Between Oklahoma City and Canadian River, ninety years ago last August, Colonel Henry Dodge and his company, of two hundred fifty dragoons from Fort Gibson camped among the tens of thousands of buffaloes that thundered over the prairies, where Washington Irving had hunted these animals two years before. Here Dodge remained five days in the hope that some of the desperately sick men of his command would improve, while the able-bodied could kill and cure enough buffalo meat to last there to Fort Gibson. And it was while camped here that he received word of the death of General Henry Leavenworth on the Washita where he had been compelled to drop behind in a sick camp of more than one hundred men.1 Under orders from the Secretary of War this tragic expedition left Fort Gibson in June, five hundred strong under the command of General Leavenworth to attempt an interview with the Comanche, Kiowa and Wichita Indians then living in what are now Comanche and Kiowa counties. Of that little command over one hundred and fifty lives were sacrificed to the fevers brought on by the awful heat, putrid water and other hardships of travel to which these unseasoned men were exposed.
Travel in those days in this country was an experience to challenge the stoutest hearts and constitutions. Roads were unknown—the Surveyor had not been here. Oklahoma was an uncharted sea. The stars and a few physical features were the only guides. The Cross Timbers was the meridian of Greenwich to the navigator of the plains.
If we consider the opulence in which we live and practice profession as contrasted with conditions here a few generations ago; if we think of the comfort and luxury in which we came to this meeting as compared with the toil and
hardship of travel of only a few years back the contrast is a sharp one. When we think that as we came here we slept in serene comfort while covering in a night’s travel the same route that the hardy adventurer of a few years ago gave up ten days or two weeks of toil and peril to compass, we are reminded of the amazing changes that have taken place in our state in a short space of time.
The rivers—the Arkansas, Cimarron, Canadian, Red, and Washita were first employed by the trader and trapper for navigation and for guide. Up these streams they came in their canoes and keel boats as far as water would carry them, and then continued overland. Their trails were designed first to take them to their destination in the most direct route, but there were other things to consider; they must find water for themselves and their horses and grass for the latter; the route must provide good camping places and game for food; hostile Indians must be avoided and for facility and comfort of travel they sought out the relatively level courses on the divides between water-sheds.
The first known trail of which any record is available within what is now Oklahoma, was a Spanish trail running from Natchitoches and Nacogdoches to Santa Fe. During the Spanish possession of the Louisiana Purchase it was employed by the priests, traders, and trappers of that nationality and took them through what are now Tillman, Beckham, and Greer counties. In the trial of the celebrated case of United States against Texas,2 involving the question whether Greer County belonged to Texas or to the United States, the printed record of over fourteen hundred pages is a store house of historical material relating to the Southwest. One of the witnesses was Simon N. Cockrell, a brother of Senator Cockrell of Missouri. Mr. Cockrell was over ninety years old when he testified in 1894.3 He stated that in 1833 he was in the employ of Colville, Coffee and French of Fort Smith, and that he went with a company of their men on upper Red River to establish a trading post just above the mouth of Pease River, Texas, and below the junction of the two main branches of Red River within what is now Tillman County, Oklahoma. He remained there until 1836, killing game for food for the men at the post, and then he left to
join Houston’s army in Texas. He testified that going to the place where they were to establish this post, they followed a well defined trail that crossed Red River there and continued on to E1 Paso. But at the place they set up the trading post their trail was intersected by the old Spanish trail, running up Red River from Natchitoches to Santa Fe. This was an ancient trail deeply cut and rutted by heavy Mexican cart wheels. This old Spanish Trail was described by a number of witnesses in that case and this testimony was offered to show that Spain had exercised dominion over the country then called Greer County, Texas.
