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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 3
September, 1926

W. B. Morrison

Page 216

One of the interesting bits of historic remains in Bryan County is still to be found near old Nail’s Crossing on Blue about ten miles north of Durant. On the south side of the river, and about two hundred yards from its banks, the visitor may find to-day the well-marked outline of the redoubts and bastions built there in the summer of 1862 by troops of Confederates from Texas, Arkansas and Indian Territory, under the direction of General Albert Pike, at that time in command of all the forces of the Confederacy in the Department of the Indian Territory. While now overgrown with trees, and with not a vestige of the headquarters, or temporary buildings remaining, the works still make an impressive showing to the visitor, and are well worth going to see. Some hundred yards or more to the right and left of the main fortifications may be found remains of the arsenal pits, where ammunition was stored.

It is hard to realize after spending a day among the peaceful scenes along the river and near the fort and crossing, that this was once a place teeming with life and throbbing with activity. Nail’s Crossing was on the military road that ran from Fort Gibson via Perryville (near present site of McAlester), Boggy Depot, Fort Washita, into Texas and the Southwest. From 1850 on this was a much-traveled road, and thousands of adventurers, bound for homes in Texas, or for the gold fields of California crossed the Blue at Nail’s as they pushed on to the unknown West. Remains of a dam are still to be seen, and bits of the cable of the ferry-boat, used in times of high water, and by those who preferred not to risk the ford, or the crude wooden bridge which generally spanned the stream at this point.

General Pike was placed in command of Confederate troops in the Territory in November, 1861. His first official act was to establish elaborate headquarters, and construct a fort just one mile north of Bacone College, on the banks of the Arkansas near Muskogee. This he named Cantonment Davis in honor of the president of the Confederacy. Pike was always something of a visionary, and while the preliminary esti-

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mate of the cost of this plant was moderate, it is said that nearly a million dollars was expended on buildings and defences before they were completed.

From the very first, Pike was at variance with his military superiors, charging them with an entire disregard of the treaties with the Indians, made by Pike the previous summer. According to these treaties, the Indian Territory was to be defended against invasion, his Indian allies furnished with weapons arid supplies by the Confederacy, and the Indian troops not to be taken out of the Territory for military service. However, either through lack of ability to furnish the supplies, or through a disregard for the claims of the Indians—or probably both—the Confederate authorities paid little attention to Pike’s complaints or to the terms of the treaties. With the advance of the Federals into Arkansas in the early spring of 1862, Pike was ordered to send all his forces into that state to the support of Van Dorn. He left Cantonment Davis, on which he had expended so much money and labor, never to return. His Indian troops fought well at the important battle of Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas, but discouraged by the Confederate defeat and the lack of interest on the part of his superiors, General Pike at once returned to the Territory, placed Colonel D. H. Cooper in charge of Cantonment Davis, and decided to make an entire change in his military plans by practically leaving the northern part of the Territory to its fate, and to establish a new line of defense on the Blue river in what is now Bryan County. It is said that Pike’s superior, General Van Dorn, while telling him not to expect any help from the Arkansas army, charged him to maintain himself as best he could in the Territory, but not to march southward except in case of absolute necessity. These orders Pike evidently violated. One of his critics of that time states, "He came 250 miles to the southward only halting at the Little Blue, an unknown thread of a stream twenty miles from Red River, where he constructed fortifications in the open prairie, erected a saw-mill remote from any timber, and devoted himself to gastronomy and poetic meditation with elegant accompaniments."

General Pike seems to have had at least two reasons for his sudden change of base, one of which was that he had lost hope of getting regular supplies for his army from Arkansas,

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and the other that the Arkansas River did not offer a satisfactory line of defense. In one letter written from Fort McCulloch, he states, "The Arkansas River is not defensible. If we cannot hold all, we ought at any rate to hold the Choctaw, and Chickasaw country. Half of it is better than none." Again he wrote, "I hope by means of the works here, and with the help of the artillery I have to hold the Indian country against any force that can invade it. If I can prevent the Indian country from being occupied, I will be content."

