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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Ay Chihuahua!

I often spend my evenings (as well as days, weekends, times when I should be grading papers…) perusing old maps. One of my particular interests is mapping the Chihuahua Trail.

The Chihuahua Trial was a short-lived road blazed by merchants from Mexico and the U.S. In 1830, Mexican merchants traveled from Chihuahua to Fort Smith, Arkansas for trade. After the Texas Revolution, American merchants (in particular a Missourian named Henry Connelly) wanted to ensure a continued trade path with Mexico.

Map 1

I superimposed some geographic markers on this map. I figured out that it was Belknap Creek where the Chihuahua bound trading party got stuck in the mud in 1840.

So, in 1840, several American merchants, Mexican dragoons,and circus performers (who were to entertain townspeople along the way so that the party wouldn’t be tolled too much) left Fulton (Hempstead County, Arkansas) and traveled westward. Their route pretty much paralleled today’s U.S. Highway 82.

I found an 1846 map outlining routes to Santa Fe, Chihuahua, Monterrey, and Matamoros at Oklahoma State University’s digital map collection. I saw that at one point, the Chihuahua Trail bisected the Military Road that connected Santa Fe to San Antonio and the Route of the misguided Santa Fe expedition of 1841.

Map 2

I was very curious about this cross roads. One would think it would be an important cross roads even today, but that’s not the case.

As the nosy person that I am, I wanted to pinpoint the cross roads, which, as noted in the 1846 map, was conveniently situated in the Cross Timbers. According to Roy Swift from the Handbook of Texas, it was at this location where the trading party encountered boggy soil that took them weeks to get through. Their mucky delay cost them dearly, because while they were mired, Mexican and U.S. tariffs had increased to the point that trade was severely handicapped. When the party finally arrived, no one was really thrilled, and the Chihuahua Trail was abandoned.

I wonder if this is when the clowns began to cry. Ha ha, I couldn’t resist. <Rim shot.>

Map 3

The place where the west-bound Chihuahua Trail crossed the north-bound route to Santa Fe was along a small arm of Belknap Creek. The proximity to the headwaters of the West Fork of the Trinity River – which are a series of springs – may have contributed to the bogs that the trading party encountered in 1840.

Of course, I could be wrong in my estimation. I’m sure the trading party didn’t call the creek it encountered by its current name of Belknap. When you’re mired for several weeks in mud as they were in 1840, you’d probably call it by the name of that proverbial place you end up where you do not have access to a paddle, ha ha.

Map 4

Using Google maps, I figured that the Chihuahua Trail crossed the military road between today’s Belcherville and Stoneburg (Montague County, Texas).

 

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 &amp; 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.”

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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?

An Arkansas Traveler

The old story of the “Arkansas Traveler” tells of a person coming through the backwoods of Arkansas and happening upon a house. The traveler is lost or maybe just curious, and the house’s inhabitants answer his questions  – such as “Where is the nearest town?” or “What do you do here for fun?” – in a roundabout manner… “It’s closest to the nearest signpost” or “Spit upwind and see on who it lands.” The conversation then devolves from there. Depending on the person telling the tale, it either makes fun of the foreign nube or the Arkansas dude.

"Arkansas Traveler" sheet music cover, 1937, Library of Congress."

“Arkansas Traveler” by Herb Block, 1937, Library of Congress.

 

I’ve been traveling through Arkansas on and off for the last six months to complete my newest book, The Red River in Arkansas: Gateway to the Southwest (The History Press, forthcoming February 2014), and all I can say is that I’ve never met nicer folks or a more interesting section of the Red River Valley.

The Red River makes a big bend right alongside the old steamboat port of Fulton. All rivers have their bends, some more than others (the Red River exhibits several, actually). What makes the Great Bend so important to the Red is that it changes the nature of the river, as it falls from a west -to-east stream  to a north-to-south stream. This also means that it changes from a sandy, broad, and not-very-navigable river to a narrower, deeper, and navigable channel. And not just that; the culture of the river changes, too. The American West, with its nomadic native tribes and its reliance on range animals, gives way to the Old South, with its reliance on cotton economy, race, and the plantation system. Yeah, I’m painting with broad strokes here, but history bears me out.

