By Howard F. Van Zandt
One hundred years ago in the summer of 1835 there was founded in the southern part of what is now Cleveland County, Oklahoma, a frontier military post known as Camp Holmes.1 Closer to Oklahoma City even than Fort Reno which was established forty years later, Camp Holmes was in its early history of considerable importance to the United States Army in its effort to pacify the wild Indians of the plains.
Although the Camp was occupied by troops but a short time, its value did not disappear with the retreat of the soldiers, but continued until its destruction just before the opening of the Unassigned Lands in 1889. Close by there was for a time an outpost of the Missouri Fur Company under the direction of one of the intrepid Chouteaus. Later the trading post became a station on the Forty-Niners' trail through Oklahoma where the gold seekers might obtain their last supplies before leaving civilization. Jesse Chisholm, frontiersman and trader, used it in his trading with the Indians and the emigrants to California. The Kichai Indians preceded Chisholm, and formed a part of his market until the Civil War period. With the death of Chisholm it became a favorite camping ground for the Comanche Indians on their buffalo hunts. Whiskey peddlers, cowboys, negroes, ranchers, and outlaws; all these types of people used it, and for short periods called it home. Its final duty was to serve as an Indian payment station and trading post. At last it gave way to the onrush of Eighty-Niners, and today scarcely a sign remains.
The immediate reason for the establishment of the camp was the hostility of the plains Indians toward the civilized tribes being moved into the Indian territory. The Comanche and Kiowa were relentless warriors, and not the least inclined to accept the
1Also Fort Holmes and Camp Mason. Care must be taken to distinguish it from Old Fort Holmes built at the mouth of Little River near what is now Holdenville in 1834.
encroachments of the Indians from the east in a peaceable manner. As early as 1829, Sam Houston during his exile in the vicinity of Fort Gibson suggested that a mission be sent to the west to compose the differences among the Indians. He realized that unusual tact would be required, and suggested to General Matthew Arbuckle that Auguste Pierre Chouteau be the man to head the expedition.2
In the autumn of 1833 the Osages brought the matter to a critical stage by carrying the war into the plains and destroying a Kiowa village in the Wichita mountains. The government decided to use the return of some of the captives taken by the Osages as a means of initiating negotiations with the plains tribes. Successful in obtaining one prisoner, a Kiowa, an expedition set out in the summer of 1834 under the leadership of Col. Henry Dodge and General Henry Leavenworth.3
The trip was partly successful, and the Indians sent representatives to Fort Gibson where definite plans were made to the effect that: "When the grass next grows after the snows, which are soon to fall, shall have melted away . . . " a meeting would be held in the buffalo country at which a treaty would be presented for consideration.4
In March, 1835, the Secretary of War commissioned Governor Montfort Stokes, General Matthew Arbuckle, and Major F.W. Armstrong to hold a conference with the Comanche, Kiowa, and other western tribes at Fort Gibson.5 This, however, proved impossible. The Comanche had sent a war party into Texas, and the remaining bands were on hunting expeditions. They would not be back until corn was ripe for eating; and in any case felt that the government should keep its promise to hold the meeting in the buffalo country.
Accordingly, the commissioners ordered Major R. B. Mason with a detachment of dragoons to the headwaters of Little River
2Retired Classified Files, Indian Bureau, July 8, 1829, as cited by James Marquis in The Raven, (Indianapolis, 1929), pp. 113-114.
3See T. B. Wheelock, "Journal of Col. Dodge's Expedition from Ft. Gibson to Pawnee Pict Village." American State Papers, Class V, Military Affairs, (Washington, 1860) , pp. 373-382.
4For full discussion of this meeting see Grant Foreman, Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest, (Cleveland, 1926), pp. 153-154.
5Secretary of War Cass, to Stokes, Arbuckle, and Armstrong, Mar. 23, 1835. Indian Office, Letter Book no. 15, 195, as cited by Foreman, Op. Cit., 159.
to establish a camp to be used as a council grounds in the event the western Indians could not be persuaded to come east through the cross timbers to Fort Gibson.6 On May 18th, 1835 Major Mason left, striking out for a point one hundred fifty miles southwest where he would be in touch with Holland Coffee's trading post on the Red River. It had been learned that the Mexicans planned an attack upon the Comanche, and had warned Coffee to abandon his post, which was within the boundaries of the United States.
Mason, finding that a meeting at Fort Gibson was out of the question, established a council ground called Camp Holmes and sent word for the Indians to assemble. In order to prepare the way for the treaty commissioners it was considered necessary to build a wagon road. Detailed to this assignment was Lieutenant A. F. Seaton and a force of thirty men. In the month required to perform this task excessive rains forced the little party to take refuge for eleven days on a ridge near Little River. Seaton became quite ill during this period as a result of wet clothing. He never recovered, and died in Fort Gibson in November at the age of 25.7
Soon after the establishment of the Camp, the western tribes, numbering possibly seven thousand Indians, began to assemble, making their camp eight or ten miles away from Mason's encampment. The attitude of the Indians was quite unfriendly, in fact so menacing that Mason was obliged to send back for reinforcements. Under the leadership of Captain Francis Lee, two companies of the Seventh Infantry, numbering one hundred men proceeded at once to the rescue, taking with them a piece of ordnance.8
On August 6th, General Arbuckle and Governor Stokes set out accompanied by delegations from the Creek, Osage, Seneca, and Quapaw tribes, and escorted by two companies from the Seventh Infantry under Major George Birch. On their arrival at the Camp, the military force totalled two hundred fifty men.
