W. H. Clift
The first settler in the limits of the Kiowa-Comanche reservation as well as in the western half of the state of Oklahoma was Abel Warren. If any other person erected a building before Warren constructed his trading post at the mouth of Cache Creek, the historian has not advised us. This building was a combination affair, for residence, storeroom and fort. This Indian trading post was constructed in 1839 or 1840 as evidence will show later.
This strong and sterling character was born in Northboro, Mass., near Boston, September 19, 1814. There he grew to young manhood with a fair education. The numerous and rich stories of the vast frontier of the western regions of the United States fired this comparative youth to definite action, beyond the conventional customs of a New England state.
Bidding goodbye to his first love, a girl of eighteen years, and pledging faith which was sacredly kept (a thing not uncommon in those days) this young man of twenty-one set out without money or acquaintance to the land of romance, the vast stretches of the southwest.
Young Warren eventually landed by boat at the frontier post of Fort Smith then in the Territory of Arkansas. It was in 1836 that this young man really started on his career, his heart full of hope and armed with a typical Yankee thrift that stood him in good stead. Being resourceful of mind and observing everything of interest that the scouts and Indian guides would inadvertently relate, he quickly conceived and carried out the idea that makes possible this story.
The thought of quick or easy fortune haunts each generation; it is either gold mines, silver mines, diamonds, and in our time, oil, that spurs the ambitious to action. But the prevailing thought of quick fortune at that particular time centered about the trade of furs and hides.
Frontier trading posts with Indians had already been established on the Headwaters of the Missouri, Platte and Arkansas
rivers. Warren conceived the idea of such an enterprise far up the Red River. The hustling town of St. Louis had already become a great center of trade in furs and hides from the vast empire to the west. As a result of the many active dealers of those early days, St. Louis, until this day remains the largest fur and hide market in the world.
STARTS FOR UPPER RED RIVER
Easily gathering about him eager volunteers from the ranks of the many young adventurers who constantly visited a frontier town, as was Fort Smith at that time, Warren formed a caravan, with proper Indian guides and interpreters and set out in high spirits for whatever experience might confront them.
To fully comprehend this story it requires that the reader be able in his imagination to wipe out and erase from the map every city, town, village, house, road, fence and bridge, and carry in mind only natural objects as streams, hills and mountains. No government forts existed west of Fort Towson and Fort Gibson. For more than one reason, close to these posts at that time hung the settlements of the Five Civilized Tribes. In fact, the western boundary of the United States extended no further than the western line of the present Oklahoma. This region was one of the dark corners of the world, unexplored and still given over to the dreaded prairie Indians. Accounts of their bold and cruel raids on the white settlers in South Texas and against the Mexicans along the Rio Grande were taking first page positions in Eastern and European newspapers. Cynthia Ann Parker had only recently been carried away by one of these bands.
In order that the date and time may not be confounded, it is well to remember that the Mexican war had not yet occurred; hence, troops had not penetrated outlying districts in the west as they did immediately following the close of that war. All the land between the Canadian and Red River, as far as the 100th meridian, (wherever it was) had been ceded to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. This meridian was marked on paper only. For obvious reasons, there was no occasion to locate it at that time. Into these unexplored, grey-hued and melancholy scenes, Warren and his little band of daring spirits intrepidly pushed their way.
BUILDS FORT ON CACHE CREEK
Whether, in locating his trading post, Warren explored Red River higher up the stream than Cache Creek is not known. Building timber could not have been found further west than this point. This was in the vicinity of the wild tribes, and the fine timber of lower Cache Creek made it a logical location for the enterprise. Also, in the "trade territory" of this post are the great number of other important timbered streams, as the Big Wichita, directly in view across Red River; the little Wichita and the Beaver Creeks. West Cache, Deep Red Run, the Washita River, Big Elk, Otter Creek, as well as the densely timbered uplands of Caddo County and the Wichita Mountains, all of which furnished habitats for much wild game and fur-bearing animals.
