Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 4
December, 1933
BOOK REVIEW

Page 1111

Oklahoma Place Names, by Charles N. Gould. 146 pp., ill. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

A unique little volume by Oklahoma's pioneer geologist, Charles N. Gould, has just been added to the growing list of artistic productions off the University Press at Norman. The title "Oklahoma Place Names" suggests at once interest and entertainment. Furthermore, the book is of inestimable value to the student in search for traditions, folk lore, and historical facts in the development of the State.

Doctor Gould has not chosen to present his subject as a science but has made a general survey of his theme to awaken interest. His work as a geologist is well known. In the long journeys necessary across the country in his geological surveys, beginning thirty-three years ago, he not only studied the topography of the country and absorbed the beauties of the landscape, but also became acquainted with the people lie chanced to meet. It was in this way that he grew interested in the origin of names of creeks, of towns and other places, an interest that finally became a hobby.

One should by all means read the introduction to Doctor Gould's book to appreciate fully the personal interest he had in his subject. It is learned here that he saw the annual income from mineral products of the Twin Territories grow from $4,000,000 in 1900, until it has "reached the stupendous sum of over $500,000,000 per annum," a development which in no small part was due to his own efforts through his profession.

A note of quaint humor carried throughout the text is struck in the introduction where Doctor Gould wrote, "The week I arrived in Norman, there was great rejoicing throughout Oklahoma; not because of my arrival, but because Dennis Flynn's free homes bill had finally passed Congress."

Then there was the postoffice clerk at Washington who in racking his brain for names of new postoffices in the youngest and booming commonwealth, hit upon the novel idea of naming

Page 1112

them for "all the kids and babies" in his neighborhood. This seems to be "the best explanation * * * for the rather unusual abundance of feminine names of postoffices in Oklahoma." Doctor Gould gives one hundred of these names in alphabetical order, a lilting list all the way from Abbie and Addielle past Iris and Irene, Ora and Prudence, Valeria and Velma, to Violet, Zenobia, and Zula!

Such names of creeks as Two Beef, Bell Cow, and Crutcho recall the days of the cattlemen. Other names of creeks—Redoubt, Sergeant-Major, Quartermaster, Sutlers, and Target—arouse many thoughts of that colorful period of history when the U. S. soldiers were taming the wilderness in the Indian Territory.

There are Indian names, nearly all beautiful in sound and meaning, among these Alluwe, Wakita, Kullinla, Wynona, Tamaha, Taloah, Wapanucka, Neosho.

Since tradition and conjecture enter largely into the subject of place names in Oklahoma, the origin of many will probably never be settled as historical facts. In this class are found Rock Mary, Enid, Waukomis, and perhaps Cairo, Wouldbe, and Nabisco.

On the whole however, the origin of seventy-five per cent of place names in Oklahoma can be traced to records that will satisfy the historian beyond reasonable doubt. Take for example the origin of the names of the four main branches of Red River in Southeastern and Southern Oklahoma. The names of these streams are holdovers from the time of French occupation and settlement during the latter half of the 18th Century, it appears.

Farthest west of these large branches of Red River is the Washita, called "Faux Ouachita" by the French. This is a combination of the adjective faux (fau-x,sse) meaning "false," and the name Ouachita from the Choctaw words owa chito, meaning "big hunt." Even as late as the decade following the Civil War, this stream was sometimes called the False Washita.

The next branch of Red River toward the east is Blue River. The French called this L'Eau Bleue, meaning "the blue water," named from the appearance of the stream. A number of rec-

Page 1113

ords may be cited where it was called "Low Blue," the simple spelling—according to its sound in French—set down by some of the English speaking explorers and settlers of later days.

Even the name of the Kiamichi River is probably French, from kamichi, the name in French of a water bird (horned screamer), belonging to the order Alectorides, in which cranes, rails, etc., are classed. In connection with this line of thought, it is interesting to note that a lake on the south side of Red River, not far from the mouth of the Kiamichi, was called "Swan Lake" in very early days, from the great number of swans that frequented that place.

The name of Boggy River (i. e., Clear Boggy) is French in its origin. The late Doctor Emmet Starr, the well known Cherokee historian, was the first to suggest that this stream might have been named after Joseph Bougie (or Bogy), an early French trader on the Arkansas. Doctor Starr was keenly interested in place names and it is his "Encyclopaedia of Oklahoma," a very rare little book, which Doctor Gould cites as one of the sources used in his own volume "Oklahoma Place Names." However, "Encyclopaedia of Oklahoma" does not list the origin of the name of Boggy River.

During the course of a number of conversations with Doctor Starr in 1920-1, I first became interested in place names, especially those in the Choctaw and the Chickasaw nations. One day Doctor Starr particularly mentioned the name of Boggy River, saying that he had never been satisfied as to the origin of the name. He added, "That point is going to be left to you to prove." So, this became one of my first problems in historical research.

