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.

 

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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)

An Embarrassment of Architectural Treasures in De Soto Parish

According to the National Register, De Soto Parish, which lies between the Red and Sabine rivers in northwestern Louisiana, contains the highest concentration of Greek Revival architecture, outside of New Orleans, in the state.

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A perfect example is this beautiful 1850 mercantile in Keachie (aka Keatchie, aka Keachi), an antebellum town north of Mansfield. Keachie’s history is palpable in its buildings.

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The antebellum Baptist Church in Keachie is similar in style to the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in this beautiful town.

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An old farm house sits on the site of the former Female Seminary, which served as a hospital in the Civil War and later burned in an unrelated fire.

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.

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).

 

Union Relics from the Red River Campaign

The Red River in Louisiana experienced quite a bit of troubles in 1864.

Alexandria porters fleet 1864 Louisiana History Museum Jose Dellmon collectionThis photo of Porter’s Fleet at Alexandria dates from 1864. Louisiana History Museum, Jose Delman Collection.

Nathan Banks, Union general, commandeered several gunboats to venture up the Red River in the hopes of reaching Shreveport. From there, his troops, the Union army in southwestern Arkansas, and troops in southern Indian Territory were supposed to lead an invasion into Texas in 1864, Union losses culminating in the Battle of Mansfield forced Banks to retreat, but the river had become too shallow. Under the guidance of Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the men built a dam at the rapids at Alexandria to accumulate enough water to help float the boats down river and back to Baton Rouge.

In the late 1980s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a lock at the site of Bailey’s dam and led an archeological excavation to catalog the site. Today, because of the consistent depth of the Red River at this point, the structure is no longer visible, even at low water.

Baileys dam

An unidentified young man points to the remains of Bailey’s Dam on the Red River at Alexandria, Rapides Parish, Louisiana. This photo is part of a series relating to the documentation of the site led by the Historic American Engineering Record.

In 1864, the USS Covington sunk to the bottom of the Red River at Dunn’s Bayou, Louisiana, after its commander, George P. Lord, ordered her burned. He preferred destruction rather than have her captured by Confederates who had been continuously firing at the Covington (and two other ships, the Signal and the Warner) throughout the preceding two days.

vessle

The photograph of the USS Covington (unknown date) is from the U.S. Navy History and Heritage Center. I found Lt. Lord’s report on www.irononthered.com, a website that documents the civil war activities on the Red River in Louisiana.

The USS Covington was a tin-clad vessel rather than an iron-clad. Prior to its service in the Civil War, it was a ferry on the Ohio River.

Following is Lt. Lord’s letter to Admiral Porter regarding his decision to destroy the Covington:

U.S. S. CHILLICOTHE,
Above Alexandria Falls, May 8, 1864.

SIR: It is with feelings of regret that I report the loss of the U.S S. Covington, and most respectfully submit the following report:

I left Alexandria convoying the steamer Warner at 8 o’clock on the morning of May 4, 1864. While passing Wilson’s plantation the Warner was fired into by about 100 infantry, losing one man. I fired my stern guns at them for some time and passed on. After proceeding about 1½ miles farther Mr. McCloskey, a pilot belonging to the General Price, struck the stern of the vessel against a bar, thereby breaking the port rudder badly and shivering the tiller. I told him that hereafter Mr. Emerson, my other pilot, would handle her.

I tied up all night about a mile from the Red House and commenced repairing my rudder and tiller. At about 5 o’clock I was joined by the U.S.S. Signal. Both of us kept up through the night an irregular fire on the right-hand shore going down, as they had fired upon us with infantry while we were repairing.At 4.30 o’clock in the morning we all got underway, the Warner in the lead, the Covington next, and the Signal last.

At Dunn’s Bayou (on the right going down) we were fired upon by two pieces of artillery and infantry. The Covington was hit by this battery only three times, and the Warners’ rudders were disabled, but she still continued downstream until she came to a short point in the river, when she went into the bank. She had no sooner struck the bank when a rebel battery on the right shore going down, and from 4,000 to 5,000 infantry, opened upon her and my vessel.

The Covington and Signal immediately commenced firing. Almost every shot either struck the boilers, steam pipe, or machinery of the Warner, as she was only about 100 yards from the battery. After we had engaged the battery about three hours, the Warner hoisted a white flag. We still kept up our fire, and I sent a party from my vessel under a severe fire to burn her, but the colonel in charge sent me word that there were nearly 125 killed and wounded, and requested that I would not burn her, which was granted. A short time after this I was informed that the Signal was disabled. I immediately rounded to and went alongside of her, took her in tow, and started upstream, but my rudder became disabled, and the Signal got adrift. It was impossible to pass the Warner, so Mr. Emerson, my pilot, informed me. Knowing that the Signal would drift down on the Warner and the rebels would immediately board her, I ordered the commanding officer to anchor her, which was done.

