Muriel H. Wright
The Arkansas and Red rivers were the principal highways for traffic and travel in the country now within the boundaries of Oklahoma until the building of the first railroads in the Southwest a few years after the period of the Civil War. Earliest commercial interests centered around the fur trade with the Indians in this region, as elsewhere in the Louisiana Purchase, being carried on by French traders and trappers, most of whom were either pioneers themselves or the descendants of pioneers in the same industry in Canada. There, the French had found canoe transportation in general use by the Indian people of the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes and had adopted it in opening up their trade in the region of the Great Lakes. Later they continue the use of canoes in exploring the Mississippi and its principal tributaries, including the Arkansas and Red rivers. In the region of the Great Lakes birch-bark canoes were everywhere common. These proved too light for use along the rivers of the South and Southwest, so they were discarded for the pirogue, or dugout canoe, which was paddled up the streams, carrying the light load of the trader or trapper. If the pirogue was made on the Arkansas or its tributaries or on Red River, in Oklahoma, it was usually hollowed out of the log of a cottonwood tree. This tree grew to large size along the streams, clear across the Plains, and its wood was easily worked with the crude tools of the Indians and the trappers. Thus the cottonwood held a place of importance in the beginning of Oklahoma's first trade relations.1
1Among a number of citations that could be given referring to the use of cottonwood trees in making dugout canoes is one which appears in Coues' "Expeditions of Zebulon M. Pike," Vol. II, pp. 546-7; another appears in "Nuttall's Journal," reprinted in Thwaites' "Early in Western Travels," p. 273. The late W. J. Weaver, a resident of Fort Smith from 1838 to 1906, writing in a series of articles entitled "Chalk Talk by Old Timer," which appeared at different times in the Fort Smith Elevator from 1898 to 1905 stated: "The Great Sand Bar opposite the town [Fort Smith] reached for miles, on the Cherokee side and at low water was over a half mile wide. But in those days it was very lively at times. The Indians from the west side came here every day to trade. They fastened their ponies in the woods and crossed the river in skiffs, every trader having his boat and Indian ferryman and interpreter. Fleets of canoes came down the river from the Creek country and towns on the Canadian River and lined the shores with their little camp-fires. Some of these 'dugouts' were thirty feet long, hollowed out from very large cottonwood trees."
Earliest commercial activities on the Arkansas were centered about sixty miles above the mouth of the river at Arkansas Post, said to have been the first white settlement in the Mississippi Valley. Natchitoches was the commercial base on Red River for many years, the "Great Raft" making a voyage upstream, even in a pirogue, a hazardous undertaking for early traders. The section of the country in the vicinity of the Verdigris and the Grand rivers gave the Arkansas the advantage, offering a site for a commercial center then unsurpassed anywhere in the Southwest. It was situated on the natural highway to ports of trade already established on the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers. Shrewd Pierre Chouteau, the French trader from St. Louis, had foreseen its possibilities when he persuaded the Osages to move their permanent villages from the Osage River, in Missouri, to the valleys of the Verdigris and the Grand, or Neosho rivers. It is said that a short time afterward, in about 1802, Chouteau established a trading post in Oklahoma.2 This post
2The rivalry between Manuel Lisa and Pierre Chouteau, beginning about 1799, was a well known affair in the West. References to it are to be found in Coues' "The Expedition of Zebulon M. Pike," Vol. III, pp. 529-30 and 557; and Missouri Historical Society Collections, Vol. III, pp. 243-4.
The conclusion with reference to the establishment of a trading post by the Chouteaus, within the present boundaries of Oklahoma, as early as 1802, has been called in question by some investigators since written records of proof as yet are lacking. However, it was the understanding of no less an authority that the late Dr. Emmet Starr, of the Cherokee Nation, that the Chouteaus conducted their trade through certain trusted French-Osage engagès who came to the region of the Grand and Verdigris rivers with the Osages. After Pierre Chouteau had induced the Osages to move to this vicinity, it seems improbable that he would not have had some of his company's representatives on the ground to hold such a lucrative point in its fur trading operations. Neither would the Osages themselves have been willing to move and remain in their new situation had they not had some sort of trading establishment near at hand, during a part of the year at least, even though the stock of goods might have been limited. Pike in a letter to General James Wilkinson, written from Camp Independence (Missouri) and dated August 28, 1806 (Coues' "Expedition of Zebulon M. Pike," Vol. II, p. 579) refers to one of the French-Osage engages of the Chouteaus, as follows: "Our Interpreter, Maugraine * * * has almost positively refused to accompany me, although I read your order on the subject, alleging he was only engaged to interpret at this place, notwithstanding he went last year to the Arkansaw for Mr. Chateau without difculty."
It is a matter of record that the last of the French-Osage engagès for the Chateau interests, in the region of the Grand River, was Joseph Revard who was killed by the Cherokees in 1821, during the hostitilities between them and the Osages. The original manuscript of the Journal of the Union Mission, entry for Sunday, June 24, 1821, gives the following statement with reference to the death of Revard: "Refreshed by the exercises of the morning, but interrupted this afternoon by the arrival of several of Joseph Revoir's family who have been alarmed by the Cherokees. They state that the Cherokees had taken their horses, and that they had not seen their Father since early in the morning. Mr. Revoir is a half-breed French an[d] Osage, a decent citizen, and lives 15 miles up the river. He had just formed a settlement in that place and was making good improvements." These improvements were in the vicinity of the Grand Saline, being subsequently described by both Washington Irving and Charles J. Latrobe in the stories of their journey to the Indian Territory in 1832, when they visited the Chouteau establishment near the Grand River. That the Chouteaus laid some claims to prior occupancy near the Grand Saline before Joseph Revard's time, if no more than a crude cabin of some former French-Osage engagè who was in their employ at an early day, is indicated by the fact that Campbell and Erhart undertook to work the salt spring on the west side of Grand River, near the site of the Union Mission rather than the Grand Saline. The latter was by far the better site not only for the manufacture of salt but also for trading purposes, and would most certainly have been appropriated by Campbell and Erhart had it not already been previously occupied by other parties. During his sojourn in Arkansas Territory, Thomas Nuttall, the English botanist and scientist, made an excursion up the Grand River in the summer of 1819. He visited a Mr. Slaver, who lived near the Campbell and Erhart salt works, on the west side of Grand River, subsequently describing the locality in his "Journal," as follows: "This evening I arrived at Mr. Slover's, two miles below the Saline. The farm which this hunter occupied was finely elevated and productive, and apparently well suited to the production of small grain. Up to this place, which is said to be 50 miles [i.e., by canoe] from the Arkansas, the cane is abundant. * * * Mr. S. informed me, that on the opposite side of the river, and two miles from hence, another strong salt spring breaks through the incumbent gravel; and that there are other productive springs 25 miles above." (Nuttall's Journal, reprinted in Thwaites' "Early Western Travels," Vol. XIII, pp. 242-44.) The salt spring spoken of as two miles across the river would have been near the present site of Murphy, in Mayes County; the second, twenty-five miles above was unquestionably the Grand Saline. Mr. Nuttall also gave a detailed description of the salt spring near which the Campbell and Erhart works were located.