The railroad bridge above the Red River at Fulton.

The railroad bridge above the Red River at Fulton.

Maybe that’s why I’ve developed a real affection for Fulton. During the mid-19th century, this city was THE place for cotton shipments. I was also able to find several accounts of a booming slave trade based on the region’s many plantations, both big and small. It was also a genuine frontier town, situated directly across Old Mexican Texas (until 1836) and then the Republic of Texas before the border lines shifted in favor of the Lone Star State. Sam Williams, who grew up in Fulton during the 1830s where his father ran a tavern, reminisced about the town’s propensity as an emigrant gateway, with several inns, bars, restaurants and gambling halls to cater to their needs. He also said – and I can picture a twinkle in his eye – that there weren’t many churches around as Fulton’s inhabitants weren’t exactly “religiously inclined.”

Fulton, like the rest of the Old Southwest before the Civil War, succumbed to the modern age of the railroads and automobiles. There’s not much left to indicate what the area used to look like, or how busy it once was. Floods and new cities, such as Texarkana and Hope, replaced the older settlements in economics and location, just like the older Anglo settlements replaced the Caddoan villages that dotted the Red River before the Louisiana Purchase. Progress, whether good or bad, has made its mark on this small but incredibly diverse portion of the Red River. It fascinates me to no end, and provides me with ample opportunity to try to discover remnants of what used-to-be.

A great place to begin this historical exploration is Washington State Historic Park, located along the Southwest Trail (the Old Chihuahua Trail, now State Road 195) a few miles northeast of Fulton. There, the traveler can discover the importance of Hempstead County’s first seat and the temporary capital of Arkansas during the Civil War, with two courthouses, plenty of vintage houses, a recreation of the blacksmith shop where James Bowie supposedly had his famous knife designed, and the largest magnolia tree in the state. The Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives are there as well, with tons of information – including maps and photographs – about the area.

A scene from Old Washington

A scene from Old Washington

Washington and Fulton are both on this Southwest Trail, the main road that led people like Stephen F. Austin and his original 300 settlers into Texas. What I found interesting is that the trail is well-marked between Washington and Fulton, but north of Washington, the road becomes indistinguishable amid a plethora of dirt roads. I tried to follow the old trail, but got lost.

I reckon the tale of the Arkansas Traveler is still pretty pertinent.

The book will appear at stores and online in February 2014! You know you want it.

The book will appear at stores and online in February 2014! You know you want it.

Published in: on January 2, 2014 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Ode to New Orleans

ship on mississippi

New Orleans awakened a creative hunger in me. I just felt like sharing this feeling. Ignore as you wish!

I gained an idea
in a town I visited
Back in the month
Of soft autumn light.
The sidewalks were carved
by millions of footsteps
and the balconies filled
with the inkiness of night.

The houses, all worn
gleamed in the sun
and shadows were cast
softly, if at all.
In the flits of history
of the public square
along the river banks
I heard the idea call.

I listened intently
as I drank the absinthe
and watched as souls
stumbled about.
Saw an old staircase
climbed to its end
and laughed absurdly
as I called them out.

The tugs of voices
some ancient, some new
others quiet or poor
I strained to remember.
The cause of my longing
that found throughout
those streets, those buildings
on that day in November.

I leaned in closely
as I sighed, understood
that to live in my head
was a worn-out cause.
I had to reach into
the city, the sounds
the art of being alive –
the gained idea I had once lost.