The treaty preceded by the bestowal of presents from the government9 was finally signed on August 24, 1835.10 The treaty in addition to clauses of amity and friendship granted passage through the western country for citizens of the United States en route to Santa Fe and Mexico. It permitted the immigrant Indians to hunt and trap beyond the Cross Timbers to the western limits of the United States.11
Although the treaty did not contain a very detailed description of the place where it was signed, it did state ". . . at Camp Holmes, on the eastern border of the Grand Prairie, near the Canadian river in the Muscogee nation . . ." the various tribes and the United States entered into the agreement. The Camp itself although in country given by the government to the Creeks, or Muskogees as they are often called, was still claimed by the plains Indians. To the latter, it must have been difficult to understand by what right the white man had ceded Oklahoma, their native land, to the strange Indians from the east.
In 1835 soon after the treaty was signed, Col. A. P. Chouteau erected a small stockade fort near the site, and carried on a considerable trade with the Comanche and associated tribes. James Mooney, chronicler of Kiowa history, describes the location thus: "The exact location of Camp Holmes and Chouteau's Fort was at a spring on a small creek, both still bearing the name of Chouteau, on the east or north side of South (main) Canadian river, about 5 miles northeast of where now is the town of Purcell, Indian Territory."12 Chouteau's reason for building his post at this point, west of the Cross Timbers, was to favour the prejudice the plains Indians had against traveling east through the forest. Despite their treaty of friendship with the Indians of the woods and prairies, the plains Indians would not trust themselves out of their native country.
9Eleven thousand dollars was set aside for the expense of securing the treaty, much of which was to be spent for presents. Less than ten thousand dollars was required. "Letter to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War from Stokes and Arbuckle," Fort Gibson, September 23, 1835, Office of Indian Affairs, Washington.
11Grant Foreman: "100 Years Ago" The Daily Oklahoman, (Oklahoma City, August 25, 1935), Section C. p. 16.
12James Mooney, "Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians," Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report of 1895-6. (Washington, 1898) part 1, p. 257.
Since the Kiowa had left before the conference, it was necessary to seek a treaty with them so as to put them under the same restrictions as their neighbors. With this in mind, Major P. L. Chouteau, sub-agent for the Osages, was commissioned to proceed west, and invite the Kiowa to come to Fort Gibson. Chouteau made his trip in the winter of 1835-36, and secured a promise that in the following summer they would meet in Fort Gibson.13
Major P. L. Chouteau made another trip in the winter of 1836-7, accompanied by his son, Edward, and Doctor Richie. The Major and Doctor Richie stayed until May near Camp Holmes with Col. A. P. Chouteau who was at that time trading with the Indians at his new post. Edward Chouteau visited the Comanche and Kiowa at their winter camp beyond the Red River, and found the Comanche dissatisfied with the treaty. Although this dislike for the treaty almost led the Indians to destroy Chouteau's Trading Post with its inhabitants, their temper apparently improved with the approach of summer. This change was demonstrated in May when a war party released three women and children prisoners to Major Chouteau at the post. The Major returned to Fort Gibson that month, taking with him a deputation of Kiowa, and Wichita. They were joined soon after by the chief of the Tawakani, 14 and a treaty signed on May 26th.15
Despite the promises contained in the various treaties, the plains Indians behaved so menacingly that the government was much concerned. The summers of both 1836 and 1837 brought many hunting parties of the eastern tribes as well as white men onto the plains. The presence of so many tribes in the same territory gave opportunities for fighting that the government wanted to avoid at all costs. Chouteau attempted to avert it by cautioning the Delaware, Creek, Shawnee, and Choctaw to stay in their own territory lest an unfortunate "incident" might start the conflagration.
The independence of Texas was still challenged by Mexico. Trouble between the embryo republic and the mother state was
13"Chouteau to Stokes and Arbuckle, April 19, 1836, and April 25, 1836," Indian Office, Choctaw Agency, Western Superintendency, 1836. S. 275, as cited by Foreman, Pioneer Days, etc., pp. 224-225.
expected momentarily. It was reported that the Mexicans were urging the Indians to take the war path against the Anglo Saxons both north and south of the Red River. This added to the growing restlessness of the plains tribes.