With the establishment of Fort Gibson and Fort Towson, in 1824, military roads were built. In 1825 Congress authorized the marking of the Santa Fe Trail and at the same time provided 4 for laying out a military road from Fort Gibson to Little Rock. That part of the road from Fort Gibson to Fort Smith was built under the direction of Captain Pierce M. Butler, later governor of South Carolina. A road was built also from Fort Smith to Fort Towson and it was connected with Fort Coffee on Arkansas River. In a few year there came to Indian Territory the pioneer of that brave band of trail markers and explorers, the surveyor who first gave us our bearings through forest and over the prairies. He came in the person of the Reverend Isaac McCoy of whose valuable service here so little is known. In April, 1831, the Secretary of War commissioned Mr. McCoy 5 to survey the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation, meandering the Arkansas and Canadian rivers and running the line north from Fort Smith and west so as to include within those limits the 7,000,000 acres guaranteed to the Cherokees by the treaty of 1828. The Secretary appointed as an assistant to Mr. McCoy, John Donelson the nephew of the recently deceased Mrs. Jackson, wife of the President. Reverend McCoy met young Donelson at Fort Gibson in June and, with a force of about twenty men, the survey was made in the summer and fall. The next year Mr. McCoy was directed to survey the boundaries of the Seneca, Ottawa, and Shawnee Indian reservations. Between times, Mr. McCoy was zealous in his labors as a missionary and September
9, 1833, ten miles north of where Muskogee was to be, he established Ebeneezer,6 the first Baptist church in India Territory with a membership consisting of a minister, a Creek missionary and his wife, and three Creek slaves. That year Captain Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, surveyed the A boundary line between the Creek and Cherokee nations.
In 1834, when General Leavenworth took command of the military forces in the southwest and organized the celebrated expedition to the wild prairie Indians, he directed the construction of a road for the movement of his five hundred dragoons. The road proceeded southwest from Fort Gibson and crossed Canadian River just below the mouth of Little River, southeast of where is now Holdenville, Here on the, north side of the Canadian River a post was established that was named Camp Holmes after Lieutenant T. H. Holmes under whose direction it was built. From here the road proceeded southwest past where Allen now is, to a point on Washita River near where Fort Washita was afterward located. Here they were joined by some of the troops from Fort Towson. A large number of sick were left at Camp Holmes and at the Washita and half the command proceeded northwest on the divide between the Red and Washita rivers to about where Fort Sill now is, to see the Comanche; and then sixty miles farther west to the Kiowa and Wichita Indians.7 When the government made the treaty at Doaksville January 17, 1837,8 with the Choctaw and Chickasaw by which a tract of the Choctaw domain was set apart to the Chickasaw, General Leavenworth’s road from Fort Gibson to the Washita was employed as part of the eastern boundary line of that grant. Years later, a dispute arose between the two tribes as to the exact location of this trail and another treaty was negotiated at Doaksville November 4, 1854,9 in which other terms were substituted for the old trail as a boundary. The Chickasaw were apprehensive that the Leanvenworth trail boundary would throw their new Wapanucka Female Institute in the Choctaw Nation.
Approximately Leavenworth’s route from Fort Gibson to Fort Washita was followed, in 1855, by the famous Second
Cavalry, when it went to Texas to fight the Indians. This regiment was organized at Jefferson Barracks and numbered many famous men among its officers. The colonel was Albert Sidney Johnston and next in command was Lieutenantcolonel Robert E. Lee; George H. Thomas and William J. Hardee were majors; Earl VanDorn and Edmund Kirby Smith were included among the captains and John B. Hood was a lieutenant; Fitzhugh Lee afterward joined. The regiment left Jefferson Barracks at Saint Louis, October 27, 1855, the whole ten companies being together and numbering over seven hundred fifty men and eight hundred horses. Traversing southwestern Missouri it passed through Springfield and Neosho, down the boundary line of Missouri to Maysville, and thence through Indian Territory to Tahlequah. From there it marched to Fort Gibson; crossing Grand and Arkansas rivers it must have passed over the site of the future Muskogee; on December 4, it crossed the North Fork of Canadian River and, the next day, forded the Canadian, probably near Old Fort Holmes, at the mouth of Little River. It reached Fort Washita on December 21, and, on the fourteenth, crossed Red River into Texas and proceeded on to Fort Belknap.10
At Camp Holmes a firm of traders, known as Edwards and Shelton, was licensed to trade with the Indians and, for years, the place was known as Edwards’s Settlement. Edward’s daughter was married to Jesse Chisholm, a halfbreed Cherokee and a famous guide and scout, who also lived there. A well used trail to Camp Holmes stretched southwest across Pontotoc, Murray, Carter, and Jefferson counties and crossed Red River at the mouth of Beaver Creek, where Ryan now is. This trail continued to the Colorado, in Texas, and along it came Comanche, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Delaware, and other Indians to trade at Edward’s post. They trafficked not only in furs and peltry but found profit in the barter of human beings. In the early days of the Republic of Texas, from 1836 to 1843, the Comanche took many white prisoners in Texas. Some they kept, such as Cynthia Ann Parker, who became the mother of Quanah Parker, but many they brought to Coffee’s trading post on
Red River, or Edwards’s on the Canadian and sold either to the traders or to other Indians; these would ultimately take them to Fort Gibson and collect the ransom if any were offered, which in some cases was guaranteed by the government of Texas.