Robin Cole-Jett, 2012

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 5:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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Three Things I love about Fort Worth

Fort Worth Camp Bowie Landmark Lodge small

A while back, I posited three of Dallas’ greatest places to visit… according to my biased, unasked-for opinion, anyway. Woe is me if I didn’t give Fort Worth its fair share of my enthusiasm. Fort Worth is, by anyone’s account, a city that knows its identity – pure western – and knows its value, as evidenced by the way citizens and benefactors care for it. Fort Worth is full of architectural gems, vibrant city life, and cultural mainstays, and I feel the need to give it its Red River Historian due. Therefore, in no particular order,  my top Fort Worth-y places are:

Camp Bowie Boulevard
I love roads – so much, in fact, that I’ve made it a habit of learning the history of highways. While Fort Worth has long been a crossroads of many different overland pathways, I have a special affinity for Camp Bowie Boulevard. The Camp Bowie Historical District  has fought hard to keep its original, brick-lined integrity intact. Fort Worth’s modern history is centered around this road, with locally-owned restaurants, small florist shops, traffic circles, and old-fashioned motor courts along the west end. At the other end of the boulevard (nearest downtown) sits the famous Kimball Art Museum. A large Picasso statue welcomes visitors (special exhibits require entrance fees, but the permanent collection is free).

Fort Worth Camp Bowie with Lucilles

Surrounding the Kimball are the Museum of Modern Art, with its contemplative exterior and expansive interior, and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Nearby are the Cattle Raisers Museum, National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and the Fort Worth Museum of Natural History.

Believe me, you can spend DAYS here. So when you’re all museumed-out, come on over to my next-favorite place in Fort Worth:

The Texas & Pacific Station
Of all 20th-century design styles, the most decadent and identifiable is art deco, and the Texas & Pacific Station along Lancaster Avenue (the original US 80) sits as a holy grail to this style. While the upstairs portions are now lofts, the lower portion is still accessible. To take the Trinity Railway Express to Dallas, you’ll have to enter the station to get to the platform. From there, you can witness the many freight and Amtrak trains that come in and out of Fort Worth as well as fabled Tower 55, one of the last, fully functioning railway control towers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The T&P Station used to be sit forlorn and empty after Interstate 30 was built on its north side, which separated it from its historic place at the south end of downtown. Luckily, the interstate was reconfigured to the south of the station, and now this wonderful building is, once again, a true Fort Worth icon.

Pictures can't do the T&P Station justice, but I'll try.

Apparently, the love I have for Fort Worth centers around transportation, and my last entry lets you use your own power:

The Trinity Trail passes the Swift ruins.

Trinity River Trail
To get a real feel for what my ex-coworker used to affectionately call “Funky Town,” I take bike rides between the Trinity River levees along the Trinity River Trail network. The trails stretch several miles to the east, south, and west, and they take me to downtown, towards the zoo, and into the Stockyards. I love this ride, as I get to pass under multiple railroad bridges – as someone who really loves trains, it’s always a bonus to get a little closer to them (and even on a quiet Sunday, I counted at least ten freight trains). But I especially like the scenery on the trail. The Trinity River Trail system provides a complete picture of Fort Worth, and I urge anyone who can to bike, walk, ride a horse, or mosey on a scooter to take it and see the city from such a historic and serene vantage point.

So these are my favorite places, but I could point out quite a few more: the Old Southern Pancake House! Miss Molly’s Burgers! Lucille’s! (Huh, all of these are food places, so I must be hungry). Okay, non-eateries: the Davidson and Centennial Yards! The old KATY bridge on East Morningside Drive! What used to be Hell’s Half Acre!

fort worth katy bridge
I just count myself darn lucky that I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro-mess, because I’m in awe of these fascinating cities. And that I consider them a part of the Red River Valley region, of course!

A Curious Life

I turned yet another year older this month (just a decade past 29), and, like I do every birthday, I did some soul searching.

I’m re-visiting Bromide (in my head & for real) because I recently came in contact with a Chickasaw Elder who is providing me with all sorts of information. If I didn’t follow my passions, I would have never known him or learned so much.

My soul apparently has ADHD, because my mind tends to wander when I genuflect. It meanders towards places I’ve been, sights I’ve seen, and old buildings I’ve discovered. I don’t really think, but simply recall pictures, and add new details to the locations in my imagination until I suddenly find myself daydreaming in a far off place. Trying to tap into my soul is like thumbing through a large photo album, actually.