was also said to have been located about sixty miles above the mouth of the Grand River, near the Grand Saline, a large salt spring, the site of which is now included within the limits of the town of Salina, in Mayes County. In reporting his voyage of exploration down the Arkansas in 1806, Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson pointed out the importance of
the Government lending its support toward the establishment of a "factory, with a garrison of troops," in the region of the Grand and Verdigris rivers, which became generally known as the Forks of the Arkansas, or the Three forks.3
Though the numerous tributaries of the Arkansas and the Canadian, in Oklahoma, were not navigable for larger craft, yet they served the purposes of the Indians and the trappers who descended them in pirogues loaded with packs of deer, bear, otter, beaver, and buffalo skins to a number of American trading posts that were established in the region of the Three Forks about the time of the founding of Fort Smith, in 1817.4 Within a little more than another decade, the Western Creeks who had planted their first settlements by that time in the "Indian Country," on the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, began coming down the streams in dugout canoes, or pirogues loaded with produce, such as dried peaches, beans, gopher peas (peanuts), snake root, sarsaparilla, and ginseng. The Creeks also grew corn and a good quality of upland rice in commercial quantities during favorable seasons, which they shipped for barter with the traders and in fulfilling army contracts to supply the garrisons at Fort Gibson and Fort Smith. Sometimes a clumsy flat bottomed bateau carrying heavier freight was poled along with a pirogue when several trappers travelled together in one party. Occasionally a fiatboat loaded with bacon, hides, coon skins, beeswax, and pecans was brought down to the Arkansas from Southwest Missouri, by way of the Elk, or Cowskin, and the Grand rivers.5
By the time the first mission stations and the first military posts were established in the "Indian country," the keel-boat was the most efficient and popular means of river transportation. Indeed, the stories of the flourishing trading posts at the Forks of the Arkansas, with their increasing demands for large shipments of merchandise; of the long, wearisome voyage of the missionaries bound up the Arkan-
4In his description of his journey up the Arkansas in. 1819, Thomas Nuttall wrote as follows: "This morning we met Captain Pryor and Mr. Richards, descending with cargoes of furs and peltries, collected among the Osages."—"Nuttall's Journal," Ibid. pp. 138-9.
sas for the site of Union Mission; of the first troops transported to Fort Smith and later to Fort Gibson; and of the removal of the Indians to the West—all these stories could not be told without mention of the keel-boat.
The keel-boat was a staunch little vessel from fifty to seventy feet long, with a width of fifteen to twenty feet, and a capacity of ten to twenty tons. It was brought upstream by several different methods, but most frequently by the use of the cordelle, a rawhide tow-line, fastened to the mast, near the center of the boat, and pulled by twenty to thirty men who walked along the bank. The boat was steered by the captain while his assistant, the "bosseman" stood at the bow, with a pole in his hands, shouting directions to the French voyageurs at the cordelle. When heavy timber, thick underbrush, or dense canebrakes interferred with the men walking on the bank, the cordelle was tied to a stump or tree, or perhaps a post, at the river's edge, and the boat was "warped" forward by men going on board and pulling hand overhand, nearly to end of the line. At other times, the keelboat was "poled" upstream. In this case, the boatmen were stationed on either side of the prow; each dropped a long setting pole to the bottom of the channel and pushed against it as he walked toward the stern of the boat, his companions following at regular intervals in the same manner. If winds were favorable, occasionally a sail was hoisted on the low mast. Sometimes oars were used, especially in crossing the river. A voyage upstream in a keel-boat was very slow and and tedious, for under the best of circumstances fifteen miles was a good journey for one day.6
Next of the river craft were the small steamboats that ascended the Arkansas into Oklahoma, after the establishment of Fort Gibson, in 1824. The first steamboat to ascend the Arkansas River to Fort Smith was the "Robert Thompson" which landed at that post about the middle of April, 1822, with a keel-boat in tow. By the first week in July, she passed downstream from her third trip, bound for Steubenville, Ohio.7 For several years, Fort Smith was considered the head of navigation on the Arkansas for supplies being
6Phil E. Chappell. "A History of the Missouri River," Kansas Historical Society Collections, Vol. IX, pp. 271-2.
