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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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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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.

 

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.

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).

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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.

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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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