Over the years, I’ve finally learned (allowed myself?) not to fight these kinds of thoughts. Instead, I’m letting the pictures in my head guide me. My “what I am a doing with my life” questions become more like “where do I want to go” and “what can I still explore.” The answers, while not earth-shaking, help me to understand that I am on the right path – for me.

I’ve learned from just listening to how I think that I don’t want a big career, a big house, or exotic travels. I shrug off luxury. I don’t need a fancy car, or be “fulfilled” by living a simple life or a spiritual life or a philosophical life or a religious life.  I simply want to see what’s around the next bend. Living a life “filled with curiosity” has become my guiding principal. Everything else (family, work, chores) either just kind of falls into place, or gets discarded onto the growing pile of chores and wasted energy that prevent me from doing what I love to do, and being who I like to be.

The open road beckons, I don’t wanna wait.

That’s why every once in a while, I have to de-clutter my life. I take a good look at the obligations that keep me curious, and check on the other obligations that hinder me.  So I renew my commitment to my fabulous family and friends (to me, they’re all the same!) and I renew my commitment to my website, readers, blog, presentations, books, and art work. Lately, other obligations- such as my full time job –  have crept into my world, and I have to see if they prevent me from following my curiosity.

I guess I’m rambling, but the point I’m trying to make is that, in the near 40 years I’ve been on this planet, I’m finally allowing myself to be defined by what I love to do. My younger self always tended to belittle my passions. I’d tell myself that taking road trips, writing stories, and learning history were silly, superfluous time wasters that didn’t make money, were impractical, etc (typical German protestant upbringing!). Now, I’m giving permission to tell that young whipper snapper to shut.the.hell.up.

Curiosity has brought me to some astounding places and allowed me to meet fabulous people.

I want to remain curious until I’m old and gray (okay, old-er and gray-er, har har). What about you? Are you finding it harder to ignore and suppress your true desires? Has turning older allowed you to accept who you are?

I hope so.

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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History in Ghost Towns

I think I mentioned this before, but if I haven’t, well… I hunt ghost towns. I’d like to do that for a living, but there’s not much money to be made in just driving around and collecting images from abandoned places. If I could make tracking ghost towns a job, I would.

Odell, Texas

But what is a ghost town, exactly? Is it a settlement that’s been completely abandoned? Or is it a place that used to be bigger than it is now? Should towns that have lost their post offices be considered ghost towns, or does the loss of a school signify a dying town as well? Are ghost towns only legitimate if they have remains, or can an old cemetery be considered a town’s remnant?

I’ve learned that the definition of “ghost town” reflects the person who’s documenting them. Some people are very precise in their criteria, while others, like me, just rely on the idea that we know one when we see one.

Goodlett, Texas

While I have always prided myself on my fortune to live in a state littered with failed cities, I’ve learned through the years that ghost towns are EVERYWHERE. You can find them in Japan, in India, in Germany, in Massachusetts, in the Dakotas, in Brazil, and in Australia. Heck, even the Antarctic has an abandoned station. I guess that’s just the nature of the human beast, to pick up the stakes and wander to the next place where one supposes the grass may be greener.

Banty, Oklahoma

What’s neat about our “new world” ghost towns is that, well, they’re relatively new. That means we know much more of their history, and can even track why the towns were founded and how they met their demise. The towns I’ve encountered are almost like living history books. They tell of opportunities met and lost, like Thurber, Texas, a coal mining town that was shuttered by the Texas & Pacific Railroad when they started using oil in their locomotives. You can “read” about neglect, like what happened in Picher, Oklahoma, where the prairie winds let lead-laden chat piles blow dust blow into children’s lungs. And you can trace changing economies, like Doan’s Crossing, Texas, which faded away when the cattle drives stopped coming through town.

I’m going back on the road this weekend to find some more ghost towns. Every time I discover something a new site, I feel like a secret has just been revealed to me. To me, ghost towns really make the past come alive.

Bonita, Texas