On April 7th, 1837, Col. A. P. Chouteau was commissioned to go among the western Indians and make further treaties between them and the United States. One of the problems had been to convince them of the size and strength of the country of the white men. The Comanche, for example, on their visit to Fort Gibson had developed the opinion that the entire strength of the country lay in the little garrison and settlement there. Moreover, they felt that the whites were subjects of the Eastern Indians. The latter at any rate they considered the more powerful of the two.16 In order to destroy this illusion, Colonel Chouteau was authorized to collect representatives from the Kiowa and Comanche tribes, and take them to Washington in the winter. It was hoped that they could meet at Camp Holmes in the autumn. Accordingly, in October Major Chouteau was ordered to go to the Camp to find out if the Indians wished to meet on the plains or would prefer Fort Gibson. Unfortunately, the plans for the tour of the East were abandoned, and both the inhabitants of the urban centers of the Atlantic Coast and the Indians missed a rare treat.
Col. A. P. Chouteau left Fort Gibson in November to negotiate with the Indians. Accompanied by a detachment of dragoons led by Captain Eustace Trenor he arrived at Camp Holmes and his trading post on the twenty-fourth. Two days later, the Captain returned to Fort Gibson, leaving behind Lieutenant L. B. Northrop and twelve men, together with the necessary transportation facilities, and subsistence to last during the winter and spring.17
Colonel Chouteau made three reports to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs from Camp Holmes in November and December, 1837, each of which is quite interesting. He found that the Indians were widely scattered and at war; and that the chief source of trouble lay in the activity of Mexican and Texan agents who were offering bribes in exchange for their friendship and support. The
16Arkansas Gazette, (Little Rock, Jan. 12, 1836) as quoted in Niles' Weekly Register, (Baltimore, Feb. 20, 1836.) Vol. XLIX, p. 425.
Comanche held thirty or forty white prisoners, and the Wichita were in a lamentable condition as a result of a small pox epidemic, and attacks from hostile Indians.18 To the unhappy Wichita, Chouteau donated such articles as axes, hoes, powder, and lead.
In June, 1838, Chouteau reported that he had been visited on May 27th, at Camp Holmes by representatives of eight tribes. The Indians had expressed their disappointment that the trip to Washington was to be postponed. Their sorrow was assuaged when the chiefs were given presents, however.19
The Indians confided in Chouteau their plans to war against the "Pawnee Mohaw" and the Cheyenne. The former had maintained a reign of terror on the plains for years, and had stolen horses during three raids upon Chouteau at the trading post.20 It was expected that the Osages would join in with the western Indians against the Cheyenne, since the death of their chief, Clermont, made it necessary to secure new scalps to make his road to the happy hunting ground an easier one. Chouteau succeeded in dissuading the Indians from taking the war path only by promising to send Lieutenant Northrop and E. L. Chouteau to a northern camp to explain to the chiefs at this outpost that it had been decided to abandon the war plans. Colonel Chouteau left the camp soon after writing his report, planning to return in October to continue his negotiations. He became ill, however, upon returning to his home, the Grand Saline, and died there December 25, 1838.21
Chouteau doubtless conducted his business as a fair trader while he was stationed at the Trading Post. His letters are dated from "Camp Mason" which was apparently his name for the trading station. Visitors to the site of his establishment describe a huge corral apparently built to protect the horses of the men quartered there. The corral fence, according to E. B. Johnson who saw it first in 1867, was eight or ten feet high, and the posts sunk into the ground four feet. It is not unreasonable to venture the guess that the corral was built on the occasion of Lieutenant
Northrop's visit there. The Lieutenant was accompanied by twelve men; and since they were dragoons they probably were mounted. Chouteau and his party must have numbered four or five at least, and this group of men would have found it worth while to build a strong corral to protect their horses from both Indians and wild animals.
It is likewise probable that additional cabins were constructed for the soldiers. Chouteau's unquestionably was not large enough to quarter such a party.
The first description of the trading post and camp following its abandonment comes from Dr. Josiah Gregg who saw it in 1839. Doctor Gregg in that year made a trip across the plains from Fort Smith to Santa Fe carrying with him $25,000 worth of merchandise which he hoped to trade with the Mexicans. At that time Santa Fe was still a part of the Latin republic, although claimed by the Republic of Texas. The French had blockaded the ports of Mexico, and he saw in this enterprise a chance to make extraordinary profits by introducing goods through the interior. He had with him thirty-four men, all well armed, and reinforced by two pieces of ordnance.
Doctor Gregg described the visit to Camp Holmes as follows;
"We had just reached the extreme edge of the far famed 'Cross Timbers' when we were gratified by the arrival of forty dragoons, under the command of Lieut. Bowman, who had orders to accompany us to the supposed boundary of the United States. On the same evening we had the pleasure of encamping together at a place known as Camp Holmes, a wild romantic spot in latitude 35° 5', and but a mile north of the Canadian river. Just at hand there was a beautiful spring, where, in 1835, Colonel Mason with a force of U. S. troops, had a 'big talk' and still bigger 'smoke' with a party of Comanche and Witchita Indians. Upon the same site Col. Chouteau had also caused to be erected not long after, a little stockade fort, where a considerable trade was subsequently carried on with the Comanches and other tribes of the southwestern prairies. The place had now been abandoned, however, since the preceding winter.
