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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 4
December, 1927
THE FORT TOWSON ROAD
A HISTORIC TRAIL

James Culberson

Page 414

In the year 1824 Ft. Towson was established about ten miles north of the mouth of the Kiamchi River in Southeastern Indian Territory and in the Southern part of the then Choctaw Nation, now Oklahoma. A military road was surveyed and laid out by Captain Bonneville of the Seventh U. S. Infantry between Fort Smith, Ark., and Fort Towson for transporting troops and stores. This military road passed almost through the heart of the Choctaw Nation and was a great help to the Indians in reaching markets at Skullyville and Fort Smith, Arkansas, and in exchanging their products for clothing and some of the white man’s luxuries. This road also was the means of assisting the Choctaws to become more civilized and enlightened after the first great difficulties in making new homes in a strange land had been overcome; they built school houses and churches, and thousands of Choctaw girls; and boys traveled this ancient road, the girls to New Hope Seminary near Skullyville and the boys to Spencer Academy near Fort Towson.

I was born and reared at Skullyville on this famous road and saw the girls coming to this New Hope school attending many of the closing exercises held there and all seemed so perfect and glorified that it inspired me with the desire to go to school and do something as well as these New Hope girls had done, or attempt it anyway.

So having passed through the requirements of the neighborhood school at Skullyville I asked for permission from the Trustee of the Choctaw Schools to attend Spencer Academy near Ft. Towson. Spencer Academy was the highest institution of learning in the Choctaw Nation and was just beginning to be patronized by the Choctaw youth to a greater extent than had been heretofore but I was given a certificate to enter that school.

This was the cause of my having to make a trip over this Military Highway in the year 1884 from Ft. Smith to Paris, Texas before the Frisco Railway was built and about which I will attempt to tell you and the impressions it made upon my youthful mind. The means of communication were

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very limited in those days and our immediate family and friends knew nothing of the country through which we were to travel nor the conditions we were likely to meet; so after making a few inquiries, we, that is my mother and grandmother, hired a man of some experience to accompany me to this school.

We selected two of our best horses, had them steel shod, and rigged up our saddles; with various straps and rings and buckles so as to hold a quantity of luggage. Each carried a blanket roll, an extra coat, provisions for six days, a bag of shelled corn for the horses; a coffee pot, skillet and a light camp outfit was also carried, and a lariat or tie rope about forty feet long to allow our horses to graze whenever we camped.

After much parleying and planning we bid family and friends farewell and set forth on our journey on Sept. 1884. Our course lay a little to the southwest, after having entered what was then known as Skullyville prairie where Spiro now is. This prairie had herds of cattle grazing upon it and prairie chickens flew about as the house pigeons do now. Passing out of this prairie and crossing a series of parallel ridges we came into Buck Creek prairie at the old Campbell Leflore place about two miles west from where the Leflore County Highway now crosses the Fort Smith and Western Railway. Buck Creek prairie was raw prairie then and did not have any farms or houses on it. We crossed Buck Creek prairie and after crossing a few parallel rocky ridges still going in a southwesterly direction, we soon came to Brazil Creek. Crossing the creek at a ford, we soon came to Brazil Station. This was an important trading point then and for many years before, as this road to and a few miles beyond this place, was used as the overland stage line road running from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to Ft. Worth, Texas.

A few miles southwest of Brazil Station the roads forked and we changed our course to a more southrely direction following a creek now known, I think, as Mayberry Creek, into a divide between the main Cavanaugh Mountain on the left or east and a round mountain on the right through a rocky part of country for several miles until we came to a small prairie known as the "Wild Horse Prairie." We were now in a series of timbered hills with scant grass but plenty of

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water. There were some deer and occasionally a wild turkey but we saw no people through a stretch of country here for fifteen or twenty miles. To make it more disagreeable it rained on us that evening and after traveling until dusk and no house in sight, we struck camp somewhere in the neighborhood of where Victor Post Office now is on the Rock Island some miles west of Wister. The timber and grass were damp from the rain but as this was only our first night out we did not need to cook any food. A fire was built and some coffee was soon steaming in the pot. A few draughts of hot coffee soon putt us right and we, or at least I, was so tired I did not need a double set of springs and a feather bed to sleep on. My companion looked after the horses and I arranged the beds and was soon sound asleep.

