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.

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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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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).

 

Beautiful Buffalo Springs

I visited Buffalo Springs in Clay County (TX), a little ghost town named after a nearby buffalo watering site. Founded around 1864, Buffalo Springs couldn’t hold out long due to a drought and Comanche raids, even though most of the town was built as a fortification. At one point, Buffalo Springs was supposed to become the location of a military fort, but a site in Jack County was selected instead (this became Fort Richardson).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Lovely former homestead in Buffalo Springs

Buffalo Springs rebounded after the Civil War, and hung on well into the 1930s. By the latter part of the 20th century, however, people left Buffalo Springs for job opportunities in larger cities.

I took gobs of pictures, but my favorite places in Buffalo Springs were the old homesteads. Irises and daffodils and jonquils were blooming in the fields next to these abandoned places; I thought of the women who lived there long ago, following their husbands’ homesteading ambitions. With decades of their bulbs renewing every year, it’s these small pieces of civilized, domestic life that serve as reminders of their hard lives.

Buffalo Springs 20.jpgMy kind of gate!!!

Buffalo Springs 9.jpgFormer high school’s gym.

Buffalo Springs church 3.jpg
Rock Springs Church near Buffalo Springs, built in 1936.
Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 2:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Lost La Salle

The map by Jean Baptist Franquelin, printed in Paris (France) in 1684, is a facsimile of the original that has been lost. It now resides at Harvard University (this is an image from the Library of Congress).

The map depicts the area of Louisiana claimed by the French, but Franquelin had to rely on descriptions by those who had traveled and surveyed the areas. Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, was one of the people who described the New World to Franquelin. It must have been a really bad description, because the Mississippi River (named Colbert on this map, in honor of the French minister of Finance) doesn’t even empty into the gulf.

If La Salle relied on these directions for navigation, no wonder he got lost. 🙂

la salle

Go here: https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620469/ to see this map in all its zoomable glory.

Published in: on March 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grayson County Rails (that aren’t Denison. Denison deserves a separate post).

RR City

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

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

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

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

Union Station

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

Union station place today

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

Preston

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

Van Alystne TX Traction Company

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

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

Sherman TE car 1946 Denver Public Library

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

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

Sherman TE car 1946 Travis street

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

 

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 3:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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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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Another Red River Historian

When you take into the account the vast volumes of literature that American historians have produced over the last two centuries, what becomes clear is that the Red River hasn’t been discussed much. Like the Thames in England, the Nile in Egypt, the Ganges of India, and the Tigris in ancient Persia, rivers have defined the civilizations that grew around them, and the Mississippi River has been given that honor in the United States. And that’s pretty much how it should be… the Red River isn’t the grandest of streams, after all. Though it figured prominently in the boundary questions between the US, Spain, France, the Caddoan Confederacy, Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas, the Red River happened to become important just as river traffic was slowly giving way to the railroads, and what could have become a major river in American history was instead left to nature.

Red River bottoms by childress
Certain historians have recognized the Red River, however, and none has done such a good job of it than Dan Flores. Flores, who holds a PhD from Texas A&M and is a native of Natchitoches, has become one of the eminent historians of American West history. His research has focused on the “Old Southwest” (also called the Near Southwest) in many of his books, and what I like best about him is that he emphasizes the past through both geography and art, which allows the reader to obtain a “sense of place.” One of his first projects was as editor to the short but informative Journal of an Indian Trader: Anthony Glass and the Texas Trading Frontier, 1790-1810 (1985). Flores allows Glass to recount his explorations, adding geographic descriptions to create a valuable reference to early interactions between Native Americans and European capitalists. In Horizontal Yellow: Nature and History in the Near Southwest (1999), he again combined geography and history by explaining – very poetically – how the landscape of the Llano Estacado shaped human interaction. He was one of the first historians to offer a thorough treatment of the Louisiana Purchase expedition up the Red River in Southern Counterpart to Lewis and Clark: The Freeman and Custis Expedition of 1806 (2002). As best he could, he recreated portions of the journey himself, and filled gaps with a realistic imagination as so much of the original landscape had been altered over the years.

Carpenter Bluff bridge wide shot tx side
I highly recommend Dr. Flores’ studies on the Red River. Like John Graves did in his classic treatment of the wild Brazos of 1960, Goodbye to a River, Flores makes the Red River a central figure in his histories, and when you read his books, the river becomes as important a figure as any one man or woman. I truly hope that one day, my small contribution to the study of the Red River will be even a fraction as good as his.

