Reclamation

Inside the old cemeteries where American dead reside, nature is taking back what was culled from her.

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A tree eats a decorative iron fence at the Pioneer Cemetery, aka the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas. This was the town’s first graveyard from 1834 to 1897 before a new one was deeded. Both blacks and whites are buried here.

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The main cemetery in Mansfield, De Soto Parish, Louisiana is still in use, but two centuries of random neglect take their toll. Civil War dead from the Battle of Mansfield are buried here, along with town leaders, church elders, and paupers. The cemetery is divided into military, black, and white sections. Another iron gate has been consumed by a tree – beware the future lumberjack who decides to fell it.

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The ancient cemetery in Natchitoches, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, sits at the former site of the original French & Natchitoches trading post. Many of the early burials were not marked well, so very few French burials remain. After the Louisiana Purchase and the establishment of a Diocese, the town’s Catholic dead were buried away from this cemetery, as Americans (mostly Protestant) began to use it – hence its current name, American Cemetery. Both Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers are buried here, but sadly, no one’s going to know who’s buried under this crepe myrtle tree, as it has almost completely swallowed the headstone.

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Hand-carved tombstones are my favorites, as they connect to the grief of those left behind better than any elaborate statuary can. In the Spencerville Cemetery in Spencerville, Choctaw County, Oklahoma, Ms. Lusie’s stone is being gradually relocated by a tree root. Spencerville was the site of the Academy for Choctaw Boys, founded in 1850. Those who died at the Spencerville Academy are not buried in this cemetery.

James Cemetery Bryan County

Sometimes, it’s not nature, but man-made nature that reclaims a boneyard. The remains of the people buried at James Cemetery in Bryan County, Oklahoma, were relocated in 1942 to make way for the Denison Dam and Reservoir, now Lake Texoma. The removed bodies were re-interred at the Yarborough Cemetery. The James Cemetery was located near Cartwright (Bryan County, Oklahoma).

 

Published in: on November 4, 2019 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recipes and Memories

Polly Colbert

Lucinda Davis, a person enslaved by the Creeks and a resident of former Indian Territory, was interviewed and photographed by the Federal Writers Project in the late 1930s.

Polly Colbert was 83 when the Federal Writers Project interviewed her. Her story and dozens of others have been compiled in several volumes of “Born in Slavery” (1936-1939) that can be found in the Library of Congress.

While the Federal Writer’s Project was initially created to provide paid employment to teachers and journalists during the Great Depression, the work they compiled has become some of the best cultural documentation of American people and their histories.

Polly was enslaved by Holmes and Betsey Colbert along the Red River in Bryan County, Indian Territory. Her narrative reveals long-forgotten recipes she learned as a girl enslaved to Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Following a few of the recipes; they have been transcribed by me as they’ve been written by the interviewer, who apparently tried to recreate accents in written form. There is on-going debate if transcriptions like this are professional. The entire interview can be read on the Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/resource/mesn.130/?sp=37

(Please note that the interview includes archaic and harsh words that are now considered unacceptable).

“We cooked all sorts of Indian dishes: Tom-fuller, pashofa, hickory-nut grot, Tom-budha, … corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes. We made hominy out’n de whole grains. Tom-fuller was made from beating corn and tasted sort of like hominy. We would take corn and beat it in a wooden mortar wid a wooden pestle. We would husk it by fanning it and we den put it on to cook in a big pot. While it was cooking we’d pick out a lot of hickory-nuts, tie ’em up in a cloth and beat ’ema little and drop ‘e in and cook for a long time. We called dis dish hickory-nut grot. When we made pashofa we beat de corn and cook for a little while and den we add fresh pork and cook until the meat was done. Tom-budha was green corn and fresh meat cooked together and seasoned wid tongue or pepper-grass.”

The photograph is of Lucinda Davis, who grew up as an enslaved person in the Creek tribe and for most of her life, only spoke Creek. She called hickory-nut grot by its Creek name, sofki: “… you pound up de corn real fine, den pour in de water and dreen it off to git all de little skin from off’n de grain. Den you let de grits soak and bile it and let it stand. Sometime you put in some pounded hickory nut meats.”

While the transcription and interview may not meet standards for today, the information contained therein is incredibly valuable.

Mad Man Road

Eagletown mad man road

Eagletown’s downtown, McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

Eagletown may be the oldest town in the southeastern part of the state. It may not look like much, but around the 1820s, this town was the first place the Choctaws came to during the initial removals from Mississippi to Indian Territory. To them, Eagletown is known as Osi Tamaha.

There was always a mystery to me surrounding a name of a street in town – Mad Man Road. Who was this person, I’d wonder. Well, RRH readers solved the puzzle on Facebook (I love crowd-sourcing questions): The road was named after the CB handle of a long-time resident and all-around well-known guy.

