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.

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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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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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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.

 

End of War

This photograph is possibly the last image of Comanche women in a traditional camp on the open prairie.

Comanche women and child at Mow-Wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon, possibly 1874. University of Texas at Arlington, Special Collections.

Palo Duro

Comanche women and child at Mow-Wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon, possibly 1874. University of Texas at Arlington, Special Collections.

It is noted by archivists that it was most likely taken in 1874 after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (Randall County vicinity, Texas). This battle was the final act of the Red River Wars. It pitted U.S. troops, led by Ranald S. McKenzie, against the Southern Plains Indian tribes led by Red Warbonnet (Comanche) and Lone Wolf (Kiowa), among others. The purpose of the Red River Wars was to force the tribes to remain on the reservation at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

The camp was called Mow-Wi and was located within Palo Duro Canyon. Note the drying hides and the bison fur and deer hide spilling out of the tepee. I believe the women fashioned their tepee out of hides, a traditional practice that had become exceedingly rare at this point as the Indians adopted more modern means of manufacture, such as using canvas to construct their lodges.

A reader for Red River Historian stated that no photographers joined the army on its mission at Palo Duro Canyon. I can’t argue this, but I do argue that it took months for the native bands to break camp and trek to Fort Sill. After their horses were killed by McKenzie, they had to contemplate their place in this new world, and then walk to the fort – like refugees who had been forced out of their homelands.

migration-1876

Handwritten draft of Texas law from 1875, passed in 1876, that barred “Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Kickapoos, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Wichitas, and bands affiliated with them from crossing the Red River from Fort Sill reservation into Texas.” (Texas State Library)

Throughout most of its history, today’s Texas was the domain of the Comanche. Their empire, the Comanceria, proved a formidable enemy of the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments.

The Comanches were defeated in the Red River Wars of 1874-1875. The Red River Wars were fought by the U.S. army against the southern Plains Indian tribes, which included the Wichitas, Kiowas, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.

The defeat meant that the Comanches had to remain on their reservation lands surrounding Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and accept “Americanization.” The reservation had been established via the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty of 1867.

In 1876, the state of Texas passed a law that prohibited any of the Red River peoples from moving to Texas. I’m not sure if this law expired, but when Indians gained citizenship – through a federal act in 1924 – the law may have been nullified/voided.

 

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lone Grave

Along a county road in Jackson County, Oklahoma, lies the lonesome grave of Joel Moseley, 1846-1890.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 2

Mr. Moseley was born in Georgia and, at one point, made his way to Texas. He died when Jackson County (organized in 1907) was still part of Greer County, Texas until the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the land between the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River belonged to Oklahoma Territory.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school grave at side of road 4

Mr. Moseley may have died on a cattle drive (if it was a long distance cattle drive, it would have been the Great Western or Dodge City trail). He was buried along the trail, as the nearest cemetery was ten miles away.

Locals knew about the grave, which was ringed with native stones and featured the granite headstone placed by his daughter, a Texas school teacher. They became concerned when the land surrounding it began to erode, so the county commissioner and his crew encased Mr. Moseley’s resting place in concrete along a culvert to keep him where he belongs.

I stumbled upon the grave when I was driving out to the old Aaron school, and found the information above from Find a Grave.

Aaron or Prairie Hill school 5

The Aaron school in Jackson County, Oklahoma (near Altus).

The prairie is full of surprises.

Published in: on February 4, 2018 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

current view

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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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?

Death Divided

I love strolling through cemeteries – the older and more overgrown, the better, of course. I’m not particularly ghoulish, though. I just enjoy the underlying history that cemeteries provide. Some of that history is relayed in tomb stones and monuments. Often, however, the history is contained beneath more subtle contexts: the layout of the stones, the level of ruin within the cemetery, the innocuous placing of a fence…

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See that fence in the background? It denotes the racial divide at Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Ladonia, Fannin County, Texas.

… that’s right – the South, which my website Red River Historian documents, still contains the remnants of segregation inside many of its cemeteries. Because even in death, the powers that be insisted that races had to remain separated.

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The cemetery in the ghost town of Cannon (Grayson County, Texas) became segregated after the Civil War. The segregation was denoted through a road that divided the two burial grounds, which is visible in the background. Before the war, enslaved people were sometimes interred with their white masters, but their graves were marked with wooden stakes. After the war, the first African American burials were also marked with wooden markers.

In the pre-Civil War period, segregated burial places were not needed, as blacks – most of whom were enslaved – were either buried without so much as a tomb stone, or were interred amongst their masters. There were some designated “slave cemeteries” in a few select locations – such as near large plantations or in the cities – but most of these burial places are no longer visible, as time, neglect, and outright disrespect have taken their toll on them.

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A wooden marker, most likely for an enlsaved person, at Kentuckytown Cemetery (Grayson County, Texas).

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This enslaved woman was interred with the white family at Vittetoe Cemetery (Grayson County). However, her tomb does not commemorate her name – it simply denotes what she was to those who owned her.

The few free people of color often confined their cemeteries within their church yards, such as St. Augustine Church near Natchitoches, Louisiana.

st augustine church grave

A brick tomb at St. Augustine Church cemetery, which was founded by Creole families in the early 19th century, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.

In the period after the Civil War, which historians call “reconstruction,” Southern whites were unwilling to see their former slaves as equals. Cities and communities set aside portions of burial grounds for blacks, but these “Negro Cemeteries” (often deemed “Freedman Cemeteries”) were completely separated, usually by fences, or hedges, or pathways. With little money for upkeep and many African American families leaving the South due to racial violence and economic discrimination, their cemeteries became less maintained. Eventually, many of these boneyards were razed by construction projects or were just simply ignored.

Dallas Greenwood Cemetery Sanborn

The “Negro Cemetery” near Central Expressway in the State-Thomas area of Dallas was bulldozed in the 1960s to make way for the expansion of US 75.

History is lost this way. Of course, that may have been the reason behind the neglect and disregard.

Yet, especially in smaller communities, the “Negro Cemeteries” are still extant and active. Black cemeteries are extremely interesting to me, as their very existence lends an aura of defiance against the southern U.S. social structure. Though the tombs may not be as elaborate as those designed for affluent whites, black graves are just as loud – they serve as the final and eternal stamp on the world, indicating that the person buried there mattered as much as any other man or woman.

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While simple, this grave of a black man in Tatums, Carter County, Oklahoma, makes sure to commemorate the person interred within. Tatums is one of Oklahoma’s historical all-black towns.

I plan on visiting and documenting many more black cemeteries. The southern, segregated graveyard is a fascinating aspect of history that tells a lot about not only the people interred there, but about the community in which they’re buried.