Chronicles of Oklahoma

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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 20, No. 1
March, 1942
NOTES ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF STEPHENS COUNTY

J. G. Clift1

Page 51

The organization of a historical society in Stephens County has been discussed for two or three years. About the time we were ready to call a meeting for that purpose the war in Europe broke out, and everyone seemed to lose interest in any local matter. We thought at one time of organizing a society in connection with the Pickens County Cowpunchers Association, which is composed of old time cattlemen and cowboys. Pickens County, you will recall, is that part of the old Indian Territory lying west and south of the Washita River. This covered too much territory for our purpose, and furthermore the old cattlemen and cowboys seemed to be interested more in conveying their historical knowledge by word of mouth at their barbecues, rather than to put these matters in a written form. We therefore decided it would perhaps serve our purpose better to organize a society in this county and gather historical data only in this county and the vicinity thereof.

I talked with Mr. James W. Moffitt, Secretary of the Oklahoma Historical Society, about this matter several times, and he has urged that we organize this Society, and has furnished us valuable data on the organization. I am glad to see that Mr. Moffitt is present this evening.

It seems particularly appropriate at this time that such a society be organized. The cities of Marlow, Duncan and Comanche were started in 1892, and they will be celebrating their semi-centennials in 1942. The history of these towns and vicinities should be assembled in an authentic form preparatory to such celebrations.

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with a group of highschool students, and it occurred to me to test their historical knowledge. They were a bright bunch of youngsters, and without hesitation they were able to tell me all about Nebuchadnezzer, Rameses II, Caesar, Charlemagne, Richard the Lion Hearted, and Napoleon. They also knew about Runnymede, Waterloo, and the battles of Tours and Chalons. They also knew all about the escapades of Cleopatra, and they knew considerable about the general history of the United States, but knew less about the history of Oklahoma. Then I asked them about some local matters. None of them knew for whom Stephens County was named; only a few knew for whom Duncan was named; they did not know from what Nation Stephens County was carved; and they did not know the significance of the 98 meridian, nor the base line. They told me that they did not know they were supposed to learn such matters in school. In other words, they thought that history merely pertained to the



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very ancient matters. It occurred to me at that time that something ought to be done about it. This situation has been changed, and I am glad to report that at the present time the history students in the Duncan Highschool are being taught something concerning local history.

My understanding is that the purpose of this proposed organization will be to preserve and perpetuate the history of Stephens County and vicinity, and the prominent men who have helped make this history, and to stimulate interest in research and historical study of the beginnings and development of the county and vicinity. A further purpose will be to authenticate such historical matters that may come to the attention of the society.

Stephens County is one of the last frontiers in the United States insofar as Americans are concerned. Although Louisiana, of which Oklahoma was a part, was purchased in 1803 from France, there does not appear to have been any official expedition that touched Stephens County until 1834, at which time Col. Henry Dodge took a troop of cavalry across Stephens County from the mouth of the Washita River to Otter Creek at the West end of the Wichita Mountains, for the purpose of conferring with the western tribes. One of his party, Sergeant Evans, kept a diary of this expedition while they were crossing Stephens County, and he speaks of "highly romantic and elevated prairies" in this part of the country. He also mentions seeing large herds of wild horses on Wild Horse Creek. This expedition evidently crossed Stephens County just north of Duncan.

There does not appear to have been any other official expedition across Stephens County until 1851, when Capt. Randolph B. Marcy went from Ft. Arbuckle to establish Ft. Belknap, Texas. His road led across the southeast corner of Stephens County, and crossed Mud Creek near Loco, and entered Texas near Ryan. This road between Ft. Arbuckle and Ft. Belknap was frequently used in traffic between the two forts, and also was used to some extent by emigrants to California. Colonel Marcy's expedition to find the source of Red River also crossed Stephens County, going to the mouth of Cache Creek in 1852, and on their return they crossed the northeast corner of the County from the Wichita Village near Rush Springs to Ft. Arbuckle.