"From the Arkansas river to Chouteau's Fort, our route presented an unbroken succession of grassy plains and fertile glades, intersected here and there with woody belts and numerous rivulets, most of which, however, are generally dry except during the rainy season. As far as Camp Holmes, we had a passable wagon road, which was opened upon the occasion of the Indian treaty before alluded to, and was afterwards kept open by the Indian traders. Yet, notwithstanding the road, this stretch gave us more trouble—presented more rugged passes, miry ravines and steep ascents—than all the rest of our journey put together.
"We had not been long at the Fort, before we received a visit from a party of Comanches, who having heard of our approach came to greet us a welcome, on the supposition that it was their friend Chouteau returning to the fort with fresh supplies of merchandise. Great was their grief when we informed them that their favorite trader had died at Fort Gibson, the previous winter. On visiting their wigwams and inquiring for their capitan, we were introduced to a corpulent, squint-eyed old fellow, who certainly had nothing in his personal appearance indicative of rank or dignity."22 Gregg apparently revisited the site of the deserted fort on his return trip in 1840, but he does not mention it. This statement is based upon study of the route followed on the return to Fort Smith.
The next expedition to come upon the old post was that of Captain Nathan Boone in July, 1843. Boone, the youngest son of the famous Daniel Boone, was on a mission to the Santa Fe trail to protect traders en route to New Mexico. On his trip back to Fort Gibson, Boone and his company which consisted of approximately one hundred soldiers passed by both Mason's Fort and Chouteau's Trading Post. The account of the visit follows
"69th day, 52nd day's march, July 21, Friday.
"Started about six o'clock and travelling a few miles S. E. a hill was seen about 8 miles off, supposed by Captain Boone to be the ground called Mason's Fort, where Col. Mason formerly held a council with the Comanches and expected an attack. This proved
22Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, (New York, 1845.) II, pp. 17-19. Taken from R. G. Thwaites, Early Western Travels, (Cleveland, 1905.) II, p. 106-108.
to be the hill and 4 miles from the ruins of Choteau's old trading house, at which we arrived after travelling six miles. Resting there an hour, we resumed our march on the road made by the traders from this point through the cross timbers, hoping to reach a house which the Shawnees had informed us to be on the road ten miles from Choteau's where we could get corn and beef, which are very much needed. The road we found a horrible state, the soil consisting of red clay, which washes very badly, producing deep ravines where the wagon wheels had made their tracks."23
Two years later, Lieutenants James W. Abert and Wm. G. Peck of J. C. Fremont's expedition descended the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, reaching Camp Holmes from the west. Their map locates the streams and other geographical features with surprising accuracy considering their rude equipment. The report relates an interesting dramatic incident in connection with the discovery of the old ruin:
"October 10. (1845)
"We were early on our way, and travelled about four miles, when we struck a trail, and a little further on we entered the tangled bottom of Chouteau's creek. Soon after crossing it, we were cheered by the sight of the ruins of old Fort [Camp] Holmes. A lofty gate-post was leaning mournfully over the ruins around, borne down by the weight of declining years and the ravages of time. Here we saw fragments of wagons which, by their age, showed that the place had long been deserted. There was the scarcely distinguishable road, in many places overgrown with weeds and shrubs. Some of our people, in the height of their enthusiasm, mounted the chimney, and unfurled the American handkerchief that it might float in the breeze. It was a grateful sight to all once more to meet certain vestiges of the white man."24
Discovery of gold in California brought crowds of prospectors across the plains, and it was not uncommon for southern emigrant trains to take the route along the Canadian river through Oklahoma
23"Capt. Nathan Boone's journal", edited by W. Julian Fessler, Chronicles of Oklahoma, VII, No. 1, (Oklahoma City, March 1929) pp. 100-101.
24Lieutenant James W. Abert, "A report of expedition led by Lt. Abert on the upper Arkansas through Comanche Indians country in the fall of 1845." Senate Document 438, 29th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 65-6.
to New Mexico. The Cherokee and Mississippi companies which arrived at Santa Fe on June 3rd, 1849 travelled the old road on the north side of the river, passing Chouteau's post and old Camp Holmes.25
Another party of gold seekers, known as the Fort Smith company, in May 1849 took the north road from the mouth of Little River as far as Camp Holmes where they crossed over to the south side and joined their military escort led by Captain R. B. Marcy. Captain Marcy's account does not add much to the identification of the post other than to say that the ridge on the south side of the river turned left (west) nearly opposite "Old Fort [Camp] Holmes." His map is especially interesting in that it shows the region west of a point midway between modern Oklahoma City and Shawnee as unexplored.26
Apparently the fort and trading post were not regularly occupied for several years after Colonel Chouteau's death. That undoubtedly explains the rundown condition described in the various reports of the period. The next permanent inhabitants were the Kichai Indians who settled the valley of Chouteau Creek soon after Abert's visit in 1845. Mooney27 reports them as having had a village there in 1850, and Marcy refers to both Kichai and Quapaw in the valley in 1852. He estimated one hundred warriors of the former, and twenty-five of the latter.28
In 1845, or just prior to the occupation of the fort by the Kichai, the establishment of a garrison at the post was talked of as a means of protecting the Creek settlements which were beginning to reach the Cross Timbers. This was the closest to a revival as a military post that Camp Holmes ever came.29
25Grant Foreman, "Early Trails Through Oklahoma" Chronicles of Oklahoma III, No. 2, (Oklahoma City, June, 1925, p. 112.