No doubt the advice of Indian scouts on these natural conditions caused this point to be selected for the trading post. Cache Creek aside from being one of the largest streams that originates within the state (originating in limestone hills) is the best timbered stream in the prairie regions between the upper Cross Timbers and the Pacific coast. Building timbers and wood for fuel were important requirements with Warren.
CONFIRMING LOCATION OF THIS POST
Warren’s Post was built, occupied, abandoned and destroyed before the Mexican War had fully ended. As to the date it was established, there is some difference of opinion. Those connected with this post were grown men at that time and are all dead now. Great activities and developments followed the Mexican War, and then the distressing conditions during and after the Civil War had much to do with failure to remember this solitary enterprise, embarked upon quietly and without advertisement and carried on far beyond the ken of white men. Some think this post was not erected until 1842. We know positively it was abandoned in 1846. Some think it was built as early as 1839.
In the early ’seventies, hunting parties, and the first settlers in Texas directly across from the mouth of Cache Creek, mentioning in this connection Robert and Ed Grogan, and other people even as late as 1901 took notice of what was believed to have once been the path of a long-past tornado
which traveled across the timbered valley of Cache Creek about two miles above the mouth of the stream. The timber differed in age from that surrounding. Also, on the creek near this was an old ford. Below this point and this ford no timber grows on the east bank of this stream and for two miles before emptying into Red River, Cache Creek develops into a deep, wide lake.
This trading post was built on the east bank in a wide, open prairie down stream from this ford and available timber. It was situated on what is now the northeast quarter of Section 8 in Township 5 south, of Range 10 west, about a half-mile from the north bank of Red River and four hundred yards from the deep, broad lake of Cache Creek.
When the Kiowa-Comanche country opened in 1901, Mr. Todd filed on and improved this piece of land. A great pile of shapely stones were found in the open prairie about the center of the tract of land. They were not placed there by nature. Very conveniently were they hauled out and used for foundations under the new buildings erected on the homesteads. In turning the sage grass sod, other things were turned up that showed signs of civilization. The heavy oak logs once set on end in a trench evidently had burned and left their mark in the soil. It was then that the writer began to take notice of this matter.
Contemporary with the opening of this country the treasure hunters came too. Quick to perceive the slightest footprint or sign of man long gone, fortunately these treasure seekers detected the tree marks near the old ford in question. The proverbial Mexican map showing the location and markings came into play. For years these persistent fellows patiently dug, sounded and searched for a pot of gold. Trees were sawed down and rings of the trunks counted to arrive at dates. Clearly one showed the hack was made in 1852 and others showed 1839 and 1840.
By searching the maps and reports of the War Department of expeditions for any informations that might be found on this locality, the map and report of Captain Marcy’s exploration of upper Red River in 1852 was found to be marked on the map "X Warren’s T. H." No comment was made in his report.
This trading post had already been abandoned for six years and had probably burned during a prairie fire. His report made specific reference to having camped and crossed Cache at the ford mentioned here, hence, the tree marks of 1852 found by the closely observing and accurate treasure hunters. It is reasonable to presume that the Warren marks showing 1839 or 1840 were equally as accurate.
The location of this trading post by section lines in the present day is ten miles south of Temple and is thirty-one miles south and seven miles east of Lawton, Okla. The circuitous route that had to be traveled in those days in avoiding gulches, heavy timbered regions and in reaching solid bottom fords required the 350 miles traveled from Fort Smith.
LIFE AT THE POST
Through many incidents related by Abel Warren to his children, many years after having lived in the midst of these wild scenes, to Mrs. Sabra Cason, of Arkansas, a daughter, and from an article written by W. J. Weaver many years ago, descriptive, of a visit to this post about 1842, which is quoted later in this article, it has been possible to obtain a very good and fairly accurate idea of the life at this fascinating place.
The occupants of this post consisted at all times of at least ten or twelve men. This was required for safety. On arrival of the pack-trains or caravans more than double this number were often present. Usually, two or three Deleware Indians, the pre-eminent tribe of faithful interpreters, were kept at the post. However, it is due him to mention Turcoquash, a full-blood Choctaw who served in that capacity well and acted many times as guide, scout and hunter of game for the caravans traveling back and forth to Fort Smith.