Pike’s subordinate, Colonel Cooper, evidently felt that he had been deserted, and took it upon himself to write Van Dorn directly in regard to affairs in the northern part of the territory "as Pike was at Nail’s Bridge, one hundred and seventy five miles away." In this dispatch he further went on to say that if a Federal force came into the Cherokee country, Stand Waitie (the leader of the Southern Cherokees) would be driven out and a majority of the Cherokees would go over to the Federals. John Ross, the Cherokee chief, wrote to President Jefferson Davis to the same effect. Cooper’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter within a very short time. Whether matters would have been better or worse had Pike maintained his original line of defense will never be known.

General Pike was well acquainted with the topography of the Blue River country, for thirty years before he had explored it on foot throughout its entire lower course. He named the fortification after the gallant Ben McCulloch, who lost his life at Pea Ridge. With the extensive field works planned, Pike boasted that 5000 men could hold this fort against three times their number. Among other advantages claimed for the position were that it commanded the road to Gibson on the north, Fort Smith to the east, Fort Washita to the west, as well as to Sherman and Bonham in Texas. In May, 1862, Pike had eighteen pieces of artillery at Fort McCulloch, twelve of them the effective Parrott guns. His report of the same date indicated that he should have had at the fort over 3000 white troops, exclusive of Indian forces. These included two regiments of Texas cavalry under Colonels Robt. H. Taylor anal Almarine Alexander; the Nineteenth regiment of Arkansas infantry under Colonel C. L. Dawson, besides the two companies of artillery under Maj. Wm. E. Woodruff. The report showed, however, that scarcely half of these troops were on duty at

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the time. The excessive amount of work with pick and spade required of the men may have had something to do with the large number absent "on sick leave." Pike blamed the large absentee list on "bad weather and bad cooking."

The next few months were the most distressing in Pike’s long life—and least creditable to him. The commanders of the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy, first General T. C. Hindman and later General T. H. Holmes, goaded him almost to madness by what he felt were unfair decisions in Territory matters, and he was not a good enough soldier to accept the orders of his superiors without question. He wrote many long and acrimonious letters to these superior officers and also made every effort to go over their heads to the authorities at Richmond. No attention was paid to his ideas in regard to the defense of the Territory, and from the records it would appear that General Hindman deliberately pursued such methods as to render Pike’s position as brigade and departmental commander untenable. The artillery of which he boasted was ordered to Little Rock, and his Indian troops to the Arkansas district. Finally Pike resigned his command, and upon doing so, issued to the Indians an address of such violent and unmilitary nature that his subordinate, D. H. Cooper, sent an armed force to arrest him. This action on the part of Cooper was approved by General Hindman, who tried to hold up the resignation that he might try Pike "for falsehood, cowardice and treason." The court-martial was never held, however, and Pike’s resignation was afterwards accepted. His massive frame, and leonine head with its abundance of grey hair down over his shoulders, were seen no more at Fort McCulloch. After the war, he became one of the world’s leading exponents of Free-Masonry, devoting a great deal of time to a study of its ritual and symbolism. He was the author of more than twenty books on the subject. He also published several volumes of verses, and ranks as one of the lyric poets of the South whose position is undisputed.

Major William E. Woodruff, referred to above, is the author of a very readable little book, entitled, "With the Light Guns," from which we quote the following interesting details of the construction of Fort McCulloch and the life and activities of the post

"General Pike’s command, besides Colonel Dawson’s in-

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fantry, Corley’s cavalry and the artillery from Arkansas, was composed of several Texas regiments of infantry and cavalry under Colonels Robert Taylor and Almarine Alexander and other colonels, and the Indian troops. Soon after the camp was established General Pike commenced the erection of an earthwork named Fort McCulloch, which was built by daily details of working parties from all commands, artillery included. It was a rather distasteful occupation, but the duty was performed faithfully, if grumblingly.