26Captain R. B. Marry, The Prairie Traveler, (New York, 1859); also "Report of Captain R. B. Marcy" in Reports of Secretary of War, July 24, 1850. Senate Document 64, 31st Congress, 1st Session (Washington, 1850), p. 64.
28R. B. Marcy, and Geo. McClellan, "Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana in the year 1852," Executive Document, 33rd Cong. 1st Sess. House. (Washington, 1854), p. 93.
In 1853, Lieutenant A. W. Whipple, engaged in an explorational survey for the government, passed near Chouteau's. His remarks follow:
"A few miles northeast from our camp near the confluence of Walnut Creek with the Canadian is Chouteau's old Indian trading post, where, since the tragic death of the proprietor, Kichai Indians have sought a resting place, to form the connecting link between the quiet Delawares and the murderous wild bands of Kioways and Comanches. "30
Jesse Chisholm, half-breed Cherokee trader and frontiersman occupied the site of Chouteau's after the discovery of gold in California, and when the overland travel became considerable.31 No doubt its location made it a good point to trade with the Indians, for it was on the edge of the plains, and yet lacked many of the dangers that might have come to a station deep in the Kiowa-Comanche country, far from a military post.
The last official record of the old fort prior to the Civil War was made by E. F. Beale, who visited it in 1858 while surveying a proposed wagon road from Fort Smith to the Colorado River. Beale, too, incidentally, referred to this region as Kichai Indian country; so it is probable that the tribe was still living in the neighborhood. Although the surveying party took minute observations at their various camps, the latitude and longitude of Chouteau's Trading Post were not reported. In reading the following excerpt from the official record, it should be kept in mind that Beale was on his way west up the Canadian river valley when he. came upon Chouteau Creek, and soon after, the ruins:
". . . I rode yesterday with Mr. Green up this stream for about three miles, and discovered on a small tributary of it the remains of old Choteau's trading post; looking among the ruins, I found a human skull, which I tied behind my saddle, and brought back
30"Extracts from preliminary report of Lt. A. W. Whipple." Reports of Explorations and Surveys from Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean made in 1853-4, 111, Senate Executive Document 78, 33rd Congress, 2nd Session, (Washington, 1856) p. 9.
to camp. From the old fort we extended our ride to the Canadian and crossing it ascended the opposite bank looking for a good crossing."32
The Mr. Green to whom he refers had obtained a contract from the Postmaster General for carrying transcontinental mail from Neosho, Mo. through the Indian Territory. In the autumn of 1858, Green, in charge of this mail arrived at a point within the southern part of Cleveland County where he was obliged to halt his mail stages on account of the hostilities of the Comanche Indians in front of him. He waited a month for the military escort accompanying E. F. Beale who arrived November 13th.33
The next report on the Trading Post comes from the lips of a man who is still living, and who first saw it in 1867. E. B. Johnson, part Chickasaw Indian, was acquainted with Jesse Chisholm, and remembers that the famous trader occupied the Post intermittently until his death in 1868. Chisholm traded with the Indians, and undoubtedly kept the fame of Chouteau's from dying for the period 1850-1868. When Johnson first saw the valley of Chouteau Creek, it was full of Comanche Indians who had gone there for the purpose of bartering with Chisholm. This region was very rich in game, and antelope and buffalo abounded. One of the things that impressed Johnson most was the enormous herd of ponies at the Comanche camp.
Richard Cuttle, Chisholm's teamster hauled the hides and pelts to market from Chouteau's, bringing back on his return trips the merchandise to be sold the Indians. P. A. Smith, Chisholm's chief clerk sold the goods and usually went to the camp to meet the Indians at an appointed time. The trader's headquarters were near old Camp Arbuckle, which was south of the Canadian River in the Chickasaw Nation.34
Johnson's father, M. T. Johnson was a prominent member of the Chickasaw tribe, and established a number of ranch houses and line camps both in the Chickasaw Nation, and in the Un-
32E. F. Beale, "Wagon Road, Ft. Smith to Colorado River," and letter of Secretary of War transmitting the report of Mr. Beale. House Executive Docnment 42, 36th Congress, 1st Session, (Washingon, 1860), p. 13.
assigned Lands. One of these ranch houses was constructed at Council Grove, just west of what is now Oklahoma City. M. T. Johnson bought the logs for this ranch house from Jesse Chisholm's son William Chisholm. Jesse had cut them, planning to erect a trading station on the west end of the Grove. He had promised to place his friend Sampson Harmon, Cherokee, in charge to be assisted by the latter's half Chickasaw wife Vicey. Chisholm died before completing his plans. After Johnson had bought the logs, he moved them to the east side of the Council Grove and constructed a ranch house. This was in 1873. The ranch was run for him by Vicey Harmon, Long Gray, and Frank Dyes, all Chickasaws. These people may have been the first permanent inhabitants of the Oklahoma City metropolitan district.