In the earlier days of this post there was no Fort Washita nor Fort Arbuckle. The nearest settlement in Texas at the time this post was established was in the vicinity of Pilot Point, Texas, where a few families had located. A few scattered pioneers lived in the locality of Sherman, Texas. Not until 1843 did the Willis family and the frontier citizen Overton (Sobe) Love, a part Chickasaw, locate in the eastern portion of what is now Love County, Oklahoma. Warren’s caravans passed Love’s place and these two young men became fast friends. It was
Sobe Love who brought back from Fort Washita (later established) as far as to his home, the mail containing fat love letters from Warren’s sweetheart in Massachusetts. A courier from the post dispatched for this mail was oftimes met fifty miles out from the post on his return trip by the eager Warren. Many years afterward, when this same girl became the mistress of Warren’s plantation of many negro slaves on the Arkansas River, feminine like, she delighted in recalling the above incidents.
The four high towers erected at each corner of this large double-log building were occupied day and night the year round by from one to four sentinels. This protection and unusual advantage in connection with a stockade built of hundreds of oak logs, standing upright twelve or fifteen feet high around the premises in reasonable gunshot range, largely dissipated all fear on the part of the accustomed occupants. When the horizon appeared clear, adventurous squads would sometimes sally forth some distance on exploring or hunting trips. Wild game of all kinds was the chief menu at the post. Fish from Cache Creek and Red River were close at hand. The pack trains never left nor approached the post except during the dark hours of night. Without apparent preparation during the day time, they stole away early after dark and were usually far from the danger zone at daybreak. They evidently crossed Big Beaver Creek at the "Rock Crossing," an ideal ford used afterwards on the Fort Sill-Texas highway. Thousands of home-seekers’ wagons crossed Beaver at this point in 1901. Evidence of this as an old ford showed clearly in 1860. Also the post was reached by the caravans far in the night. Horsemen preceded the caravan to ascertain if the way was clear and if all was well at the post. These caravans subsisted on the wild game as they traveled to and from Fort Smith. On one occasion, after a long drouth, presumably the drouth of 1841, when all game had migrated, a party of twenty in one of these caravans came near famishing.
The call of the wild answered by the young, rambling, adventurous spirits who naturally visited an open, frontier town, at Fort Smith, furnished abundant material for free help on these trips to Warren’s post. Also, some who fled from true bills of grand juries in the eastern states were glad to find a refuge at
this isolated post. This free help enabled Warren to prosper in his unequal transactions with the wild Indians who bartered hundreds of valuable pelts for cheap red strips of cloth. Even red calico was traded for Mexican boys found captives among these visiting bands of Indians. At numerous times during the life of this post, many a "hard" bargain was finally driven in dealing for some of these forlorn, blistered and footsore sons of the Rio Grande. Usually the Comanche tribe is given all the credit for such outrages, but the Kiowas and Wichitas were not entirely "without honor" on this score. These Mexican boys were sent out with the caravans to be adopted by the noble-hearted people in and around Fort Smith. Some descendants of these still reside in that vicinity. There is no doubt that the then young girl captive, Cynthia Ann Parker, visited this post with these identical Comanches. Some devoted foster mother of this girl probably took care that she was not seen by the paleface occupants of this place.
Warren had now been away from Massachusetts, and his faithful sweetheart, ten strenuous, lonely years. The fur trading post had prospered. Leaving the business in the hand of one believed trustworthy (it was early in 1846) he left this crude, but fascinating post and started over the long and circuitous route for Boston. It took months to reach his destination. On reaching New Orleans he purchased new clothes and had his picture made. (Illustration accompanying this article). After reaching Massachusetts and claiming his bride he spent a few leisurely months before returning to the distant southwest. Eventually a letter came advising him that the custodian of the far distant store on the banks of Cache Creek had appropriated to himself everything at the post: all hides, furs, and stock had been carried away, sold for cash and the scoundrel had absconded.