In a report to General Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, Doctor John Sibley, Indian agent, gave a detailed description of the country along Red River as far west as the Great Plains. This report was dated from Natchitoches, Louisiana, April 10, 1805. The source of Doctor Sibley's information was principally from two reliable French traders of Louisiana, Messrs. Grappe and Brevel, who had been familiar with the Red River country for more than a quarter of a century. Describing the streams above the mouth of the Kiamichi, Doctor Sibley made the following statement in his report: "The great prairies approach

Page 1114

pretty near the low grounds on each side of the creek; leaving which is cane on both sides for about eight miles, when we arrive at the Vazzures or Boggy River, which is about two hundred yards wide, soft miry bottom, the water whitish and well tasted."

In French, the adjective vasseux (vaseu-x,se) means "miry or boggy." From this fact, it appears that "Vazzures" was a corruption or misspelling from the French name "Vaseuse Riviere, " which translated is simply Boggy River.

Personally, I have not found nor heard of a record stating that the stream in question was named for Joseph Bougie; or that he ever engaged in trade in its vicinity or anywhere south of the Arkansas. He was a French trader from the Illinois country, who first came to Arkansas Post in 1804. From that time, he centered his trading operations along the Arkansas River. In 1806, during one of his first ventures up the river to the region of the Grand and Verdigris with a load of goods for trade with the Osages, he was attacked and his goods seized by a hunting party of Choctaws under the leadership of the famous Choctaw warrior and chief, Pushmataha. Twenty-four years afterward, Bougie's claim before the United States Government for the losses sustained at the hands of Pushmataha's party was still unsettled. The Choctaws maintained that Bougie's goods were subject to attack and reprisal since he was trading with the Osages with whom they were at war in 1806.

In 1819, Thomas Nuttall on his journey up the Arkansas River, mentioned having met Monsieur Bougie, then hale and hearty at the age of seventy years. In 1820, by the terms of the Treaty of Doaks Stand, in Mississippi, all the country now included in Oklahoma, south of the Arkansas and the Canadian rivers became Choctaw country. Ten years. later, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in Mississippi, was signed, followed by the immigration of the Choctaws as a nation to this western land. From that time until statehood in 1907, this country (more specifically the region east of the Island Bayou which lies a short distance east of the Washita River) was known as the Choctaw Nation.

In passing, it is interesting to note that about the time of the attack made against Joseph Bougie near the mouth of the

Page 1115

Verdigris, or possibly a few years earlier, another party of Choctaws fought and defeated the Caddo Indians on the Caddo Hills, near the present town of Caddo, in Bryan County. Many oldtimers have told about visits to this battleground which for years was strewn with the bleached bones of the victims who fell in the conflict between the Caddos and the Choctaws. While the history of this fight is now but a tradition, yet the story together with that of the recorded facts concerning the attack on Monsieur Bougie at the mouth of the Verdigris shows that the Choctaws, at the beginning of the 18th Century, were successfully holding their own in the great hunting grounds lying between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers and the Red River in Oklahoma.

This region did not become commercially important until the U. S. Government furthered the clearance of the Great Raft that obstructed the channel of Red River for a distance of 165 miles in Northern Louisiana. This project was completed about 1838. Even the early French settlers had returned to Louisiana from the Red River region twenty-five years before Doctor Sibley made his report to the Secretary of War. On the other hand since the Arkansas River was navigable above the mouths of the Grand and the Verdigris, "The Three Forks" (i.e., the region about the lower courses of the last mentioned streams) was the center of all the commercial activity connected with the trade of the Southwest in Oklahoma. And Monsieur Joseph Bougie had a real part in these activities along the Arkansas.

Thus, in the light of the foregoing and particularly from Doctor Sibley's note on the "Vazzures or Boggy River," it is more reasonable to accept the idea that the French named Boggy River from the very nature of the stream itself.

These remarks concerning my personal study of the origin of place names in Southern and Southeastern Oklahoma are but an example of the great field of absorbing interest that lies before those who will delve into the subject suggested by Doctor Gould's "Oklahoma Place Names." His volume will remain a source book, inviting its readers to return to it again and again. Each page will awaken interest in the stories of the past that form the mosaic of Oklahoma's history.—Muriel H. Wright.

Page 1116

How El Reno Acquired Its Name

Claude Hensley

While the subject of Place Names is open for discussion the following article written by an El Reno man, who prides himself upon his knowledge of western Oklahoma, will be of interest to the student of Oklahoma history.

This story by Claude Hensley, will come as a supplement to Dr. Gould's book, or to Miss Muriel Wright's review of this book, Place Names, in this issue of the Chronicles.—Ed.