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 4:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Mapping the Red River Valley

Google Maps have been my constant companion since they were introduced back in the stone ages (okay, a few years ago). I can’t believe I ever did research without them, and I seriously pity the historians who came before me who didn’t have this kind of tool at their disposal.

I should mention that I’ve been a map fiend from way back, and have always used them extensively… but! The satellite pictures on Google Maps (and Google Earth) truly help me understand the geographical context of what I’m researching.

CaptureSpanishBluff

A snapshot of Spanish Bluff, the place where the Custis/Freeman Expedition was halted by Spanish troops in the early part of the 19th century.

History cannot exist without a grasp of the geography where events took place. The location, time, and space are all important factors in understanding why and how things happened. Sometimes, it’s not the easiest thing to picture… landscapes change, after all.

Let’s take at a photo I found on the Texas & Pacific Railway Historical Archive website:

denison tp tunnel

Denison, where this photo was taken, doesn’t look at all like it did back in its railroading hey-day. So I checked the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps to make sure that I am seeing the intersection of tracks correctly, as it seems the T&P tracks are passing underneath the MKT tracks:

CaptureSanborndenison

Using descriptions from the T&P site (behind Crockett and Hull Streets) and discerning the railroad bed from up in the air, I found the disused right-of-way on Google Maps. I made sure it was the right one when I traced it back to Bells.

CaptureDenisonKatylinemod

And, if you look closer, you can even spot a section of the stone wall from the old tunnel:

CaptureDenisonwall

Which is what I photographed when I visited Denison the other day:

Denison wall on old katy right of way

 

Looking at the photograph and the current condition of where the railroad used to be gives me a sense of how much Denison has changed over the years.

Then, there’s the question I had about something I saw from the air in Sherman, between Mulberry and Pacific Streets (south/north) and Willow and Lee Streets (west/east):

CaptureShermangoogle

It looked industrial (that wasn’t too far-fetched) so I decided to see what I could from old maps. First, I checked out the Bird’s eye map:

CaptureShermanbirdseyeCaptureSherman13

And then checked the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map:

CaptureShermansanborn

So, the bases I’m seeing are peanut and cotton oil tanks. Not earth-shattering, but at least I know what I’m looking at when I check out the ruins.

Another way to do this is to check city directories from the time periods, but since I don’t have them handy, I’ll use the maps to figure things out.

This kind of research is what goes on all the time inside museums, archives, libraries, bored people’s laptops at Starbucks, etc. Hey, it’s something to do!

Published in: on March 17, 2013 at 1:45 am  Comments (2)  
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Walking and Discovering

I am usually on-the-go on weekends, but this Saturday found me in a somber kind of mood. While I’ve been enjoying the mild winter and am really excited about the signs of spring that have blossomed around me, I kind of felt out of sorts. To cheer up, I decided to go for a walk.

Always fun to find history.

Walking is a great spirit-lifter, of course. But I wasn’t looking forward to taking a walk around my own neighborhood. Not that it’s a bore, but frankly, I walk the mile-radius around my house all the time and what I really needed was a change of scenery. So, I picked out an older neighborhood in Denton and strolled my way through quaint gardens, rock fences, and bungalows with deep porches. I even found a few petrified wood pieces inside herb and flower beds. I saw a few cats and lots of squirrels, a couple of grinning garden gnomes, dog foot prints forever encased in concrete, and dodged lots of mosquito hawks.

I’ve done this a few times before – picked out a cute place in a different town and went for a stroll. It’s simply fun to blend in with the environment and experience the place as a resident would. And it’s a great way to get ideas for how to spruce up my own yard and front porch. I also like that I’m left alone with my thoughts, and that I can pace myself without worrying too much about traffic or other people. The discoveries made on these walks tend to make me feel as if I uncovered secrets, too, like when I noticed the WPA stamp on a broken sidewalk when I strolled through Mineral Wells, or the old toys strewn along an alley behind a garage apartment in Durant.

If it wasn’t for walking around and being nosy, I’d never have found these trolley tracks in Mineral Wells, either.

Yes, my entertainment runs on the cheap and boring side. I’m never going to be the life of the party when my idea of fun involves walking through the city streets of some strange town. Guess what, though?  I realized today that I need to do it more often.

Published in: on March 4, 2012 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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