shipped to the trading posts and to Fort Gibson in the region of the Three Forks. These supplies were unloaded and reshipped by keel-boats or wagons to their final destination. However, exactly five years after the Robert Thompson arrived at Fort Smith—almost to a day—the Forks of the Arkansas was definitely established as the head of navigation for steamboats on the Arkansas River. In the latter part of April, 1827, three steamboats arrived at Fort Gibson. The first two were the Velocipede, Captain Ray, and the Scioto, Captain Gilchrist, loaded with goods for the post from Louisville, Kentucky. The third was the Catawba, Captain Hovenden, listing among its passengers David Brearly, agent for the Creeks, and a delegation of Creek chiefs from Alabama, en route for Fort Gibson to explore and inspect the lands in the "Indian Country," to which it was proposed to move all the Creek people. The last of May, 1827, the Highland Laddie, Captain McCallum, came upstream to Fort Gibson from New Orleans with a full cargo of merchandise for "General" Nicks, sutler at the post.8
The next year, early in February, 1828, the Facility, Captain Phillip Pennywit reached the landing at Fort Gibson, towing two keel-boats that brought three hundred Creek women and children to their new country in the west. Upon the return voyage, this steamboat carried a load of hides, furs, peltries, five hundred barrels of pecans, and bales of cotton (the latter purchased just above Little Rock) to New Orleans. Before the end of the boating season, the last of the following June, the Facility had made five round trips to Fort Gibson. On her second voyage, General Winfield Scott, who was on a tour of inspection of the western military posts, was listed as one of the passengers. On this same trip, Governor Izard, of Arkansas, was another one of the passengers from Little Rock to Fort Gibson, where he was received with military honors along with General Scott.9 The commander of the Facility, Captain Pennywit, was said to have been the first person to build a steamboat at Cincinnati, Ohio. He was well known as a captain on the Arkansas for many years. He was thoroughly acquainted with river navigation, all the
way from paddling the dug-out canoe and propelling the slow flat-boat and keel-boat, to commanding the fast "A No. 1" side-wheeler steamboats. His last three boats on the Arkansas belonged to this latter class and had such fine accommodations that they ranked among the best in the "lower trade." Although steamboat navigation along the Arkansas continued for a number of years after the Civil War, yet Captain Pennywit's death in 1868 was almost coincident with the beginning of the wane of steamboat days on that river in Oklahoma.
About 1875, the citizens of Cowley County, Kansas, began adventuring with the river trade along the Arkansas, a number of flat-boats being sent downstream with produce from time to time. Three years later—June 30, 1878—the "Aunt Sally," a steam tug built for the deep, sluggish bayous of the lower river, landed safely at Arkansas City and was moored in the Walnut River. The business men of Arkansas City became so enthused with the successful voyage of the "Aunt Sally" that they resolved to build a steamboat and enter the river trade, with the idea of transporting supplies to the Government agencies in the Indian Territory. After several unsuccessful attempts to find a contractor, they at last secured the services of a party who began building a steamboat for the purposes its owners had in mind. As a result, on November 6, 1878, the "Cherokee," the first steamboat ever built in Kansas, was successfully launched at Arkansas City. The project received much favorable comment in the Kansas press. The remarks of one writer at that time might well have been taken as a report of interest in navigation of the Arkansas in more recent years:10
With the Arkansas River opened for navigation, and a good line of boats and barges making regular trips between points mentioned in this article [i. e., in Kansas and Indian Territory], business of all kinds will receive a fresh impetus in Southern Kansas. There will be no more railroad monopolies, no "poolings of earnings," and no forming of combinations to affect interest of the producers. The farmers of this locality will then have a highway of their own by which they can exchange their surplus wheat, flour, and corn for
101st Biennial Report of the State Board of Agriculture of Kansas, Vol. VI, pp. 158-61. For further reference to the voyage of the "Aunt Sally" up to Arkansas City, see brief of Opinion on Final Hearing, filed February 21, 1918, in the District Court of the U. S., for the Western District of Oklahoma, in the case, United States of America vs. Brower-Elliott Oil & Gas Company et al.
the coal and lumber of the Lower Arkansas. The advantages of this proposed line of commerce are apparent, and need not be repeated here. The attention of Congress has been called to them, and we patiently wait the official report of its Commissioner on the subject of navigation of the Upper Arkansas River."
During the 'forties and 'fifties, the heyday of steamboat navigation on the Arkansas within the boundaries of what is now Oklahoma, the names of all the boats in the river trade are too numerous to mention here. There were twenty-two landings between Fort Smith and Fort Gibson, over a distance of 135 miles by the meanders of the river. A list of these landings, giving the distances from Napoleon, Arkansas, by the meanders of the river, as compiled from the "Arkansas Gazette," are as follows:
Most of the boats which plied the river to these points were of comparatively small size, ranging from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty tons burden and were of light draught. A large number of steamboats on the Arkansas were wrecked on the branches of submerged trees; though some of these were raised and repaired, others were a total loss. Several were also wrecked by boiler explosions, accidents that were not uncommon during the early days of steamboat navigation.11 The steamboat, Tom Bowlin, Captain Smith, was lost in 1835, from striking a submerged rock at Webbers Falls (or Falls of the Arkansas), which was the
11The first issue of the Arkansas Gazette in December, 1840, carries the following news item: "On December 3d, 1840, both boilers of the steamboat Cherokee, Captain Charles Harris, burst while that craft was at landing at Lewisburg, fifty miles up the river from Little Rock. Eighteen were killed and twelve were more or less badly injured, one of the latter—the captain of the boat—dying several days later." (In 1804 Captain T. J. Griffy, a veteran steamboatman, on the Arkansas, prepared a list of steamers which had been sunk or destroyed in the river during a period of sixty years. Of a total of 152 boats lost [not including those that were worn out or dismantled] twenty-three were burned during the Civil wear to keep them from falling into the hands of the Federal Army. Upward of about ten were lost by explosion, the rest being sunk by striking snags or other obstacles in the channel of the river.)
most difficult point in ascending the river above the Oklahoma boundary.12 Low water in the river meant tedious delays from a week to ten days, at times. During high water all went well and rapid progress was made upstream, but when the Arkansas was low the small steamboats of weak power could not overcome the current at Webbers Falls. Sometimes the smaller vessels were towed over the riffle by a long rope and a yoke of oxen owned by a man by the name of Thornton, who lived in the neighborhood and charged five dollars for his services.13 Captain Houston of the "Trident" could run his powerful sternwheeler to Fort Gibson on less water than any other boat. If he struck a sand-bar in the channel, he would back his boat and make repeated attempts to "jump her over." In the meantime, the women in the cabin screamed with fright and the stewards held the swinging lamps to keep them from smashing against the walls.
One of the prominent Cherokee citizens who lived at Webbers Falls in early days was "Rich" Joe Vann, owner of a large cotton plantation there and three hundred negro slaves. Because of his passion for horse racing, he became the owner of the celebrated "Lucy Walker," for a time the fastest quarter-mile horse in the world. It was said that she never lost a race and that Joe Vann sold her colts for five thousand dollars each. He built a splendid side-wheeler steamboat for the river trade between Louisville, Kentucky, and New Orleans, manned her with his own negro slaves, and named her the "Lucy Walker," after his famous race horse. On her first round trip, under the command of Captain Halderman, of Louisville, she ascended the Arkansas to Webbers Falls, carrying away Joe Vann's cotton crop and, also, that of Lewis Ross. Vann was a delighted passenger
12"The steamboat Tom Bowlin, which recently had a hole stove in her bottom by running on a rock at Webber Shoals, and was brought to this place for repair, sank at our landing last night and is now lying, completely under water to her hurricane deck. We presume, however, that she will be raised on the falling of the river."—Arkansas Gazette, June 30, 1835.
