Red River expedition

Freeman Custis overlay map from 1974 by E M Parker a civil engineer original 1806 map Louisiana Digital Library

Nicholas King’s map of the Freeman-Custis expedition of 1806, with the 1976 overlay by E.M. Parker. (LSU)

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson instructed Peter Custis and Thomas Freeman  to find the source of the Red River as part of a Corps of Discovery for the Louisiana Purchase. Spanish troops stopped them in today’s Bowie County (TX)/ McCurtain County (OK) at the Spanish Bluffs.

That same year, Nicholas King drew a map of the expedition’s rather short journey, which was published, along with explorers’ journal, in 1806. In 1974, engineering professor E.M. Parker from Centenary College in Shreveport overlayed the 1806 map with important points from the Custis and Freeman journal. This map was used in the book, “Southern Counterpart to Lewis and Clark: the Freeman and Custis Expedition of 1806,” by renowned historian Dan Flores.

I was nosing around the digital collections listed at by the Louisiana State University (Shreveport) libraries and found the Parker map. It contains a plethora of information about the places and people the exploring party met. If you like to read maps, this is a good one to read!

Link to the “zoomable” map (http://louisianadigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/lsus-nwm%3A3)

Link to the 1806 journal (http://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9108&context=annals-of-iowa)

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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.”

 

Report card 2 mijo chard

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.

 

Not the right Red River

Waud Red River MN better

I found a couple of 1872 sketches of the “Red River” by Alfred Rudolph Waud. Waud was an English illustrator who worked in the last half of the 19th century for several US publications. His sketches became illustrations for magazines like Harpers Weekly.

I discovered the sketch, “On the Red River” in the Historic New Orleans Collection at the Louisiana Digital Library (see above). I thought I had found a treasure trove of art that depicted life on the Red River, which I was hoping to share with my website‘s readers.

Alas, a search through Archive.org uncovered an 1878 book that shows that Waud’s sketch became an illustration of the Red River in the Dakotas, NOT the southwestern Red River. Dang it! Pretty neat detective work on my part, though. :).

(An aside: Waud was the only eye witness to sketch Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg in 1863).

Here’s the 1878 book that shows the finished illustration.
https://archive.org/stream/picturesqueameri04brya#page/538/mode/2up/search/Red

Published in: on June 4, 2019 at 2:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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An international boundary in the middle of nowhere

Just north of Logansport, Louisiana, along FM 31 in Panola County, Texas and CR 765 in De Soto Parish , sits one of the more interesting historical relics in the Southwest: the only remaining boundary marker between the Republic of Texas (1836-1845) and the United States. Set in 1840, the other boundary markers were washed away by rain and erosion.

Logansport RT marker 1

The boundary marker is in a little roadside spot that belongs to the Texas Historical Commission. Its nondescript location belies its importance as the only international boundary marker located within the United States. Talk about history written in stone!

Logansport RT marker 2

If you want to see the marker, you’ll have to want to see it… this isn’t a road that you’d simply drive on and happen to find the marker. To make the journey easier, here’s a map:

Logansport RT marker location

Happy trails!

Paddle Wheelers on the Red, part I

amy hewes

Paddle wheeler “Amy Hewes” on the Red River (no date), but most likely this picture was taken in the 1940s. The “Amy Hewes” was built in the 1920s for the Jeanerette Lumber Company, and was last owned by the May Brothers of Morgan, LA.

This boat was mostly in service in the southern part of the Red River around the Atchafalaya River confluence, St. Mary’s Parish. It plied the waters of Bayou Teche.

(Cattle Raiser’s Museum, Fort Worth.)

Published in: on January 28, 2019 at 2:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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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.

 

Slices of Sibley

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

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

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

John 1

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

Sibley all

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

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

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

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

Humphreys’ History

The school in Humphreys closed in 1961 and is now used for storage for cotton farmers

The former elementary school in Humprheys, Jackson County, OK is a bit on the sunny side.

Even though Jackson County (Oklahoma) is home to the air force base at Altus, it is full of ghost towns. Many of them lost population during the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when the communities lost their schools (to me, the loss of a school is the hallmark of a ghost town).

I visited Humphreys in southeastern Jackson County and took a picture of its school, which closed in 1961. This was the “new” elementary school, at least for a while. Three teacherages (teacher homes) sat across the street, but they have been razed. I got a lot of my information from two extremely knowledgeable and pleasant people, Bill and Louise Snodgrass, who came out to talk to me. Mr. Snodgrass attended school in Humphreys. He was born not far from the Red River in a half dug-out. Ms. Snodgrass was the former county clerk of Jackson County!

There is nothing better than hitting the road with a vague destination in mind. You’ll never know what – or especially who! – you’ll find.

Bill and Ms Louise Snodgrass of Humphreys M. Snodgrass was the county clerk of Jackson County for nine years

Bill and Louise Snodgrass from Humphreys shared A LOT of history with me. Lovely people whom I’m so honored to get to know, even in passing!

Transcontinental mapping

1861 John Pope survey expedition for southern transcontinental railroad route David Rumsey

The northern portion of John Pope’s 1854 map to survey a possible transcontinental route through Texas marks the Cross Timbers between Gainesville and Preston on the Red River.

In 1854, John Pope of the US Army (and a veteran of the Mexican American War) was tasked by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to plot out a transcontinental railroad route through Texas. Southern politicians worked very hard to convince the rest of Washington that a southern, not northern, transcontinental route was preferable.

Pope documented his expedition on this map, which was printed in 1861. He denoted where he set up camps along his journey, which started at the Rio Grande in El Paso and ended at the Red River in Preston (Grayson County, TX). This is a small portion of the much larger map – I especially like where he marked the “lower” and “upper” cross timbers around misspelled Gainesville (Cooke County).

It looks a lot like he didn’t “invent” the trail that he took – in many places, it mirrors the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach route, which suspended operations at the start of the Civil War. Southwest of Fort Belknap (Young County), he surveyed a more westerly direction, as the stagecoach route meandered towards Fort Phantom Hill.

When southern states left the Union in 1860-1861, the hopes for a transcontinental line from St. Louis to San Diego (through Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona) seceded with them.

Another portion of the1861 map from the John Pope expedition of 1854 shows that he took a route that closely mirrored the Butterfield

The middle portion of the 1854 Pope map has the proposed transcontinental route going straight southwest from Fort Belknap and bypassing Fort Phantom Hill. (David Rumsey Map Collection)

Fun with maps

map 1754

French map from 1754 (Library of Congress)

Did you know that the now- states of Arkansas and Louisiana once bordered Georgia, North, and South Carolina? It’s true! Until 1785, the original English colonies (after 1783, the original U.S. states) stretched their western boundaries all the way to the Mississippi River. In doing this, the colonies refused to recognize the Indian Reserve that the English had established between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River after the French Indian War in 1763. Inside this “middle ground” lived the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Shawnees, Delawares, and other tribes.

The Northwest and Southwest Ordinances (1785 and 1790, respectively) transformed the lands into territories for the creation of new states.Though George Washington proposed that the Indian tribes use the opportunity to form their own states, this suggestion was not taken seriously. Instead, new states were formed, and ultimately, their citizens advocated for Indian removals.