M. T. Johnson also had a ranch house on Walnut Creek on the Chickasaw side of the Canadian five or six miles from Chouteau's. This ranch was built in 1867, and operated for him by Jack Brown and Henry Cole, negroes. It seems that white men were unsatisfactory employees in this country due to the hostility of the Comanches. The result is that only Indians and negroes could be persuaded to live on the plains away from the protection of the army posts. The negroes on Walnut creek had a friend named George Ransom who had been in the army at Fort Arbuckle. He moved north in 1871, and occupied the site of the Trading Post which had been deserted for three years. Apparently other negroes came in soon after, or with him, for in November and December, 1872, Government surveyors report eight negro cabins in the vicinity.
E. B. Johnson distinctly remembers the surveyors. He states that they were accompanied by a mounted military escort from Fort Arbuckle. T. H. Barrett was given the contract for the survey, and was apparently assisted by a man named Norman, from whom the city of that name owes its designation. Johnson recalls that the surveyors stayed for a short time at a fine spring a short distance south of the present site of the Campus of the State University. A dug-out was made at this spring in 1874 by Mark L. Brittain and some negroes whom M. T. Johnson sent to kill off the wolves who were molesting his cattle. Brittain stayed at this dug-out for considerable periods at a time in the seventies
and eighties to watch the trails and keep the cattle from going north with the big herds being driven through from Texas. The spring and excavation where the dug-out was located are both plainly visible today.
Dave Blue, Cherokee Indian, was an occupant of one of the cabins on Chouteau Creek prior to 1873. He was well known as a buffalo hunter, and naturally attracted to the Unassigned Lands where the bison were so plentiful. According to Jim Bradley, a cowboy who ranged over this region for two decades prior to the opening in 1889, Dave Blue employed Cherokees and Creeks to help him hunt the buffalo and take care of the hides. In 1873 he loaded two teams and wagons with robes, tongues, and humps, and freighted them off to Atoka. Although a one time resident of Chouteau's, Blue is better known for the cabin he built on Dave Blue Creek.
After Blue's departure in 1873 for the Cherokee Nation where he was to be killed, the Post was occupied by negroes, outlaws, and whiskey peddlers. An illustration of the violent lives led by some of the men, Bradley recalls the meeting of two or three horse thieves and their pursuers at the Post. The thieves would not make a proper settlement and were killed on the spot. Johnson, states that the settlers on Chouteau Creek from 1873 until 1875 had a very bad reputation, and received few respectable visitors. The undesirables left the region in 1875 following a hanging there of three or four negro "bad men."
In 1877, M. T. Johnson decided to use the old cabins for a line camp. Accordingly, he sent over young C. B. Campbell, his nephew, and some helpers who repaired the roofs and rendered the ancient. structures habitable. There were two log houses adjacent to each other with a hallway between. The logs were of post oak, and must have been carried from the Cross Timbers five miles east, for at that time there was no post oak nearer. Around the cabins a little stockade was built, and savage dogs brought from Fort Arbuckle were allowed to run loose inside. They discouraged night raiders.
The cattle that ranged in the valley were brought up from the Arbuckle Mountains where they had become nearly wild.
After pasturing in the rich bottom land along the Canadian River for a while, and frequent penning in the corrals along Chouteau Creek they would become domesticated again. The same thing applied to horses. The rough barren mountain pastures developed wild horses as well as wild cattle, and a period of domestication at Chouteau's was needed before they became tame. In this connection, Johnson recalls that a lead mine existed in the Arbuckle Mountains where the Chickasaw Indians, and doubtless other tribes who roamed the southwest, secured the lead for their bullets. The mineral was extracted in a practically pure state, and served the needs of the natives for many years.
Cougars, the lions of America, were very numerous in Oklahoma until the opening in 1889. In the region now known as central Oklahoma there were a great many, and for that reason it was necessary to watch the cattle and horses carefully lest they be attacked and killed by the big felines. Although fearful of human beings, the cougars, many of which grew to be eight feet or more in length, were a serious menace to the cattle driven up in large numbers from Texas on the various trails to Dodge City, Abilene, Salina, and Baxter Springs, Kansas.