13Ruth A. Thornton, daughter of Mr. Thornton, was the mother of the late Dr. Emmet Starr, of the Cherokee Nation.
on his fast steamboat from the start, keeping up a continual round of drinking in celebration. Upon the arrival of the "Lucy Walker" at Louisville, Captain Halderman resigned, Vann taking command himself. Just then a fast steamer was leaving the wharf and he vowed he would beat her to New Orleans. Taking his stand on the boiler deck of the Lucy Walker, he swore and shouted at his negroes who even went so far as to fire the engines with large slabs of bacon to make the chimneys red hot, according to orders. The steamer hurried through the Falls canal, touched the landing at New Albany, Indiana, long enough to take on a few passengers, but as she backed out and rounded into the Ohio, she blew up with one of the most frightful explosions ever known along the Mississippi or any of its tributaries. Many of the passengers were lost, all the negroes were either killed are horribly wounded, and Joe Vann's remains were never found.14
The arrival of a steamboat was the occasion of much excitement for the people living in the settlements along the river, a crowd of spectators always gathering at the landing when the boat's whistle was heard coming up the stream. Many of the steamers had a swivel gun at the bow, which was fired upon the approach to a landing. Then the negro roustabouts on deck would swing their hats and sing lustily in praise of their boat, an improvisator standing at the capstan leading the song as the sweet music of the grand chorus rose and fell at regular intervals:15
"Come, shake de ash, my bully boys,
De captain on de boiler deck,
De ladies in de cabin
14This story is well known among the older Cherokees. It was also mentioned by W. J. Weaver in his reminiscences, op. cit.
As the boat made her moorings and the gang-plank was dropped to the landing, a crowd of people would rush on board to the bar to drink ice water or fresh lemon punch. The landing would soon be piled with freight for the traders and stores for the government, if the steamboat had stopped at Fort Smith or Fort Gibson. Usually, a line of Indians stood at the edge of the wharf, solemnly viewing the scene of bustle and excitement. Sometimes, the engineer amused himself by blowing off the mud valve with its loud roar and clouds of steam, to see everyone that stood near run pell mell from the boat. Perhaps, another steamer would land, adding to the busy scene. Huge bundles containing thousands of buffalo and beef hides, deer skins, and furs, hundreds of bales of cotton, and barrels and hogs-heads of pecans would be rolled on board. Traders who had been eagerly waiting for "a good boat" would hurry up the gangplank, followed by slaves or hired men "toting" powder kegs and axe boxes filled with Mexican silver dollars, the principal currency at the trading posts in the West. Finally, when everything was in readiness, the steamboat backed out and rounded into the river, as the roustabouts heartily joined in singing the chorus to "Fare yo' well Miss Lucy;" but, as the boat passed out of sight down the bend of the Arkansas, the last notes one could hear were the sweet echoes of
While steamboat navigation of the Red River above the Oklahoma boundary did not begin as early as navigation on the Arkansas, yet its story is equally as interesting and important. To really understand the Red River, however, one must become acquainted with certain terms well known in the language of the river-men on that stream.
Since the flood plain of the Red River was formed by alluvial soils, no rocky country holding the stream into narrow confines for any distance, except in places along its upper courses, the swift current during seasons of high water frequently caused the river to change its course and make great bends and sharp turns in its main channel. Thus, whenever a flood poured downstream, the soft, alluvial soil of the low banks yielded to the force of its rushing waters, forming new and shorter channels, called "cut-offs."
During the floods, large tracts of country and dense
forests which were formerly seen on the banks of Red River as far up as the edge of the Great Plains, were swept away. As huge trees were uprooted and carried downstream, many of them became lodged wherever a point of land projected into the river. Countless thousands of other trees, tossed about by the flood, piled up at some of these places. Oftentimes the great masses of fallen timber extended for miles up tre river and completely choked its channel, forming the most desolate scene imaginable, with the gnarled, naked branches and bleaching roots of the trees, lying jagged against the skyline. These huge drifts were called "rafts."
Sometimes a tree became fastened by a portion of its roots to the bottom of the river, its trunk and branches free to wave up and down in regular motion with the action of the current. Such trees were called "sawyers." Usually a boat going downstream could pass over a "sawyer," but traveling upstream it was different. As the craft pursued its way along the apparently unobstructed channel of the river, a "sawyer"—dethroned monarch of the forest—with its long, strong branches temporarily hidden beneath the surface of the water, became an enemy of sure destruction, as it suddenly appeared ahead and slowly rose high into the air, though it continued to bow and scrape a polite warning.
Again, other trees were almost buried in the bed of the river. Then the long trunks with their branches broken off in sharp points, standing firm as rocks, and nearly always hidden below the surface of the water, were called "snags." These were the most formidable enemies of river craft, not only on Red River but also on the Arkansas, as well as the Lower Mississippi and others of its tributaries.
During the period when the rivers were the highways of travel in the Southwest, "cut-offs," "rafts," "sawyers," and "snags" presented real problems in extending the field of commercial activity. These enemies of the rivermen even won a place in the literature of early days. John C. Brainard, an early American poet, in one instance wrote:
" I have been
Another writer pointed out that these terms were significant
of the qualities that western boatmen and hunters wished to apply to themselves and their heroes. He illustrated his statements with the following graphic remark: "We presume that the beau-ideal of a political character with them, would be, one who would come at the truth by a 'cut-off'—separate and pile up falsehood for decay like trees of a 'raft:' and do all this with the politeness of a 'sawyer'—and with principles unyielding as a 'snag.' "16
Steamboat navigation on Red River above the present eastern boundary of Oklahoma was delayed for more than a decade after its beginning on the Arkansas because of the "Great Red River Raft" that obstructed its channel in Northern Louisiana. The "Great Raft" extended for more than one hundred and sixty-five miles; its head was located about two hundred miles overland below Fort Towson, or six hundred miles below the mouth of the Kiamichi, by the meanders of the river. The "Raft" not only delayed the opening of trade on the Upper Red River, but also interfered with the settlement of some of the richest lands in Southern Arkansas, which were unfit for cultivation on account of the overflow from the river, caused by the "Raft," during high water.