This ended the life of this interesting enterprise. It remained only in the memory of the wild tribes. The building and grounds once more went back into the hands of nature as the wild animals explored this strange, deserted citadel. Exultant packs of grey wolves howled, and the high bluffs of Red River flung back the echo. The black bear explored the mysterious labyrinths of this strange, man-made abode, and the wild
geese and ducks coming from the north soared high and circled many times before alighting once more with safety in the placid, deep waters nearby. Herds of buffalo grazed about once more without fear of molestation, and wild horses again galloped from the smooth prairies to quench their thirst with the clear waters of Cache Creek. Man had left his mark, quickly obliterated—nature again held sway.
Six years after this post was deserted Captain Marcy in 1852 with a well armed and equipped company of soldiers started from this place on his exploration of Red River of which nothing was known above Cache Creek. He makes constant reference to the wild animals which roamed this locality.
WARREN BECOMES WEALTHY
Young Warren and his wife, after failing to secure passage by ship at New Orleans to California via Cape Horn, returned to Fort Smith. There they settled on the Arkansas River and became wealthy slave owners. During the Civil War he refugeed with his slaves and livestock to a point on Red River near the present Denison, Texas, known as "Warren Flats." His familiarity with that locality came about from the fact that his first trading post was established there in 1836, at a point known afterward as "Old Warren." This was on the south bank of Red River one mile below the mouth of Choctaw Creek, and in the extreme northwest corner of the present Fannin County. This point served, in 1838, as the first county seat of Fannin County. Its construction for safety against attack was similar to the one described before at the mouth of Cache Creek. Discouraged at the encroachments of civilization and being far from his more lucrative customers, the prairie Indians, Warren closed shop, returned to Fort Smith, organized a daring band and set out for the upper Red River country, about 1839.
DEATH OF HIS SON
Accompanying Warren in 1863, when he refugeed on Red River, was his young son, William, nine years old. During this time the son died on the north bank of Red River from a congestive chill. Friendly Choctaws in the vicinity on learning that Warren could not transport the corpse to his homeland
in Arkansas, due to that region being in the hands of the enemy, suggested and did embalm the child until the later day, more than a year afterwards, when Warren interred the remains at Ft. Smith. These Choctaws enclosed the body in a heavy bath of charcoal and nailing all four sides of the box, swung it on a heavy grapevine into an abandoned well near the water. One extremely old Choctaw citizen told the writer of aiding in this and of seeing the perfectly preserved corpse when removed from its position fourteen months later.
Aside from the dim recollections of one aged Wichita Indian, ninety years old, who recalls seeing somewhere on Red River during his boyhood days a building similar to this, it is of interest to get a first-hand account by a person who came with one of the pack trains to this post and viewed it for a few weeks.
The article was written by the late Col. W. J. Weaver of Fort Smith in 1896 and is believed to have been penned fifty-four years after his visit to Warren’s Post. His son, Mr. J. F. Weaver has lent much aid as has also Mrs. Sabra Cason, in helping gather data on this subject.
The article by Colonel Weaver, written in 1896, touches on the Warren post as follows:
There were fortified trading posts a few hundred miles apart—and one on Red River by Abel Warren a resident of Fort Smith. The post was surrounded by a strong, heavy picket of logs planted in the ground about fifteen feet high with a two-story log tower at each corner, with portholes for shooting through and covering approaches to the wooden palisade. These log towers or bastions were about twelve feet square and furnished with sleeping bunks for the men and a dozen muskets with buckshot for short range work. On two sides of the enclosure were strong gates for the admission of stock and wagon trains. Sheds and warehouses were on the inside walls of the palisades and a corral for stock on the prairie outside.