These expeditions seem to have been the only American military expeditions across the county prior to the Civil War. But after the Civil War, there was an important road between Ft. Sill and Ft. Arbuckle, which passed just north of Duncan, until Ft. Arbuckle was abandoned in 1870.

There does not seem to have been any Indian depredations to any extent in Stephens County. In the first place, there were few settlers in this county at the time of such depredations. Furthermore, Stephens County was located between Ft. Arbuckle and Ft.

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Sill, and no doubt this had a restraining influence on the Indians of the west.

It is very probable that Stephens County was visited many times prior to the Civil War by trappers and hunters, as many buffaloes ranged over this county in the early days, and there were also many wild horses.

Nothing of importance seems to have happened in this county during the Civil War. However, there was a battle between a troop of Confederate soldiers from Ft. Arbuckle and a band of Comanche Indians in the southwest part of the County, on Beaver Creek. This occurred in 1862. The Confederates were looking for wild horses and were attacked by the Comanches at this point. Many relics of this battle were found by homesteaders who settled there after the opening of the Kiowa and the Comanche country in 1901.

The Fitzpatrick family seem to have been the first white settlers in Stephens County, coming over from Ft. Arbuckle. One of them settled immediately after the Civil War on Fitzpatrick Creek near the present location of Lake Duncan. His father moved from Ft. Arbuckle to a point about one mile east of Duncan about 1868, and put in a store at that point on the Chisholm Trail. This was also on the road between Ft. Arbuckle and Ft. Sill. The elder Fitzpatrick established a dairy at this point and sold butter at Ft. Sill after its establishment. He had a herd of 125 to 150 cows. One of his sons, Buck Fitzpatrick, who was born at Ft. Arbuckle in 1859, now lives near Rush Springs, Oklahoma.

We are all familiar with the location of the Chisholm Trail, which crosses Stephens County from north to south a few miles east of the Rock Island railroad. The Kiwanas Club of Duncan has erected a monument east of Duncan on Highway 7, on the "Jesse Chisholm Trail." The Pickens County Cowpunchers Association has erected a monument on Monument Hill east of Addington, on the "John Chisum Trail." The old cattlemen of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas do not agree with Dr. Thoburn that this trail was named for Jesse Chisholm. They claim that it was named for John Chisum, who had a large ranch at Bolivar, Denton County, Texas, and through which the trail passed. They claim that there was a Chisum Trail in Texas prior to its crossing Oklahoma. John Chisum at that time was reputed to be the largest open range cattleman in the world, and these old timers claim that it is much more probable that this great cattle trail was named for a cattleman rather than for a trader who only traveled this route through northern Oklahoma, from Wichita, Kansas, to Anadarko. They say that the main cattle trail did not touch Chisholm's route until it reached a point about the south line of Garfield County.

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Prior to the Louisiana purchase this part of the country was no doubt crossed many times by the French and the Spanish, as the line between Louisiana and Mexico was only a short distance south. A very important Indian village was located on Red River, in Jefferson County, Oklahoma, and Montague County, Texas, which is now known as Spanish Fort. As a matter of fact this was not a Spanish fort, but was a town and a fort established by the Taovayas Indians. This town seems to have been the headquarters of several tribes of Indians during the 18th century, and at one time several thousand Indians lived there, erected substantial houses and built palisaded embankments and deep ditches around the town. At least one important battle was fought near this village. There are records of several Spanish expeditions which visited this village between 1758 and 1780, and also they apparently crossed this county in going to the Wichita Mountains. Also there were many French, English and Spanish trappers and hunters that visited this village, some of them coming down from the north.

I merely give you this short sketch to show that there were some interesting things that happened in this county and in this vicinity. All of these matters, and many more of equal interest, should be gathered and catalogued by this society. We should also gather information about more recent times, and prepare a biographical sketch of the important men who have built these towns and this county. That, it seems to me, should be one of the main purposes of this organization.

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