Commercial transportation up Red River into Southern Oklahoma began with the shipping of supplies to old Fort Towson, at the mouth of the Kiamichi River. The first supplies of corn purchased by the Government for the immigrant Choctaws, under the terms of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (negotiated and signed September 27, 1830), were shipped by flat-boat in the early spring of 1831, to the Government station located near the site of old Fort Towson.17 Two months later, (May, 1831), Colonel Benjamin R
17During the summer of 1831, Lieut. James R. Stephenson, U. S. A., in. charge of the ration station in the vicinity of old Fort Towson, entered a contract for the erection of ten log corn cribs, on the bank of Red River at the mouth of Kiamichi. Each of these cribs held one thousand bushels of corn to be used in distributing rations to the immigrant Choctaws, under the terms of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The locks and iron, which was made into hinges, hasps, and staples, were supplied by J. K. Berthelet, a French Canadian, who was a licensed trader in the Choctaw country. He afterward entered into partnership with Robert M. Jones in the trading business and maintained one of the largest mercantile establishments at Doaksville until late in the fifties.—Letters of Lieut. James R. Stephenson, addressed to George Gibson, Commissary General Subsistence, Senate Document 512, Indian Removals, Vol. 1, pp. 852-3 and 856-7. Also, see references to Berthelet, appearing in "John Hobart Heald, Pioneer Trader," by Muriel H. Wright, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 311-18.
Milam, of Long Prairie, Lafayette County, Arkansas, left Natchitoches, Louisiana, with the steamboat "Enterprise" (formerly called the "Alps"), Captain Hawley, with two keel-boats in tow, bound on, an upstream voyage to the mouth of the Kiamichi. The Enterprise and one of the keel-boats carried full cargoes of supplies for Camp Phoenix (afterward renamed Fort Towson). As this voyage up Red River meant the passage through winding bayous and narrow cutoffs around the "Great Raft," it was considered by everyone a very adventurous undertaking, especially as there was a low stage of water at that time. However, it was carried through successfully, the cargoes being unloaded at the mouth of the Kiamichi; after which a safe return was made downstream.18
18"I have the satisfaction of informing you that on the 16th inst. The citizens of Long Prairie, in Lafayette county, had the great satisfaction to witness the landing of the steamboat 'Enterprise' (formerly the Alps') at the first settlement on Red river, above the Great Raft. It is difficult to imagine the powerful effect this circumstance had on the feelings of the citizens. Men, women and children were elated almost to intoxication. For this novel and cheering sight we are Indebted to the daring enterprise of Col. Benjamin R. Milam, who recently became the owner of this expedition and set out from Natchitoches about the 23d of May with the avowed intention of bringing her through or sinking her in the attempt. The former he accomplished, though not without considerable labor, in opening the numerous narrow bayous through which she had to pass, much of which labor was occasioned by the extremely low stage of water, which was scarcely ever known to be so low at the same season of the year. Her passage was very much prolonged in consequence of having to cut and use keel boats in tow, and all the way from Natchitoches having to cut and use green wood. * * * Her loading, and that of one of her keels, principally consists of provisions for the U. S. Garrison at Camp Phoenix, to which place she set out from Long Prairie on the 18th inst., and so far as I have heard of her passage up, she has been saluted, toasted, and cheered at every settlement she has passed.
"Her passengers are Colonel Milam, Lt. Haywood of the U. S. Army, Capt. Hawley (of the boat), Capt. R. H. Finn, Messrs. T. J. Wright, Steel, Savage, Simon Block and her crew; all of whom join in saying that their passage was much more agreeable than could have been performed in half the time from a favorable stage of water."—Letter of James S. Conway, Dated June 24, 1831, from Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, appearing in the columns of the Arkansas Gazette for July 8, 1831.
"Voucher No. 5.—Immediately on the arrival of Netuchache's party of emigrants, they determined on settling the country between the mouths of Kiamichi and Boggy; it therefore became necessary to immediately have corn and salt transported to that section of the country. I accordingly entered into an agreement with the captain of the steamboat Enterprise to tow a keel-boat of corn and some salt to Horse Prairie, which is a central point, or as near to that point as the water would permit. The steamboat was employed four days. The boat might have been pushed up by hand at a cheaper rate, but several days would have been required to have hired a crew for that purpose, and the rapid fall of the water in the river would admit of no delay."—Letter of Lieut. James R. Stephenson, U. S. A., to George Gibson, Commissary General of Subsistence, dated April 9, 1832, from Cantonment Towson, west of Arkansas Territory, Senate Document 512, Indian Removals, Vol. I, pp. 861-3.
The voyage of the Enterprise suggests the voyage up Red River of another adventurous steamboat called the "Emperor," Captain Raft, the story of which is told by T. B. Thorpe in a small volume of sketches about the Southwestern Frontier, entitled "The Hive of the Bee Hunter," published in 1854. Even though the volume may not be generally known as a source for accurate historical data, yet from its faithful descriptions of scenes on the Southwestern Frontier, one is led to believe that its author was familiar with life in that region. At any rate the story of the voyage of the "Emperor," contained in the book, is doubly interesting since it introduces the quaint, frontier character of Zeb Marston, who not only was said to have located at an early date on Red River but also was the first settler at Eagletown, now in the eastern part of McCurtain County, Oklahoma. Eagletown was originally in old Miller County, Arkansas Territory, which included all of Southeastern Oklahoma, east of the Kiamichi, up to 1828. Mr. Thorpe's references to the voyage of the "Emperor" and to Zeb Marston are as follows:19
"Captain Raft, of the U. S. Mail steamer Emperor, it may not be uninteresting to know, was one of those eccentric men that had singular ambition to run a boat where no one else could-he was fond of being a great discoverer on a small scale. In one of his eccentric humors, Captain Raft run the Emperor up Red River, as the pilot observed, about 'a feet,' which in the Southwest, means several hundred miles.