A stay of a few weeks at Warren’s Fort gave the writer some insight in the trade and life at the post. The year round
was occupied mostly in trade with small parties of Indians of various tribes—Kiowas, Wichitas, Tonkawas, Caddoes and Delawares. The stock was driven out of the fort corral at daybreak and herded on the prairie within sight of the watchman on the tower, and driven in at night. There were eight whites and four Delawares in the little garrison, but always a few hunters and friendly Indians in the vicinity. No danger was apprehended only from large bands of Indians of a known desperate character. If the Indians were successful in an attack in great numbers it would certainly result in a fearful loss of life to themselves. This fact they knew, and robber Indians always ignored game not worth the candle. A few men in each tower with their stacks of ready loaded muskets could make havoc in a horde of savages mostly armed with lances and arrows.
It was in the fall, and the great droves of buffalo were making their way to the plains in southwestern Texas, away from northern blizzards. Some of the droves passed within a short distance of the fort, and our stock was kept in corral to prevent a stampede. To a tenderfoot the view was an exciting novelty.
The buffalo would rush along in compact masses with tails erect, for a mile then check up and radiate from the center in lines, browsing on the herbage. After a while they would close up and rush forward, drove after drove. They were three days passing in sight. Scores of Indians were in the rear, the men charging on the herd with lances, and Indian boys and squaws catching and killing crippled and weakling calves.
A few days afterward we were roused in the morning by whoops, yelps and trampling of horses around the enclosure. Several hundred Comanches had arrived, and many camped and staked up their skin lodges close by. Young men dashed around on horseback, old women were shrieking, children were chattering and playing. A hundred little "columns of slow rising smoke" were seen above Gypsy kettles on tripod sticks. Young women were toting water in skins on their backs. Other girls led ponies laden with calfskin water kegs. Old women were
stretching and pegging buffalo hides on the ground, others were scraping the hides, others were unloading buffalo meat from the ponies and cutting it in slices for drying. Many of the young men were staking out and rubbing their horses. Old dignitaries stood around smoking and waiting for the kettle stew.
Our stock of cattle and horses were driven from the corral into the enclosure and secured in the sheds inside. The gates were closed and secured, and presently they same in crowds to the fort to trade with bundles on their backs. After much wrangling with our interpreter they were admitted, three or four at a time, after leaving their belt knives and hatchets outside. The chief of the band was there. He said nothing but looked at the trader. The trader looked at him a moment, then took down a bridle richly ornamented with red woolen fringe and tin stars, and gave it to him with a plug of tobacco. The chief grunted, nodded, lit his pipe, and the trading went on and lasted for several days. They first asked for liquor, which he did not keep, and were much disappointed when he told them he had sold out all he had. Their stock in trade was furs of all kinds, dressed buffalo robes, dressed and raw deer skins, dried buffalo tongues, beeswax, and some had Mexican silver dollars. They bartered these for red and blue blankets, strips of blue cloth, bright colored gingham hankerchiefs, hoop iron (for arrow and lance heads), glass beads, heavy brass wire, which they twisted around the left wrist to protect it from the recoil of the bow-string, vermillion, red and yellow ochre for face paint, bright-hued calico and wampum beads, which they wore around their necks in great quantities. These beads were from two to four inches long, pure white, and resembled clay pipe stems in size. They were highly esteemed and served the part of currency in their dealings. They wanted guns but the government forbade the sale of firearms at the time to wild Indians. Much of the trading was done by signs. One finger was for one dollar, five fingers five dollars, cross the forefinger was half a dollar. Stretch out the arm and touch the shoulder was a yard measure.
They finally broke camp and in an hour were out of sight. After they had left we learned that they had three white captives whom they kept out of sight. We notified this fact by
letter to Lieutenant Hancock (afterwards General) commanding Fort Towson, also to the officers at Fort Gibson. Captain Boone (a son of old Daniel Boone), with his company of dragoons some time afterwards went out to the plains of western Kansas and rescued these captives from the Comanches and brought them in to Fort Gibson. One was a Mexican boy twelve years old. He spoke Spanish and Comanche and he was very expert with the lasso and bow. He could tell nothing of his name or location, being very young when taken. The Indians had got to the cornfield where they were hoeing, killed his father and grandfather, and carried him off. The woman and her two children had been captured while washing at a branch some distance from her home. She was restored to her friends in Texas.
W. H. Clift.