"After a month the senior captain concluded the horses should be familiarized with the racket of actual firing, and without asking permission from headquarters, treated the whole camp to a surprise one morning by exercising the gun drill with blank cartridges, by piece, by section, by half battery and by battery. Instantly the prairie, which formed a great part of the general camp, was as full of astonished soldiers —Texas, Arkansas and Indian—as a prairie dog town is of its denizens, which they made it resemble. General Pike scolded the commander good naturedly for the ‘indiscretion,’ as he termed it, but was easily persuaded that it was better to stampede the army when there was no danger, than to have the batteries go to pieces when the enemy was before it.

"A few days later there was a large delegation in camp from the wild and roving tribes of the commander’s Indian allies—Kiowas, Comanches and several other tribes, who had been summoned to council by General Pike some time previously. It was a wonderful thing to see them as they sat in a semi-circle in front of General Pike’s large office tent all day long, gazing at his striking and majestic person, as he sat writing, or reading and smoking. They seemed to reverence him like a god. The wild Indians were very inquisitive and were suffered to wander through camp at their own pleasure, male and female, on foot or on horse-back. These Indian ladies all used two stirrups in riding. Next to General Pike’s fine person, the bronze guns of West and Blocher were the chief center of attraction. Both sexes fairly swarmed in and about the artillery camps, and the squaws and girls soon captivated the young men of the battalion. Everything bright or gaudy in appearance or color, neckerchiefs, handkerchiefs and such like were speedily in their possession. Cline (future) county judge I know was signally despoiled.

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"By some means the report of the gun firing a few days before had come to their knowledge, and the whole wild lot desired to hear the report of the guns and see the effect of shell and shot. Accordingly, before the council adjourned, the general ordered a section to be taken to the outskirts of the camp, and a few solid shot, shells, shrapnel and canister fired for their delectation. The effect on an old chief standing near the officer commanding the firing party, was amusing. His face had about as much expression as a raw-hide or grindstone, until the first shell exploded about one-fourth of a mile distant. The chief turned to the officer, all wonder and astonishment, and holding up two fingers said: ‘Him shoot twice,’ then relapsed as if ashamed, into the grindstone stage. That the chief understood English was a great surprise to the officer. These wild people had a bountiful provision of buffalo meat and tongues, bows and arrows, and many curious trinkets with them, and drove quite a profitable commerce with our men. The officers laid in a good supply of buffalo tongue, some of which was brought home a little later. Lewis Tilly of Blocher’s bought the smallest adult pony any of us had seen, and was permitted to bring him along, as Captain Stillwell, acting commissary, said: ‘His stomach capacity is too small to affect the commissary’s accounts, and grass is free.’

"The men sent out to graze the herd daily on the prairie told remarkable tales about the size and abundance of rattle snakes. If anybody is curious about them, he is respectfully referred to Sergeant Billy Button, at the Soldiers’ Home, for particulars.

"At Fort McCulloch, Captain Wm. Quessenbury, chief quarter-master, who at that was to Arkansas what Mark Twain is now to the rest of the world, got up one of the greatest jokes known in financial history. There were no Confederate notes of less denomination than $5.00. He got hold of a lot of marble wall paper, and had change tickets printed on the light side to supply the needs of the army in small transactions. It was redeemable on presentation in sums of $5.00 or over. It was good money as long as it lasted

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—which owing to the weather’s changes and other incidents was not long."

Durant, Okla.


1. Abel, Annie H., The Indian as a Participant in the Civil War.
2. Abel, Annie H., The Indian as a Slaveholder and Secessionist.
3. Allsopp, F. W., Life Story of Albert Pike.
4. Arkansas Historical Collections, Vol. 4.
6. Official Records of the Rebellion, series 1, Vols. 13 and 22.
6. Richardson, James D., Library of Southern Literature, Vol. 9.
7. Thoburn, Jos. B., History of Oklahoma. Vol. 1.
8. Woodruff, W. E., With the Light Guns

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