In fact Edwards’s Settlement became a sort of clearing house for prisoners captured in Texas, and a number of white prisoners brought here were the subject of diplomatic correspondence resulting in delivery to their relatives in Texas by the agency of the officers at Fort Gibson. While Daniel Webster was Secretary of State his office was engaged in correspondence 11 with the State Department of Texas concerning two negro boys who had been taken prisoners in that Republic, in February,1839. These boys, whose names were Manuel and Aaron, were the property of Dr. Joseph W. Robertson who lived on Colorado River. They were brought by the Indians to the mouth of Little River where they were disposed of, one to Mr. Edwards and the other to Jesse Chisholm. Robertson traced them to Edwards’s 12 and then reported the matter to his government. Subsequently, during the incumbency of Mr. Upshur as Secretary of State, these negro boys were the subject of cabinet conferences. President Harrison refused to recognize the right of Texas to demand their return, but in 1844 when Harrison had been succeeded by Tyler, orders were given to Pierce M. Butler, Cherokee Agent at Fort Gibson, to cause the prisoners to be delivered to Dr. Robertson. Edwards’s Settlement was on the south or right bank of Little River and and one-half miles above the mouth and about five miles south of where Holdenville is.
When Colonel Dodge returned to Fort Gibson, in September, 1834, from his expedition to the Comanche and Wichita villages, he induced representatives of those tribes, the Kiowa and others to accompany him. At Fort Gibson, a conference was held13 with these Indians an represen tatives of the Five Civilized Tribes and the western Indians
12Robertson did not dare let it be known at Edwards’s what his business was or that he was from Texas; for there were camped in the neighborhood a large number of Cherokee Indians who recently had been driven out of their home in Texas when many of their number were killed including their chief the celebrated Colonel Bowle.
13Catlin, George. Letter and notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians (Philadelphia 1857), Vol. ii. p. 521,
were told that a treaty would be held with them the next year. Accordingly in June, 1835, a military force of two hundred fifty under Major R. B. Mason was sent to a point on the north fide of Canadian River about five miles northeast of where Purcell now is and a post was established there, which was called Fort Mason or Camp Holmes, "on the eastern border of the Grand Prairies." There were in attendance over five thousand of the western Indians and the government was represented by Governor Montford Stokes and General Arbuckle who negotiated the treaty,14 the first ever made with these wild western Indians. For the purpose of reaching this place a road had been laid out from Fort Gibson to Fort Mason. Colonel A. P. Chouteau established a trading post at the same place and the road leading there was for many years a well known trail. Fort Mason was reached also from the southwest by well used Indian trails extending into Texas.
One of the early trails to be noted on the old maps was that established by Dr. Josiah Gregg upon his celebrated expedition, in 1839, from Fort Smith to Chihauhua . Doctor Gregg had a party of twenty-five or thirty men with a number of wagons, and two small cannon. He ascended Canadian River in May, as far as the Panhandle of Texas, where he crossed to the south side and continued to Santa Fe. Departing from there he went to Chihuahua and then came back to Santa Fe, December 6, and, returning, pursued a course along the south side of Canadian which he crossed within what is now Blaine County, Oklahoma, and continued to Van Buren on his old trail. An interesting account of this expedition is contained in his classic "The Commerce of the Prairies." 15
The trail followed by Doctor Gregg from Fort Smith to Santa Fe was substantially that of the James and McKnight party in 182316 and became a well known route to Santa Fe; after the discovery of gold in California it was employed by the adventures to that far country and for part of the way was the regular mail route to California. On April 4, 1849, Captain. R. B. Marcy left Fort Smith over this same route with a, body of troops to escort a company of five
16Missouri Historical Society. Publications (St. Louis. 1916), "Three years Among the Indians and Mexicans" by General Thomas James.
hundred emigrants who were going to California. Fort Smith was a redezvous [sic] for gold seekers from as far as New York, and for several weeks before the departure of the great caravan, the streets of that village were crowded with California wagons, oxen, and mules. Colonel Bonneville, an ardent adventurer on the prairies, had supposed he would be placed in charge of the expedition because of his former extensive experience in the west, but, greatly to his disappointment, Colonel Arbuckle selected Captain Marcy for that command.