"Among the passengers upon that occasion was old Zeb Marston, a regular out-and-outer frontiersman, who seemed to spend his whole life in settling out of the way places, and locating his family in sickly situations. Zeb was the first man that 'blazed' a tree in Eagle Town, on the Mountain Fork, and he was the first man that ever choked an alligator to death with his hands, on the Big Cossitot. He knew every snag, sawyer, nook and corner of the Sabine, the
Upper Red River, and their tributaries, and when 'bar war scace,' he was wont to declare war on the Cumanchos, and, for excitement, 'used them up terribly.'
"But to our story—Zeb moved on Red River, settled in a low, swampy, terrible place, and he took it as a great honor that the Emperor passed his cabin; and, at every trip the boat made, there was tumbled out at Zeb's yard a barrel of new whisky, (as regularly as she passed), for which was paid the full value in cord wood.
"Now, Captain Raft was a kind man, and felt disposed to oblige every resident that lived on his route of travel, but it was unprofitable to get every week to Zeb's out-of-the-way place, and as he landed the fifteenth barrel, he expressed his surprise at the amount of whisky consumed at his "settlement," and hinted it was rather an unprofitable business for the boat. Zeb, at this piece of information, 'flared up.' raised his mane, shut his 'maulers,' and told Captain Raft he could whip him,—the pilot, and deck hands, and if they would give him the advantage of the 'under grip,' he would let the piston-rod of the engine punch him in the side all the time the fight was going on.
"Raft, at this display of fury from Zeb, cooled down immediately, acknowledged himself 'snagged,' begged Zeb's pardon, and adjourned to the bar for a drink. One glass followed another, until the heroes got into the mellow mood, and Zeb on such occasions, always 'went it strong' for his family. After praising their beauty individually and collectively, he broke into the pathetic, and set the Captain crying, by the following heart-rending appeal:
"'Raft, Raft, my dear fellow, you talk about the trouble of putting out a barrel of whisky every week at my diggins, when I have got a sick wife, and five small children, and no cow!—whar's your heart?' "
While the voyage of the "Enterprise" was the beginning of steamboat navigation on Red River, it was not until after the removal of the "Great Raft" that shipping by steamboat became common above that point. This work was begun as early as 1830 under the direction of the War Department but was discontinued a year or two later because of lack of funds, about fifty miles of the "Raft" having been cleared away in the meantime.20 The work was resumed in 1833 and continued five years under the supervision of Cap-
20"Red river, Louisiana.—The operation. of opening a channel round the great raft of Red River has been commenced since my last annual report on the section of the river at the upper part of the raft, between the outlet of Red bayou and Clear lake, a distance of about nineteen miles, twelve of which have been cleared and rendered navigable for boats."—Report of C. Gratiot, Brigadier General—Chief Engineer, dated November 8, 1830, in American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol. IV, p. 595.
"Red river, Louisiana.—On this river, also, the work in progress for improving its navigation, about the Great Raft, has been suspended in consequence of the balance of appropriation having passed to the surplus fund. Previously to the suspension of operations, the Improvement of about fifty miles in extent had been effect and it's believed that great benefit will result from a continuance of the work for which an estimate has therefore been made."—Report of C. Gratiot, Brigadier General & Chief Engineer, dated November 4, 1831, Ibid., p. 731.
tain Henry N. Shreve, who was employed by the Government as superintendent for the improvement of the Missouri, Arkansas and Red rivers. A writer of that period, who was well acquainted with conditions in the Southwest, made the following statement with regard to Captain Shreve's work:21
"The mechanical ingenuity of Captain Shreeve has wonderfully improved the navigation of the western rivers by removing the sunken trees, which, under the name of 'snags' and 'sawyers' are noted and formidable obstacles to steamboat navigation. The boat used for removing the snags was a steamer of the simplest construction, but of such power that the largest tree, however firmly imbedded, was extracted in a few minutes. The expenditure for the removal of the Great Red River Raft, with the cost of constructing a steam snag-boat, to prevent the formation of fresh obstructions, has been above 300,000 dollars."
The work of clearing the channel of Red River for regular steamboat passage gave impetus to the opening up of lands in the southern part of Arkansas Territory and the the Choctaw Nation and in North Texas. In 1833, there was no settlement on Red River from forty miles below the raft up to Fort Towson, with the exception of a small one near the Caddo Agency (near Lake Soda, Louisiana), and a few settlers in Arkansas and Texas above the "Raft." In his report to the War Department in 1839, Captain Shreve stated, "There are now many flourishing cotton plantations on that part of the river where the raft was located, and where the lands were then nearly all inundated by back-water caused by the masses of timber which formed the raft."
At the same time, many plantations were opened up along Red River in the Choctaw Nation, which is now included in Southeastern Oklahoma; several cotton-gins were established in that section of the country by some of the wealthier Choctaws and Chickasaws, and the river trade began to flourish. Cotton was the largest export, though corn was also sold in considerable quantities in good crop seasons. There was also a brisk trade in furs and pecans, but this was on the decline after the Red River lands were opened for agriculture. Doaksville became the principal commercial center in this region, most of the merchandise being ship-
21William Kennedy, Esq., "Texas: The Rise, Progress, and Prospects of the Republic of Texas," Vol. I, pp. 26-8.
ped to the landing near the mouth of the Kiamichi River, called, the Fort Towson Landing.