In June, 1889 a townsite was platted on the 160 acre claim filed on by Major John A. Foreman. This site was situated about five miles east of Port Rona and three miles south of the then flourishing town of Reno City, with a population of some 2600 and 700 or 800 buildings, mostly of the shack variety. When it came to naming this new town, the promoters, which included a number of army officers stationed at Fort Reno, decided on the name Reno. However, when it became necessary for the establishment of a postoffice for the new town of Reno the postoffice department balked and refused to establish an office under that name, claiming there would be too much confusion with postoffices at Fort Reno, Reno City and Reno all being situated within a radius of a few miles.

This refusal on the part of the postoffice department to recognize the new town by the name of Reno was a severe blow to the promoters as this name was well known throughout the United States and they claimed the name Reno was one of the best assets the new town could have.

The late Dr. A. H. Jackson is authority for the statement that the Reno promoters and the army officers at Fort Reno had several meetings in an effort to select a new name for their town.

The following is Dr. Jackson's story of how the new town of Reno became known as El Reno:

"Some time in July, 1889, Wm. C. McDonald, R. R. (Rube) Hickox and myself were driving from the new town of Reno to Fort Reno to meet army officers interested in the new town and to discuss with them another name. When we reached Target Creek, McDonald who was driving suddenly stopped the team and exclaimed, 'Boys! I've got a name for our town! One the postoffice department will have to recognize!'

"Rube and I in the same breath asked him what it was, and he replied in an excited tone: "El Reno". Explaining that El in Spanish meant THE and that the postoffice department could not help but grant a postoffice to a town by the name of El Reno."

The name El Reno stuck and for a good many years outside of Oklahoma Territory one would nearly always see the name El Reno spelled as one word: viz. Elreno.

It appeared on maps as Elreno, it was printed in the postoffice directory, blanks, money orders, etc. as one word. However, with the

Page 1117

fading of Reno City from the picture the name became universally used as two words as we know it today.

Wm. C. McDonald left El Reno in the early mineties going to New Mexico.

After that state was admitted to statehood he was elected its first governor and served from January 15, 1912 to January 1, 1917.

R. R. Hickox was El Reno's first postmaster. He came to Darlington in 1886, from Pa., and entered the Indian service. He made the run in 1889 and settled on claim that is now Hickox's addition at El Reno. He met death in an automobile accident in Oklahoma City, May 27, 1923.

Canadian County Named

The Organic Act provided that there should be seven counties organized in the new territory; the same to be designated by number until names should be adopted by the people. What is now Canadian County was number Four.

Under the provisions of this Act the people of this county called one of the first if not the first conventions to nominate county officers and name the county.

Dr. Jackson, in telling of the naming of county number Four, said, "Oklahoma" was all but adopted for the name of this county when Rube Hickox got the floor and addressed the convention as follows:

"Gentlemen:—This county we are trying to select a name for, is traversed from west to east by the North Fork of the Canadian. Its southern boundary is the South Canadian, therefore, a proper and fitting name for county Number Four would be Canadian."

This name Dr. Jackson said, was unanimously adopted.

County No. 1 was named Logan; No. 2, Oklahoma; No. 3, Cleveland; No. 4 Canadian; No. 5, Kingfisher; No. 6, and No. 7, included all of that which had been known as "No-Man's Land" was afterwards named Beaver.

The western boundary of Canadian County at the time it was named was the 98th Meridian a very short distance west of the main line of the Rock Island railroad.

El Reno's First Paper

The first newspaper published in what is now El Reno, was Volume I, Number 1, of the Reno Herald, issued Thursday, June 20, 1889, at Reno, I. T. by H. W. Conway and E. E. Eldridge.

The following is taken from the Herald of the above date:

The mayor was Dr. C. S. Rogers, and city marshal was C. W. Beers.

The members of the city council were W. B. Barker, A. C. Macomb, J. A. Hooe, Neil W. Evans, W. L. Williford, H. Houser and J. P. Scales.

The Herald also stated the Reno Stage Company would commence Monday to run a daily stage from Oklahoma to Reno, Darlington and Kingfisher. This line was to be equipped with concord coaches and good stock with first class drivers to handle the reins. C. W. Beers was manager.

Page 1118

The Cherokee Strip, by George Rainey, Enid, Oklahoma, 504 pp., with many illustrations—Cooperative Publishing Company, Guthrie, Oklahoma, $3.00.

George Rainey, Enid, Oklahoma, added another interesting chapter to Oklahoma history when he wrote, "The Cherokee Strip." We have had stories written of the Cherokee Live Stock Association, stories about old trails, concerning the cattle industry and the cow punchers and many sensational stories about bad men, who are usually called outlaws.

