad with the Texas General Land Office, their rail line was proposed to extend to the Red River in 1872. Their terminus would be an apparently large town called Red River City, which, according to the map, was even bigger than Denison (the city that the MKT built).

Alas, Red River City never became Houston & Texas Central’s terminus. Prior to the railroads, Red River City was a place to buy liquor after crossing the river on Colbert’s ferry (and was referred to Shawnee Town on land maps). When the H&TC finally came into Grayson County in 1873 (not 1872 as this map suggests), the line stopped in Denison to meet up with the MKT.

Red River City is no more, and never much was.

Union Station

Here’s the view from the north end of Sherman (Grayson County, Texas) along the Houston, Texas & Central Railway tracks towards Tower 16 and the Union Depot, which was razed before 1950. (City of Sherman, via Railspot – Hogan).

Union station place today

Today, the location of the depot and the tower are obliterated by trees (and abandoned cars) (Sherman, Grayson County Texas).

Preston

Van Alstyne (Grayson County, Texas) has kept its small-town charm, even though it’s right at the cusp of the ever-reaching Dallas/Ft Worth Metroplex. The tracks for the Texas Traction Company railway still adorn Preston Street.

Van Alystne TX Traction Company

Texas Traction Company, ca. 1914, Van Alstyne Public Library.

The power substation and passenger waiting room for the street car line used to be at the corner of Marshall and Preston streets. The building has been replaced by a nondescript, white, metal building (left edge of photo). The Texas Traction Company line reached from Dallas to Sherman to Denison.

Sherman TE car 1946 Denver Public Library

Destroyed Texas Electric (once, the Texas Traction Company) streetcar being towed through downtown Sherman ca. 1946 (Denver Public Library).

Speaking of the Texas Electric (formerly Texas Traction Company) and Sherman… in the 1940s, a crash along the route destroyed one of the cars.

Sherman TE car 1946 Travis street

One of my hobbies is to find old location via Google Maps, and I did that (instead of grading, ha ha). Travis Street in Sherman hasn’t changed much, except that the TE tracks are no longer there.

 

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 3:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Caddos along the Red River Valley

Three major Native American tribes called the Red River Valley of the Southwest home long before Europeans staked their claims. The Comanches lived along the western most reaches – their primary economy consisted of hunting and the horse trade (some would say horse taking, or theft). The Comanches, who stemmed from the northern plains but worked their way down into the southern prairies, built an empire at the same time the Spanish, French, and English built theirs, and became formidable enemies of the Texans (both American and Mexican).

The Wichitas inhabited the Cross Timbers region of the middle section of the river. Their domain reached from central Texas all the way to southern Kansas, with large cities and small villages, multiple languages, and an economy based on both agriculture and bison hunting, and later, French trade – they didn’t interact much with the Spanish except to raid them every once in a while.

I’ll write about those tribes soon in much more detail on Red River Historian. This blog post  in particular focuses on the people of the lower portions of the Red River Valley, where the water flowed wider and deeper. Here, the Caddos lived. Some historians label their government as a “confederacy,” tightly knitted in kinship but loosely tied in mutual alliances. Like the Wichitas, theirs was a well-developed society of the Mississippian people, with large villages and a well-developed social class system. Unlike the Wichtias, however, archeologists have documented their society in much more detail than the other two Red River Valley tribes.

Bowie county mound

This photograph from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory depicts crews employed by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), who in 1938 excavated a Caddoan ceremonial mound that may have been the first mound depicted by Europeans (via the Teran del Rio expedition, 1691).

The mound was a major site (religious, commercial) for the Nasonis, a powerful tribe of the Caddo confederacy. Throughout the years, archeological excavations of this site uncovered almost 100 burials, large circular structures, and plenty of whole pottery pieces that indicate ceremonial burials. Carbon dating and historical records from the Spanish and French indicate that the site was occupied from 1200 to the 18th century. By the early 19th century, the Caddos had been pushed west by American settlers until ultimately, they found a new home in central Oklahoma.

The site is on private property, and I’m unsure of the exact location. I did some aerial survey using Google Maps, and believe I found mound remnants. In any case, it’s in northern Bowie County, Texas, northwest of Texarkana.