Among some of the Choctaws and Chickasaws who were owners of many slaves and large plantations in the Red River country were Captain Robert M. Jones, David Folsom, Pittman Colbert, George Colbert, Sampson Folsom, Jackson Kemp, James Tyson, and the Loves—Henry, Sloan, and Benjamin. Captain Jones became one of the wealthiest men in the whole Southwest. He was part owner in a profitable trading establishment at Doaksville, operated five large plantations with upward of five hundred negro slaves, and owned a number of steamboats. Among these was one called the "R. M Jones," and another, the "Frances Jones," the latter named for his only daughter. Captain Jones' largest plantation, containing between 4,000 and 5,000 acres, was called "Lake West." Although it was divided up into a number of smaller farms at the time of allotment of lands in severalty in the Choctaw Nation, just before Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the country, originally included in the "Lake West" plantation, is still one of the interesting localities in the southeastern part of Bryan County, near the town of Oberlin. Another one of Captain Jones' plantations was at the mouth of Clear Boggy, and a third was at Shawneetown, in present McCurtain County.22
22It is an interesting fact that some of the negro spirituals which are today becoming widely known through musical programs over the radio, were composed by an old negro slave who belonged to Mr. Britt Willis, a prominent citizen of the Choctaw Nation and well-to-do slaveholder living in the vicinity of Doaksville. The old slave and his wife, named Uncle Wallace and Aunt Minerva, respectively, were well known in the neighborhood for their singing of a number of plantation songs of Uncle Wallace's own composition. Among these songs were "Steal Away to Jesus," "The Angels are Coming," and "I'm a Rolling." It was one time while resting from his work in the cotton rows of his master's plantation that old Uncle Wallace also composed the following lines as he gazed far into the horizon across the Red River:
"Swing low, sweet chariot,
While one enthusiast, on the subject of trade on the Upper Red River, maintained that at a moderate cost steamboat shipping was entirely possible as far up as the "Cross Timbers," one hundred miles above the Washita River, yet the mouth of that stream remained the fartherest up of any shipping point on the north side of Red River, and that generally during high water.23 It is interesting to note that Captain J. B. Earhart, who had a contract from the Government for delivering corn to the garrison at Fort Washita in 1843, made two trips with his steamboat up the Washita River to within less than a mile of the fort during the summer of the same year24
By the end of the next decade (1853) regular trade by steamboats plying Red River during the boating season, which began in December and lasted until the following July, was carried on at more than thirty-two landings above Shreveport, at that time a thriving town which had been named in honor of Captain Henry M. Shreve. These thirty-two landings, not including private landings at many plantations, extended 495 miles above Shreveport, by the meanders of the river. The most important landing in the Choctaw Nation was the Fort Towson landing, about six miles from Doaksville.
Advertisements and news in general concerning the Red River trade appeared in columns of the "Choctaw Intelligenc-
23"Upper Red River—The Red River is perfectly navigable to Fort Washita, nearly 1,000 miles above Shreveport, and produce may be shipped at any point upon it. The present head of navigation is Pinehill, opposite to Fort Towson and Clarksville, because the quantity of produce exported from the more westerly parts does not at present support navigation higher up than Pinehill. The charges for freight from Pinehill are extravagantly high when compared with season built rafts on which they have floated their produce, whilst others prefer to haul it to Shreveport at a cost of $1½ per 100 lbs., repaying themselves by back carriage. At the present time all produce conveyed down Upper Red River must be reshipped at Shreveport, which alone greatly increases the charge for freight; but so soon as the Red River is improved around the raft, vessels will pass up Red River direct from New Orleans, and the rates will be properly adjusted to the distance."—Edward Smith in "Account of a Journey Through Northeastern Texas, Undertaken in 1849, for the Purposes of Immigration," published in London in 1849, p. 16.
24Letter of A. M. M. Upshaw, U. S. Agent for the Chickasaws, in the Report of the Commissioners of Indian Affairs for 1849, pp. 1128-32.
er," a weekly newspaper printed regularly for a number of years at Doaksville. This was the one newspaper in the Choctaw Nation in early days and was the second oldest printed within the boundaries of Oklahoma. Unfortunately copies of this newspaper are exceedingly rare. The issue for Wednesday, October 15, 1851, which it has been the good fortune of the writer to see, carried an item with reference to the condition of Red River, reporting that the stream was lower than it had ever been known to be and that the "Choctaw," built for the "upper trade" was the only steamer which could ascend even as far as Alexandria, Louisiana.
For the real story of commerce along Red River, from 1842 to the late "seventies, one has to consult the advertisements and notes on the river news appearing in the "Northern Standard" (later called "The Standard"), a weekly newspaper published at Clarksville in Red River County, Texas. Clarksville for fourteen miles from Rowland Landing on Red River, about on a line extending south of the present town of Valliant, in McCurtain County, and 451 miles from Shreveport, by the meanders of the river. There were more than a dozen landings above the Oklahoma line in 1854, among them being Pecan Point, Rowland, Albion, James Bluff, Jonesborough, Fort Towson, Kiamichi, Wright's, Mouth of Boggy, Pinehill's, Slate Banks, and Preston opposite the mouth of the Washita. These included landings on both sides of the river.
Looking back through the files of the "Northern Standard," one may glean vivid mental pictures of more than one hundred small steamboats built for the busy "Upper Trade" on "Old Red," as the river-men familiarly called the stream. Indeed, the story of those sturdy little vessels is that of Lilliputians in the world of commerce, yet they were none the less willing and efficient along a highway that played no small part in beginning the development of the Southwest, including Oklahoma. However, a few extracts and advertisements from the columns of the "Northern Standard" can tell the story of early steamboat navigation on Red River better than any other description. The following are taken from the vantage point of Rowland Landing:25
25The files of the "Northern Standard"' and "The Standard," are in the Library of the University of Texas. Extracts from the "Northern Standard," with reference to the navigation of Red River, appear in Record of the Supreme Court of the U. S., October Term, 1920. No. 23, Original, The State of Oklahoma vs. The State of Texas, Defendant, the United States of America Intervener, Vol. II, pp. 1169-1213.
August 20, 1842:
The steamboats Hunter, Mechanic and Odessa, were all aground on Little Prairie Bar, a few days since.
The Glide had gone down for their goods, and contemplates, we are informed, towing keel boats from Fulton to Fort Towson, a business she will be able to accomplish at almost any stage of water, as she draws only ten inches of water.
January 13, 1844:
Regular Packet from Shreveport to Fort Towson and all Intermediarly Landings in Lakes (of Louisiana) and Red River.—The fast, new light draught Steamboat Frontier, Cheatham Master, will ply regularly between the two above named places. The steamer Frontier is an entirely new boat throughout, strong and of best materials, built by G. K. Cheatham, at Louisville, Ky., the dimensions to suit navigation of upper Red River and Bayous from Lakes to the River; and will ply regularly between Shreveport and the head of navigation, meeting the Southwestern at Shreveport. Both boats owned by G. K. Cheatham. No boat has yet entered the trade, so thoroughly adapted to it. For freight or passage, for which the boat has superior accomodations, apply on board.