According to the government survey of 1872, there were four roads and cattle trails converging at the site of the old army post. One, the main cattle trail from Texas, crossed the Canadian from the west at a narrow point a mile and a half north-west of the cabins. Another approached from Fort Arbuckle to the south, and crossed the Creek a half mile from the Camp, extending north, joining the main cattle trail near its Canadian River crossing.35 A third carried Chisholm's wagons south-east toward his headquarters near Camp Arbuckle. The fourth was the famous wagon road built in 1835 from Fort Gibson to Old Fort Holmes, and then through the Cross Timbers to Camp Holmes. It was used to carry the treaty negotiators, and later brought Forty-Niners on their way to California. Many of the expeditions that explored the western plains came via this famous, but rough, road. It is still visible at points. There is a small gully near the site of the Trading Post where the wagon wheels started a water-course that
35The Norman-Lexington highway follows the course of this old road for several miles north of the last named town. Even the curve at Slaughterville was made by the old cattle trail.
later grew into a gully. In 1899, W. C. Merritt, now Superintendent of Schools at Maysville, occupied the ground where the army camp was located originally. He recalls distinctly seeing the ruts of the old wagon road at various points in his pasture.
In 1876, L. C. Wantland of Purcell visited the site of the old Trading Post. According to Wantland, at that time there were corrals and the foundations of several log buildings, but no other evidences of life. This would indicate that the Indians, negroes, outlaws, and whiskey peddlers had moved off prior to his visit.
The Comanche Indians were severely punished in 1873 and 1874, and the last hostile band surrendered in 1875. The result was that whereas it had been unsafe for white people to settle in their country prior to 1875, after that year there was little to fear from the once warlike tribe. Johnson remembers attending a Comanche scalp dance in 1872, a short distance west of what is now Norman. The Indians had just killed a hundred buffalo, and were trying out newly captured horses. They would wage buffalo robes over the outcome of their horse races. Following the racing they had three dances, the last of which was open only to those who carried scalps in their belts.
In 1877, as has already been mentioned, M. T. Johnson had the cabins repaired to be used for a line camp. The following year, Jim Thompson, a white man, occupied the cabins and brought his family there. He cultivated a small patch of land, which, according to the government survey was in crops in 1872. Thompson was also in the cattle raising business in common with most of his neighbors to the south and west. His brand, the hat brand, was bought by Johnson. One of Jim Thompson's children, A. J. Thompson relates an interesting narrative concerning early life at the old ranch house. One morning a cowboy abused a little boy at the ranch. He was warned by the other cowhands to leave the child alone. Just before noon the abuse was renewed, and before one o'clock he was wrapped in a blanket, and buried, clothes, boots, and all. The remains of a man interred with his boots on were discovered twenty-five years later when a farmer was excavating a basement for his home at the site of Chouteau's Trading Post.
A buried treasure legend is associated with Chouteau Creek. In the early days, the exact date is not known, several traders from Mexico passed the old Trading Post, carrying with them a quantity of money, much of which was gold. They were attacked by Indians, and during the fight all but one of the traders were killed. The survivor buried his friends, one of whom he inhumed on the bank of the Creek near a large walnut tree. At the foot of the tree the treasure had been buried during the battle. Forced to leave without the money, he drew a map locating the walnut tree, grave, and treasure. About 1900 a Mexican appeared on the Creek equipped with a map showing the location of the lost money. He searched for several weeks, and felt that he had discovered the gold. Unfortunately he died before he actually recovered it. Soon after the World War, Chouteau Creek was diverted to flow into the Canadian two miles north of Lexington instead of south of the town. The change in the course of the stream caused the water to carve out large sections of land along the banks, and in 1920 a hunter discovered a skeleton that had been uncovered on the Creek's edge. This skeleton was located very close to the stump of a huge walnut tree. Whether or not the lost treasure has ever been discovered is unknown, but one of the farmers in the vicinity dug up a large iron pot which offers a clue. Inside the pot, which was found a half mile north of Camp Holmes near a spring, was a small kettle. Deposited on the bottom of the kettle was gold dust. It is possible that the Indians found the treasure, took the gold, and tossed the pot and kettle aside at the spring where they may have camped.
The last that is known about the old Trading Post, prior to its destruction by the soldiers in 1889, is that it became a payment station for the U. S. Indian Service. Lee Steagal, blacksmith at Lexington, visited this station in 1887. His father was an Indian policeman, and when he wasn't running down renegade Indians he ran horses through the Unassigned Lands to the north. One of his favorite stopping places was Chouteau's old post. Here was stationed a U. S. Agent who paid off the Sac and Fox, Iowa, and Tonkawa Indians. In conjunction with the payment station he operated a small trading post where he sold to the Indians. Later the agency was moved to the Indian Territory a few miles east.
Just before the Eighty-Niners made their run, sooners made use of the ruins of Camp Holmes. Dug-outs appeared along side of the rock walls, and chimney. The soldiers who cleared out the country immediately before the opening drove out these people and burned what was left of the log cabins. There was one exception, however, a log cabin on the bank of the Creek, at one time the home of some negroes. Even this structure is now gone.
Maggie Yoho, an Eighty-Niner, states that there were a number of Indian arbours and scaffolds standing when the land was first settled. For several years after, Indians would return to their old council grounds, and camp for weeks at a time in the woods that bordered the creek.