Finding it impossible to handle my vessel and fearing I should get on the side where artillery and infantry were, I went over on the other bank and made fast, head upstream. I used my stern guns on the lower battery and my broadside on the infantry abreast of us and my bow guns on the battery that was ahead of us, which had been brought down from Dunn’s Bayou. My escape pipe was cut while alongside of the Signal, causing a great deal of steam to escape and making the impression that the boilers had been struck; the men, however, soon rallied and kept up a brisk fire on the enemy. Most of the soldiers and officers, amongst whom were Colonel Sharpe, of One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth New York Volunteers; Colonel Raynor, One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Illinois [Fifty-Sixth Ohio] (wounded in both legs); Lieutenant Simpson, aid-de-camp to General Banks; and Acting Assistant Paymaster Chester, went over on the Signal. The Signal getting adrift from’ us, they were not able to return to my vessel. After I had been tied to the bank an hour or so, my steam drum was cut and a shell struck under the boilers, letting out all the water.

My ammunition gave out, my howitzers were all disabled by the bracket bolts drawing out, and every shot coming through us. With one officer and a good many of my men already killed, I determined to burn my vessel. I spiked the guns, had coals of fire strewn on the deck, and myself and executive officer set fire to the cotton, which was on the guards alongside of the engine. I saw it burning finely before I left, and feel sure she was destroyed.While leaving the vessel to get up on the bank, a terrible fire of infantry was opened on us and some were killed in going up.

I collected my officers and men all together and found I had with me 9 officers and 23 men. My crew was composed of 14 officers and 62 men, and started through the woods for Alexandria. At 20 minutes of 11 o’clock, when within 10 miles of Alexandria, we were fired upon by rebel cavalry, thereby scattering us. I am glad to say that they have nearly all arrived here safely, with the exception of Acting Third Assistant Engineer Lyon, who was wounded in the head while fighting a few guerrillas who had fired into a party of my men while close to Alexandria. He has since arrived safe.

The whole action lasted about five hours, and the Covington was badly riddled from stem to stern, there being no less than five shots in the hull, some forty or fifty in her upper works. The officers and men behaved with great gallantry, and, with exception of a few, this was their first action. Acting Master’s Mate C. W. Gross was killed by a shot that came through the shell room. The officers and men lost all of their personal effects, the only things that were saved being the signal book and

the dispatches in-trusted to my care, which were returned to you. The arms that were brought with us I turned over to Acting Master H. H. Gorringe, of the Cricket, taking a receipt for the same.

In conclusion, I most respectfully beg that a court of enquiry may be called to determine whether the honor of our flag suffered in my hands. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEORGE P. LORD, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, U. S. Navy.

Published in: on March 25, 2018 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Southwestern Trail

One of the oldest roads in the Red River Valley was the Tennessee to Washington (Hempstead County, Arkansas) to Fulton (Hempstead County) trail that was formed along a geological ridge line. Before American settlement, the trace was an aboriginal path to salt “mines” (actually, just places where salt could be sieved and collected) and to the Caddoan settlements along the Red River, specifically the Nasoni villages.

Now called the “Southwest Trail” by heritage tourism promoters, the trace witnessed pioneers, stage coaches, traders, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Union troops moving towards Indian Territory and Texas.

The centuries of use has “sunken” the trail in some spots. The sunken trace is best seen on the northern side of Washington‘s Franklin Street. Today, the trail north of Washington is very hard to follow – a lot of the “old southwest Arkansas” between Washington and Blevins was leveled in the 1940s to make way for a military proving grounds.

Map snip Arkansas post offices 1840s

The old trail ran from Tennessee to Little Rock to Washington to Fulton. If you want to travel the original route of the old trail – called the Southwest Trail now to entice motor tourists – you can drive AR 195 from Fulton to Washington.

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The sunken part of the old trail can be viewed on the north side of Washington along Franklin Street. On the right side of the photograph stand the 1830s’ era courthouse, wonderfully restored.

Washington Tavern better

Speaking of restoration… in the 1930s – prior to the erection of the proving grounds to the north of Washington – many of the town’s historic, antebellum structures remained standing, albeit in a state of disrepair. This old tavern, at the intersection of Franklin and Columbus streets, once served the likes of Sam Houston. The federal government photographed and documented the historic structure as part of a WPA program

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Today, the tavern has been restored to its original look (as best as could be) through the generous donations and hard work of Hempstead County citizens.

Washington was once the county seat of Hempstead, Arkansas but lost the status when the railroad developed Hope and built the station and town. The whole town, which is home to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Arkives (<– get it?) is now a state park.

Published in: on February 6, 2018 at 3:07 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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