I awoke early the next morning to find the sun shinning and everything looked fresh and bright. Our horses were safe. They were brought in and fed a little of the shelled corn and as they had been lariated out on the grass, we made ready and began our journey again, after a hearty breakfast of bacon and coffee.

We soon reached a small creek, which I have since learned is Caston Creek, it was much swollen from the rain of the day before; we crossed it after some trouble and went on through some hills until we came to a big creek almost a river now, I was always afterwards to know and remember as Fouche Maline. I have lived on this stream and fished in it since; during the time 1890 to 1904 that I lived at Leflore.

After two or three hours’ wait, we forded the Fouche Maline by swimming our horses a little just west of the mouth of Holson Creek. There were some Indians living at and near these creeks and some cattle and hogs roamed the woods. Our course was new almost due south through an upland pine scattered country until we came to the first crossing on Holson Creek. I mention first crossing because we were now nearing the Winding Stair Mountains and the roads were compelled to be built through the best part of it but still lots of the roads were very rocky, rough and dangerous, and this Military Road crossed the Holson Creek four times in ten miles. After the fourth crossing on the Holson, our route changed to southwest up what is called Little Holson for

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some five or six miles and then turned sharply south into the main Winding Stair Mountain. The main Winding Stair Mountain was so-called from the series of zig-zag bends and curves made by the road in ascending its side to reach its top. These angles seem to have been about forty-five, degrees and they appeared to me to have been about a dozen of them but I really think there were not more than five or six. My head got dizzy as this was the biggest mountain I had ever climbed in my life but we found an excellent spring right at the top of the mountain and I was soon restored to normal after a drought or two of that fine water. As I remember it was now about four o’clock in the afternoon so as we did not wish to camp on or near the mountain, we hurried on down towards the south. The road down was somewhat longer than the one coming up on the north side so we were quite a while getting down, in fact, it was almost sunset when we reached a prairie on the level ground and to our delight heard some cow bells and occasionally saw a horse and glory be, we heard a rooster crow! So we called at a house near the road and inquired about the route and a place to camp. He told us we might camp near by if we wished but that it was safe enough to camp out in the open prairie anywhere so we went perhaps a mile beyond and made camp in the open prairie. This man I afterwards knew as Henry Dukes, brother to the former governor of the Choctaw nation, Gilbert W. Dukes.

The grass on this prairie may not have been the finest grass that ever grew but it certainly appeared like it to me but I might have been tired on this, my second night out. The nearness of the mountains (the Kiamichi Mountains could be seen south of us now) nor the strangeness of the country nor its dangers did not disturbs my sleep that night and I would have slept all that day, I guess, but my guide called me about seven o’clock and as there was a surprise in his voice, I arose and ran to where he was standing in the road about 30 (thirty) yards from camp and as he pointed to the ground I was shocked and surprised to see the dust in the road covered with bear tracks of all sizes! I was confused, here I was leagues and leagues from home and might have been eaten up entirely by a bear or two but had not, and I could not understand until the guide told me they probably came

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scouting by and looked us over by whiffing the air that near us, and as they learned we had nothing they liked or cared for, went on their way. I pondered this a long time but let it rest as I saw many bear tracks all during that day and other days and knew I need not worry about bears or I would have no time for anything else. After a late breakfast we rode a little southwest through an open prairie country with an occasional clump of black-jack or post oak trees with fine grass everywhere. We saw some deer at a distance and many bear tracks but no bears as it was evident these tracks had been made as the ones at our camp during the night before when the bears came down from the mountain and crossed over to Kiamichi River which now lay south and east of us. This is the prairie country now east and south of what is now Talihina. We continued on into the Potato Hill Mountains and along the running streams coming through and out of them we met a few Indians and saw here for the first time some corn selling for $1.25 per bushel. We also saw a few farms and houses, in comfortable circumstances. Our road brought us at last to the Kiamichi River just below or west of where Tuskahoma now is located. We forded the river and proceeded on for some distance on level country until we reached the place where the road climbs up the Kiamichi Mountain. We found the ascent rough and rocky and washed out in many places. Our horses were tired and much jaded but we kept on until after night. We reached a spring that was the only camping ground on the mountain.