Captain Marcy was directed to ascertain and establish the best route from Fort Smith to Santa Fe and California; he measured the distance with a chain and also with a via-meter—a mark on a wheel—and found it to be eight hundred nineteen miles to Santa Fe. The expedition traveled on the south side of Canadian River following approximately the present route of the Rock Island Railroad until it reached Canadian River, near the mouth of Little River, opposite Edwards’s Settlement and trading house near the site of Old Camp Holmes. In 1846 Edwards was still living there where he vas engaged in farming but the trading store was conducted by Thomas Aird.
Captain Marcy made an interesting report 17 to the government describing his route through Indian Territory. Afterward, when the newspapers were filled with discussions of the merits of respective routes to California, Captain Marcy published his hand-book18 for emigrants describing this and other routes. From these a few interesting paragraphs are well worth reproducing "Our train consisted of eighteen wagons, one six pounder iron gun and a traveling forge each drawn by six male crossed the Poteau River at Fort Smith on the evening of the 4th of April, 1849. On the morning of the fifth we commenced our march, keeping the old road through the Poteau bottom to the Choctaw Agency. This part of the road is very muddy after heavy rains. At fourteen miles it passes the Choctaw Agency where there are several stores. There is the greatest abund-
17U. S. Senate, Documents, 31st Congress, First Session No. 64; Report of Captain R. B. Marcy’s route from Fort Smith to Santa Fe.
18Marcy, Captain Randolph B. The Prairie Traveler, a Handbook for Overland Expeditions (Reprint London, 1863.).
ance of wood, water and grass." One mile beyond Choctaw Agency they camped at Strickland’s farm.
The next day they traveled eleven miles and camped at "Camp Creek—road crosses a prairie of three miles in length then enters a heavy forest. The camp is on a small branch with grass plenty in a small prairie about four hundred yards to the left of the road." On the seventh they made twelve miles and camped on "Coon Creek—road passes through the timber and is muddy in a rainy season." They made twelve miles the next day and camped at "San Bois Creek—prairie near; some Choctaw houses at the crossing."
May ninth, they made fourteen miles to the bend of San Bois Creek where they camped on an Indian farm. The next day they traveled fifteen miles to "South Fork of Canadian or ’Gaines’ Creek—road traverses a, very rough and hilly region. There is ford and ferry upon the creek, Indian farm on the west bank." The next day they traveled over rolling prairies and after twelve miles camped at the first ford of Coal Creek. At four miles on that road the Fort Washita road turned to the left. On the twelfth they made only four miles over a rough mountainous road and camped at Little Cedar Mountain. The next day their road was still mountainous and rough and they made only six miles. The fourteenth they made but five miles and camped at Shawnee village. The next day they made fourteen miles and camped at "Shawnee town—road passes several small prairies at this place the road forks; the right going to Edward’s trading house, eight miles-off and the left is our trail. Should travelers desire to purchase supplies, this is the last point where they can be obtained, as the road here leaves the settlements. Horses, cattle, corn, and many articles of merchandise can be had at Edward’s settlement, on the north bank of the Canadian.
"While here I engaged a Delaware Indian named Black Beaver to accompany us as guide and interpreter, and he proved to be a most useful man. He has traveled a great deal among most of the western and northern tribes of Indians, is well acquainted with their character and habits, and converses fluently with the Comanche and most of the other prairie tribes. He has spent five years in Oregon and California, two years among the Crow and Black Feet In-
dians. Has trapped beaver in the Gila, the Columbia, the, Rio Grande, and the Pecos; has crossed the Rocky Mountains at many different points, and indeed is one of those men that are seldom met with except in the mountains."
They camped here two weeks while supplying them selves with corn and beeves for their long journey and on the first of May departed. They soon crossed "two small streams (affluents of the Washita) which are called, after they unite, ’Mustang Creek,’ from the fact that wild horses are often found upon it. As Beaver assured me that we should find no more hickory timber after passing this stream, I procured an extra supply of poles, axles, and hounds for our wagons to serve us across the ’plains,’ and would advise all persons passing over the road to do the same, as, after passing here there is no suitable timber for such purposes."