 

Natchez

This vessel, found at a Nasoni (Caddoan) settlement in Bowie County (Texas) by archeologists T. Perttula, B. Nelson, R. Cast and B. Gonzalez (principle investigators), was made by the Tunica tribe that lived near today’s Natchez (MS). Other items found in the dig included glass trade beads, most likely traded with the French, that were predominantly blue in color. The dig occurred over several years, but its findings were published in 2010 – making me conclude that there is a lot of history yet to be found along the Red River.

GS Caddo bowls frog effigies found by AC Looney 1962 AHC (2)

These frog effigies bowls were found in Lafayette County in southwestern Arkansas by AC Looney in 1962 and are now housed at the Arkansas Historical Commission (where the photo comes from). They were most likely from the Kadahadacho tribe, which resided on the east side of the river across from the Nasonites. The bowls aren’t very elaborate, but they’re whole – it seems they may have been used for ceremonies, but most likely in a household, not in a communal setting.

There haven’t been many newer archeological digs along the Red River in recent years, and economic activities (pipe line building, for example) is damaging a lot of the potential sites.

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One of the reasons for the lack of exploration in the lower Red River Valley in recent years is that farms have occupied some major sites – for example, the 1,000 year old Belcher Mounds site in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. One of the mounds can be seen in this photograph. Because the site is on private property, one can surmise that it is being preserved. A danger can be that the site is mined for artifact collections (specifically, arrowhead). If you collect arrowheads, please make sure to document the location (co-ordinates, photographs, and journal) to help provide context!

A complaint about access

Indulge me for a moment while I vent a consistent frustration of mine… and probably one experienced by historians (professional and lay alike) everywhere.

This past weekend, I took a trip up to Oklahoma to see if I could spot the remains of historically significant sites. Specifically, I was seeking the Oklahoma historical marker, placed in 1958, for Nail’s Crossing, a stage stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail and Stagecoach route. I was also seeking the possible remains of the Wapanucka Academy, a boarding school established for Chickasaw girls before the Civil War. During the war, the school acted as a temporary hospital.

Wapanucka academy possible ruin

I’m not saying this aerial image (from Google Maps) depicts the old Wapanucka Aademy site; I’m just saying I’d like to have the opportunity to find out.

I was thwarted in my endeavors on both accounts. For one, there were no posted indications at all that anything historic was in their respective vicinities. Not only that, but when attempted to access the places after my careful research to pinpoint their locations, I was met with “no trespassing” signs. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like getting shot, so I heeded the warnings and left the road trip “empty handed.” I was disappointed, to say the least – especially because Google Maps indicated that these sites were, in fact, close to country lanes. These roads no doubt have been taken over by land owners and are now considered private.

Nails Crossing possible site

Notice how Google Maps has Nail’s Crossing Road going all the way to the Blue River? Well, access is restricted past the last driveways on both the southeast and northwest sides. The red circle is where, I surmise, the crossing took place. A bridge was erected there before the Civil War.

It bothers me greatly that important historic are tucked away for only a select few to access. For example  rivers (and their shorelines) and cemeteries are both considered public lands. Yet consistently, I find my access to both restricted. I cannot access the Nail family cemetery at the Blue River, nor the Colbert family cemetery near the old ferry crossing and toll bridge on the Red River. Just getting down to the Red River beyond the obvious access points is a feat in itself.

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The old Nail’s Crossing road can no longer be traversed.

While I love Oklahoma, I must point out that this state is particularly bad about historic site preservation and access. Although mid-century historical committees urged restoration and upkeep of historical sites and continued placement of historical markers, often their advice was not heeded. Instead, the intrepid explorer continually finds herself having to use historical maps and anecdotes to find sites that have been already surveyed and documented previously. The land owners that allowed access to one group may restrict further attempts at visitation, or the descendants/new owners are simply not interested. While I do not mind the research I invest in finding the sites, I do mind that I cannot visit their physical remains.

Nails crossing what the committee wanted to do

http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v036/v036p446.pdf

Here’s a description of what the historical committee recommended for Nail’s Crossing in 1958. Nothing came to fruition, however. To read more about the 1958 effort to document the Butterfield Overland Mail & Stagecoach route in Oklahoma, read this.

History should be as readily accessible and as much documented as possible. It helps the academic, the genealogist, and the community, as historic properties can bring tourist dollars and lend prestige to an area.

And, it helps me. Who wouldn’t want that?