January 30, 1845:
Regular Packet Between New Orleans Fort Towson—"Lone Star."—The light draft and splendid Passenger Steamer "Lone Star" will run as a Regular Packet between New Orleans and Fort Towson. * * * The Lone Star will leave Cincinnati (Ohio) about the 1st of March for Upper Red River, affording an opportunity of shipping Produce, and merchandise from the West.
December 18, 1847:
Cash Paid for Hides and Peltries.—The subscriber will pay six cents a pound, for sound dry hides, and nine cents for good peltries; and one dollar each for heavy coated bear skins, delivered at any shipping point between Fort Towson and the Raft; * * * until the 1st of May next. I shall run the Steamer Belle of Illinois from the Raft to Fort Towson and the Captain of the Boat will pay for the above whenever they shall be delivered to the boat.
July 8, 1848:
Red River.—The River is now nearly bank full. The Duck River came up on Saturday last. The Franklin arrived at our Landing on Friday, and passed up to Towson. Other boats are expected daily.
March 17, 1849:
We should have noted in our last, that the River after running at a low stage of water for a few days, had again several feet, and on Friday of last week, the Envoy, the Texian, and the Dime were all at our landing. Old Red has served us well this winter. We have had almost uninterrupted navigation, and freights are at reasonable rates.
August 11, 1849:
Red River.—This sweet stream is only 16 miles wide at Fulton. In consequence of the generous profuseness of its waters, we got
no mail yesterday from "the States"—have a prospect next week, a small schooner having been sent over toward the region where Fulton "used to was" to bring over the documents to the benighted in this region.
June 8, 1850:
Red River.—"Old Red" is at its lowest stage. We should think the "June fresh" was due about now, at least it would come in very good time. The Mustang arrived at our landing on Tuesday morning and passed up.
December 4, 1852:
The river has been in boating order for three months, but the first boat of the season, The Frances Jones passed up on Monday last, and the second, the R. M. Jones, on Tuesday. The Texas is hourly expected.
December 25, 1852:
Ho! for Red River.—The new, splendid, light-draught Steamer "Jim Turner" S. B. Allen, Master, will commence as a regular packet from New Orleans to all points on Red River above the Raft, on or about the 1st of January next and continue throughout the season. The "Jim" has been built expressly for the Upper River, is entirely new, well furnished in every respect, with all the improvements of build and machinery to comply with the late act of Congress for "The better security of lives of passengers &c, &c. Shippers and planters may rely on the Boat's remaining in this trade as it belongs to it and nowhere else. Our motto is live and let live." The patronage of the Red River district as well as the public generally, is most respectfully solicitated.
February 29, 1853:
The River.—The river is high. During the present week, The Frances Jones, the Jim Turner, and The Preston have been up, and the Texas Ranger, and R. M. Jones are looked for hourly; may have arrived before we go to press.
April 16, 1853:
The Weather, Red River, &c.—Since our last publication we have had considerable rain, which put a stop in a great measure to outdoor work. We understand from "above" that a considerable rise in Red River may be looked for—sufficient to enable boats to bring up freight, and take the cotton from the various landings to New Orleans. If we had a railroad through this country, we would be Independent of "Old Red" and its "sharks." In the meantime the planters are compelled to "pay the piper" to the tune of $3.50 to $5.50 freight per bale of cotton to New Orleans.
April 22, 1854:
Red River.—We should have mentioned in our last that the Steamboats Shreveport and Echo had been at the landing during the week. The Shreveport brought goods for this place—the Echo had Government freight for Ft. Tow son. Both went down some days since loaded with cotton.
June 3, 1854:
The river has been in good boating order for a week past. On Friday the Luda arrived at our Landing—on Saturday the Echo, and on Monday the Ranger. The Echo and the Luda had some freight for Wright's and went up to R. M. Jones' Boggy Plantation for his cotton, and passed down on Thursday.
Then come the last of the records that practically mark the close of steamboat days on Red River, for on December 29, 1872, at the beginning of the boating season, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas completed its line to Denison, Texas, where it connected with the Houston & Texas Central, making the first through railroad from St. Louis across the Indian Territory on to Galveston:
March 9, 1872:
On Tuesday night the Hamilton came up to Rowland laden for that place, Kiamitia, and Arthurs Landing. Cannot go far until the water rises. The Cherokee is on a sand bar somewhere above. We doubt not the boatman in the river looked anxiously for a river raiser, but the wind blew aside the clouds, and starlight was in the ascendant soon after the departure of the day.
March 22, 1873:
The River.—The river holds its position about one foot above low water mark. The Royal George, in a fit of disgust, was about to leave on Thursday flying light, but upon a promise of increased freight rates, was induced to wait a raise and float down heavily laden. Of course we cannot have a river or get our cotton down, until we have heavy rains.
April 26, 1873:
The River.—The river is a puzzle. A few days ago we announced a heavy rise. Now it is down, nearly fordable at Albion. When the George started down last Thursday, she ran into a sand bar opposite Wauhop's farm, and there she remained. There were too many channels across the bar, and none deep enough to let the boat through. * * * The late rise being nearly all out of Kiamitia and Boggy soon expended itself. Joe Bryarly was in town Thursday, looking like a man of many sorrows.
It happens that Joe Bryarly has no great place in history, but he was representative of the river-men, since others in his family and possibly he, too, had been in the "Upper Trade" for many years.26 Evidently, from the above report, there were troubles on his mind other than that concerning low water in the "sweet stream:"
"Joe Bryarly was in town Thusday, looking like a man of many sorrows."
26Bryarly Lake," which partially incloses "Bryarly Cut-off," on Red River, lies south of Colbert Lake, in what is now McCurtain County, Oklahoma. The lands included in "Bryarly Cut-off" and, also, the lands on the opposite side of the river in Texas, were surveyed for Roland T. Bryarly in 1860. All of the foregoing, in addition to the position of "Bryarly Ferry," are shown on Map No. 16, found in the Fourth Report of the Boundary Commissioners before the U. S. Supreme Court, No. 6, Original, the State of Oklahoma, Complainant, vs. The State of Texas, Defendant, the United States, Intervener.
No doubt he had heard the echoing whistle of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad on a recent voyage with the Royal George up "Old Red."
—Muriel H. Wright.