Jim Branham, whose home is on the site of Chouteau's Trading Post, recalls finding a barrel on the edge of the Creek near the ranch house. Close to the cabin site is what is still known as Chouteau spring. On the hillside surrounding the cabin the first settlers found literally buckets full of arrow and lance heads, and bullets. The Author himself picked up a couple of lead pellets and a lance point in the spring of 1935.
Camp Holmes was apparently built more of rock than Chouteau's place. W. C. Merritt who in 1899 occupied the site of the camp, hauled away the stones from the old cabins in 1902 when they were needed for the foundations of a nearby farmhouse. Merritt noticed a rock fill across a small tributary of Chouteau Creek. The fill had been built at a point where the wagon road extended from the fort to Chouteau's.
The spring from which the soldiers and Indians obtained their drinking water is now nearly dry. Years of cultivation have ruined it. Nearby is the tributary of Chouteau Creek referred to by Beale in 1858. On the floor of this stream is the rock quarry from which the stone was obtained for the construction of the army post.
The exact locations of Camp Holmes and Chouteau's Trading Post are difficult to determine positively. From evidence existing today, it appears that Camp Holmes was located on the hillside three quarters of a mile east of the Norman-Lexington highway at a point three and a quarter miles north of the last named town.
There is nothing left at the site today except some holes where the foundations and sooner dug-outs had been, and a few rocks used in the building.
The reference to the site by Captain Nathan Boone places "Mason's Fort" four miles from Chouteau's. This seems to be in conflict to the statement of the trader Gregg. The matter may be explained, however, as occurring in this way. Mason, it is known, came up the valley of Little River, and made his camp at the edge of the Cross Timbers. This point was probably four miles northeast of where Chouteau later established his post. The Comanche and other Indians camped eight or ten miles from Mason. Since these Indians feared the dangers of the Cross Timbers, and lived in the west, their camps, it may be assumed, were west of Mason who, in the Author's opinion, was camped not over a mile from the forest.
Between Mason's Fort and the Indian camps was the council ground, called Camp Holmes. This was the site where the treaty negotiations took place and is a gently sloping hillside with springs on its edges. Grant Foreman describes Mason's Fort as a "beautiful location, with a border of timber to the east, ten miles of prairie to the west, encircled with sparse woods, and having a fine running creek and a number of springs."36 This description apparently comes originally from Major R. B. Mason himself.
Chouteau's Trading Post, although having a fine running creek nearby, and a number of springs, very definitely does not, and did not have "ten miles of prairie to the west." Four miles northeast, however, at Mason's Fort it is possible to find the description entirely fulfilled.
To avoid confusion in describing the various points, let it be understood that in this paper Chouteau's Trading Post is the stockade fort built by the intrepid trader at the conclusion of the treaty in 1835. Camp Holmes is the place where the treaty itself was concluded, and also the place where the soldiers were quartered in 1837-38. Mason's Fort is the place where Colonel Mason and his men camped while making the opening arrangements for the treaty council.
Mason and his men did not expect to remain at the camp west of the Cross Timbers very long. They knew that the beginning of September would find them back at Fort Gibson. The result is that they would hardly have gone to the trouble of constructing log cabins for their short stay. Rather, it would be expected that they would have preferred to camp in their cool tents, and set up few if any permanent structures. This accounts for the fact that none of the expeditions that passed over the wagon road reported more than one fort or trading post—with the notable exception of Capt. Nathan Boone. The others saw but one location, and it was Chouteau's Trading Post or the cabins at Camp Holmes a half mile away. To a visitor who had seen no other white habitations in fifty miles or more, the two must have seemed to be at practically the same site in the wilderness. Boone, on the other hand, had with him one hundred soldiers. The trip was made eight years after the treaty had been signed, and it is reasonable to assume that someone in his party had been there in 1835, and remembered where Mason and his men had camped, and carried on the preliminary negotiations with the Indians.
In the winter of 1837-38, as explained earlier in this paper Colonel Chouteau and a considerable number of soldiers wintered at Camp Holmes. Although the trading post was large enough for Chouteau, it was doubtless not big enough for the thirteen or more soldiers too. To take care of them, cabins were built at Camp Holmes a short distance north, and near another spring. Both Chouteau's and Camp Holmes were on hills, and relatively safer from attack than had they been on the valley of the Creek where Indians could have approached through the rough undergrowth without being seen.
Camp Holmes and Chouteau's, although not steadily occupied for long, and never of as much importance as Fort Gibson, Fort Towson, and some of the other early settlements, nevertheless have considerable significance in the history of Oklahoma. At the beginning, the one was the site of the first treaty negotiations with the wild tribes of the plains. The other was the first important trading post west of the Cross Timbers. Years after the little settlements had been abandoned by their original occupants their names still appeared on maps of the United States. Chouteau's,
or "Chofan's" as it was sometimes called appeared on maps of the country until well after the close of the Civil War. Chouteau's or Camp Holmes were frequently the only names to appear on maps covering the region between Fort Gibson and Santa Fe. They were landmarks, isolated evidences of the white man in a sea of Indians.