A forestfire had been burning there for days and the whole mountain was covered with smoke and burning and blazing pine logs and stumps which lighted up the entire mountain side. We spent what might be termed a wild night for the fire light faring up and smouldering together with the thunder and crash of burned trees falling to the ground made a weird scene and kept one bewildered. In addition to all this confusion the wolves howled about camp all night and occasionally the squall of a panther was added to the thrilling entertainment. But morning came as usual, calmly and serenely; and our horses were still tied securely to trees for which we were truly thankful. We made a hasty breakfast and resumed our journey with the hope that we might escape these wild scenes. Well, it seems that we were now

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in a hunter’s paradise but were not hunters and did not appreciate the abundance of wild game that lived in these mountains. Probably the forest fires had driven the animals to these mountains but I rather think this was their home, for some years after I had occasion to pass through here and game was still abundant but not so numerous as I had seen at this time. Our road now ran almost south for miles, upon a sort of plateau or high mountain top or succession of rocky ridge tops with occasional dips and rises in the land now covered with some groves of pine trees and some red oak and post oak groves.

As we proceeded along southward that morning, we saw hundreds of wild turkeys and many wolves of the large kind called black wolves then but now known as timber wolves and bunches of deer in groups of 3, 4, 5 and 6 but no large bunches like I have seen further south nearer the Red River. These deer were very gentle, almost as gentle as cattle, and it was a shame that we killed one or it seemed so to me afterwards although the meat was excellent. We found a big buck standing, looking calmly at us as we approached to where he stood not more than fifteen steps from the road and the guide could not resist shooting him with a forty-five calibre pistol he carried. The shot entered squarely in the buck’s forehead killing him instantly. After taking what meat we could easily carry with us we continued on. After some time my guide stopped his horse and pointed off to our left and a scene met my astonished gaze that I never expect to see again in life. For there at the head of a deep canyon not more than one hundred yards away was a bunch of wild horses. The grass was deep and they were busy eating their breakfast and had not noticed us, but in a very few minutes, the head stallion smelled us from where he was grazing at the far edge of the bunch nearer the head of the canyon. The stallion came charging in our direction, to the horses nearest us. He gave one quick look, and it was a magnificent gesture, as the long mane waved from his neck; then snorted, neighed and charged the main column of the horses off down the canyon and all disappeared while I stood and looked, speechless. I could hardly appreciate what I had seen. It was so sudden and I was in a dream apparently the rest of the day. As the afternoon waned we came to a series of

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ridges and small creeks, the nightfall found us in a most lonely spot again for another camp. We had tried to reach the old Spencer Academy grounds but failed by some miles. We heard lots of wolves howling again this night and were out of the hearing of the crowing of a rooster once again. We had everything needful for camp, water, wood, and plenty of grass so we rested fairly well. Our horses seemed to enjoy the change from the night before. We struck camp early. The country was some small flats of land and scattering pine and oaks. We were soon out of these and the country was more level and showed to be richer. We now found some cattle and horses and occasionally a house. We came to the location of what was then old Spencer Academy as the school had been removed to a new location and known as the new Spencer Academy and as we were near Ft. Towson we went on to that place and found a very good but new road following the prairie west to the New Spencer on the following day about noon. The old Ft. Towson did not appear to attract my attention very much but as I remember it looked more like a ruin. The main Fort had been built on a high point out of flat rocks and the western part towards the lower land fallen or caved in and bushes and some small trees had over grown the walls. All the outhouses had become dilapidated as I suppose no one was there to take an interest in them and they had been abandoned by the U. S. Government in 1854 and only occupied temporarily by the confederate army during the Civil War 1861-65. My father had been confined with small pox in the Hospital there during this war but I could find no trace of the Hospital. It must have been a temporary structure and easily moved away. Thus was my first experience over this very important Highway, so essential to the progress of the early pioneers both Indian and White in the early settlement of this country. But how different from the roads over which you may go in one day that which it took us almost a week to do! And only a short time back to no railroad, no telephone, and but one rough dirt road through a Wilderness.

JAMES CULBERSON
710 N. 8th. Ave.
Durant, Okla.

The above story concerning the old Military road as given by Mr.

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James Culberson, must not be confused with the one appearing in the September issue of Chronicles, prepared by Mrs. Carolyn Thomas Foreman. These are distinct roads, built by the United States Government at differend periods. Peter J. Hudson, Sr., who is doing research work for the Oklahoma Historical Society, and who has lived practically all his life in that portion of the country, says that these roads have a common beginning, but they traverse different sections.

J. Y. B.

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