We have had, more recently, some interesting and authentic articles written of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet; but this book by the historian of the Cherokee Strip, George Rainey, is the most comprehensive, all embracing history of this great kingdom of seven million acres of land, known as the Cherokee Strip, that was opened to white settlement September 16, 1893, ever written.

Like most historians, he takes us back to the days when the Cherokee Strip was the hunting ground of the wild Indians, and also, tells all that is to be known about some of the earlier explorers, who crossed over this wide expanse of grass land and salt plains in the long ago. He tells the reader of Coronado, La Salle, Capt. Boone, Sibley and other early explorers. Of course, he has not forgotten the Louisiana Purchase, and of the treaties made with the Cherokees giving that tribe the use of this strip as a perpetual outlet to the hunting grounds of the unexplored west, and also, providing that the salt beds should be reserved for the use of all tribes.

While the title of the book is, "The Cherokee Strip," it explains the difference between the name, "Outlet" and the name, "Strip".

While it is usually called the Cherokee Strip, however, it would have been more in accord with historical facts to refer to this vast territory, that now comprises all of ten counties in the northern half of Oklahoma, as the "Cherokee Outlet".

Page 1119

The "Strip" proper, was only a narrow strip of land along the northern boundary of the Cherokee Nation, as well as, that of the "Outlet". This strip was about two and a half miles wide and ran west to the 100th meridian; this being the cause of a controversy that lasted several years. This book of Mr. Rainey's tells all about it, and settles the matter for keeps.

The author devotes a chapter or two to the subject of Indian raids and Indian wars, that has made the Strip historic ground. He tells of the heroic deeds of the old scouts, and the soldiers, who once rode over these vast prairies with General Geo. Custer and Phil Sheridan. He tells of the massacre of that freighter, Pat Hennessey, by the Indians when they were on the war path.

He writes of the outlaws who once infested that part of the territory. He mentions Dick Yeager, Zip Wyatt, Ben Cravens and the Dalton boys. Of course, he speaks of that old line of deputy United States marshals, including Luke Short and Heck Thomas, et al. In this chapter he puts enough "blood and thunder", to satisfy most any "wild west" fan.

The author has not overlooked the era of cattle ranches and the cattle industry. This was the one big business of the Cherokee Strip from the close of the Civil War up to the opening of the country to settlement under the homestead laws. In this book he gives the authentic account of the opening up of the market for the cattle from Texas to the railroad station and of the driving of many thousand head of cattle from Texas to shipping points in southern Kansas, and thousands more to graze on the northern cattle ranges. In this he gives a vivid sketch of that picturesque character, Joseph McCoy, the first mayor of Abilene, live stock agent of the Frisco railway, and the Joseph McCoin, in Emerson Hough's book "North of 36". He was the first nominee for congress on the Democratic ticket in Oklahoma.

The book also gives the history of the organization of the Cherokee Live Stock association that leased the whole of the Cherokee Strip, to make cattle pastures. This lease was made with the Cherokee Nation—many pages are devoted to the story of the range cattle industry and description of ranches and noted cattle men.

Page 1120

The story of the Boomers headed by Capt. Payne, is told in some detail as it related to the opening of the Strip. It gives an account of the newspapers published at Rock Falls by the Payne boomers, and edited by Col. Sam Crocker. I will state here parenthetically, that the Oklahoma Historical Society has copies of those old War Chief papers, printed in six or seven different places, but Rock Falls, in the Strip, was usually the place of publication.

Much of this is but preliminary, or an introduction to the real story, which is the opening of the Cherokee Strip to settlement and its history and development. It gives chapters to its public institutions, as well as, to its private business enterprises. It tells of the prosperous cities and towns; of its several state schools, orphans home and the large federal Indian school at Chilocco. It speaks of oil and gas, which is now one of the big industries in the Strip counties. The author is proud to tell of the wonderful agricultural development. It is doubtful if any like area in the United States produces as much wheat as these ten counties, which were once the Cherokee Strip. The author places the splendid citizenship of this favored land, above all other things. He writes interestingly of the many prominent men and women, who now, or have at one time, made their homes in the Cherokee Strip country.

The last chapter contains the classic plea of Temple Houston, in the defense of a "fallen" woman, on trial in the courts of Woodward. Temple Houston was the youngest son of Gen. Sam Houston, and was at that time a resident and practicing attorney at Woodward and in the Cherokee Strip. This speech was paraphrased in Edna Ferber's story, "Cimarron."

This book contains that zest and spice that make it interesting reading; it is enlivened with personal incidents and humorous stories, yet it is as nearly correct historically, as some books that are filled with dry statistics, making the reading a task and not a pleasure.

There is no man better qualified to write the annals of the Cherokee Strip, than George Rainey. He has lived in the Strip since the opening in September 16, 1893. He is not only a graphic writer, but has made a study of the history of the Cherokee Strip for years, and is full of his subject.               D.W.P.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site