Here are some of the comments:

Debbie Roan Ticknor: We lived next to him my whole life, we across the pasture and through the thicket… We rode our horses to his house many day for goat roping. He and daddy we’re very good friends. Always felt like one big family.

Marty Willis: Mad man is one of the all time best guys I know. Known him since i was a lil kid…

Dianne Wilkes: A special man in my heart

Patsye Farmer:  I wish you could have visited with my dad, Vernon Luttrell. His family moved to Eagletown in 1908 when he was 3. His dad immediately established a store that sold everything from food to clothes and other things, he had a sawmill, grist mill, planer mill it was all close to the present post office. The school was also there, on the north side of hwy 70. His dad was murdered in front of his store. My dad was sitting in his lap, my grandfather had fired him two days before, he came to the store the next day making threats, my grandfather had gone to Idabel. On Jan 10 he came back on horseback, daddy’s dad put him down and told him to go in the store. He was shot between the eyes. I have the newspaper story, called Crime and Punishment 1910. Eagletown originally was in the area where our house is only north. It moved to where most later residents remember when they put in the railroad, and tie yard, I have picture and newspaper clippings if I can ever get them in the Memories. The Luttrell’s maintained stores in Eagletown until after Uncle Vic died. Daddy.Uncle Vic and Ma Luttrell later had a store about where Homer Coleman lived, and Daddy had one on the curve across from the highway. daddy spent much of his youth in a store, meeting and talking to people. He had a sharp mind and memory for all things Eagletown

Tres Dunn: I have always thought a lot of him.. only place that you can get a cb peaked and tuned and then eat a home cooked meal before you leave. Bunch of good memories, still have one of his connexs in my Toyota.

Dicky Dunn: I’ve hunted,bought CBs, and visited with Mad Man. Friends with his daughters, grandsons. Also had the privilege to coach one grandson, Kolten. Fine family!!

I LOVE these comments from readers. Mad Man was a guy who was a true blue gem.

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1902 USGS map with Eagletown – notice there was the original and then a westerly Eagletown.

Roosevelt schoolin’

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The well-built little school in Roosevelt, built by the Works Progress Administration, had two entrances – one for girls, and one for boys.

In Roosevelt (Kiowa County, OK) sits this disused building that appears to have been erected by the WPA. Since the WPA lent labor to public works, and this place was last used as a pub (now closed), I asked Red River Historian readers on the Facebook page if anyone knew what the building’s original purpose was. Mijo Chard explained that it was the Douglass Seperate School (school designated for African American children), and Mijo even shared some documents with Red River Historian!

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Completed in 1938!

 

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I got a kick out of the signs on the door: “No longer a public bar. Closed. Keep out. Unless you’re a hot stripper.” RRH Reader Judy Hilliard Dean wrote: “After the school closed it was opened as a bar by Rube McGee. It was called Rube’s Night Spit. They kept the curtains on the stage closed because there was always gambling going on.
Don’t ask me how I know- lol.”

 

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Mijo Chard shared a report card from 1947.

Employees for cafeteria mijo chard

A memo for the cafeteria workers at the Douglass School, date unknown. This was shared by Mijo Chard.

 

Works in progress

Hugo 2

There is nothing nicer than finding that a WPA built stadium is still in use, like the sturdy, stone arena in Hugo, Choctaw County, Oklahoma. And there is nothing more frustrating than finding its WPA plaque obscured by electrical boxes.

The WPA is the Works Progress Administration, an agency founded and funded by the New Deal in 1935. The WPA provided work for thousands of Americans in disparate fields – construction of public buildings, interviewing people about their life histories, staging theater plays, providing child care, recording music, creating public service announcements, publishing state travel guides, developing museums, painting murals on public buildings… the list goes on and on.

It’s strange to say, but of all governmental agencies, the WPA is by far my favorite. Though it was not necessarily intended to be a repository of American culture, it certainly turned out to be the most effective documenter and preserver of what makes the United States so darn American-y.

Hugo

Fair Park

Fair Park (Dallas, TX) sports a mural that is, truly, out of this world – it’s the first depiction of space travel in American mural art. Carlo Ciampaglia painted this in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Fancy digs, once

Grand Hotel ohs

The Grand Central Hotel (first class, no less!) in Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma was an imposing building at the turn of the century – it sported three chimneys and a balcony.

 

Clark fire

The Clark Fire Insurance Map of 1900 for Terral depicts two hotels, both along Apache Street at the intersection of Second Street. Their outlines are not the same as the hotel pictured, however, and one is labeled as the “Cottage Hotel.” (Clark Fire Maps, OHS).

Both hotels are long gone.

Google

 

A Google maps image of Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma shows the same intersection – where two hotels once stood. Please note that the concrete foundations are the foundations from former service stations, not the hotels. Today’s travelers will not find overnight accommodations in Terral at all.

Published in: on March 13, 2019 at 2:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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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!

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.

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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