May fifth there was a severe storm of wind and rain and the roads were so heavy they were unable to move. But on the seventh "making a start this morning by hard work on our men and animals we made five miles. At our camp, late this evening, we can see the valleys of both the Washita, and Canadian and we are now upon the ridge dividing the waters of these two rivers. As we are now coming into the vicinity of the Comanche ’range’ I have given orders for cartridges to be issued to the command, and shall take up our line of march from this time in the following order: The dragoons in advance about one mile from the train, the cannon in the center, and the guard in the rear."
They made eleven miles on May 8 and on the ninth after covering seventeen miles over the high prairies camped opposite Fort Holmes and must have spent the night approximately on the site of Purcell. Here they were obliged to wait for the arrival of the California emigrants. At Edwards’s, the emigrants under Captain Dillard 19 had crossed to the north side of the Canadian thinking they would find better roads but in this they were mistaken and when they arrived at Chouteau’s old trading post they were glad to cross the Canadian and join the military contingent. On May 12, Captain Marcy notes: "As the Fort Smith com-
pany have not arrived we are burning a small coal pit sufficient to serve us across the plains. This evening I received a note from Captain Dillard of the Fort Smith company informing me that he will join us in three days. He has had great difficulty in passing over the road upon the north side of the Canadian and the company express much regret that they were not governed by his wishes to follow up our trail; they promise to do so in the future."
After being soaked by another severe storm they were able to resume their march on the sixteenth when the emigrants joined them and on the seventeenth entered the Cross Timbers. "After marching six miles we reached the large prairie between the two Cross Timbers and encamped upon the head of Chouteau Creek where we found good grass, fine clear spring water and oak wood." They continued through the Cross Timbers and on May 21, camped on a spring flowing into Spring Creek, the valley of which Marcy noted for its beauty and fertility. They continued without particular incident on to the Staked Plains and, on the eighth day of June, Marcy notes: "We left the Fort Smith company at Timber Creek. They were detained in consequence of the illness of the wife of an emigrant and we have learned this evening that the result of the detention has been an addition to the company of two promising boys (twins) which the happy father has done Captain Dillard and myself the honor of calling Dillard and Marcy. For my part I feel highly complimented; and if I never see the gold regions myself, I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that my name is represented there."
The expedition reached Santa Fe on June 28. There being no wagon road west of Santa Fe the emigrants were obliged to descend the Rio Grande del Norte three hundred miles to reach the Gila River route, blazed in 1846 by Colonel Phillip St. George Cooke, which they followed west. Captain Marcy left the emigrants and returned to Fort Smith by a route that brought him south of the Llano Estacado; crossing the headwaters of the Colorado and Brazos rivers in Texas, they crossed Red River and passed by Fort Washita in a northeasterly direction—much the same route as that followed by Albert Pike on his return in 1832 from his trapping expedition to Santa Fe. On October 7, Captain Marcy’s
command was saddened by the loss of Lieutenant Montgomery P. Harrison, a West Point graduate of the class of 1847. While they were camped on the headwaters of the Colorado he was engaged in examining a ravine a short distance from camp when he was captured by the Indians, killed and scalped. His body was recovered and brought back to Fort Smith by his companions.
Captain Marcy recommended the route covered by him on his return to Fort Smith as the best highway for caravans going to California. His experience demonstrated the superiority of oxen over mules and horses for these long journeys. In the middle of October they were overtaken by a terrific storm accompanied by a cold wind from the north, now known as a "norther." Thirty-three of his mules that had been failing day by day from the hardships of the journey died that night; while his oxen that were very lean at the beginning of the journey, were constantly improving under the same conditions.
Captain Marcy was ordered in 1851 to establish a military post as far out on the south side of the Canadian River as requisite for a garrison to protect emigrants and traders on the route and to maintain peace among the Indians. He established his command at a place on the emigrant trail on Canadian River called by him Camp Arbuckle; later he advised that the post be located on the Washita River, and as his advice was followed, on the tenth day of June of that year his command from the Seventh Infantry arrived at Wild Horse Creek near the Washita about thirty miles southwest of Camp Arbuckle and established the post that was named Fort Arbuckle.
Before Captain Marcy set out with the California emigrants, an earlier expedition had departed from the Cherokee Nation and established what became known as the Cherokee Trail. Captain L. Evans of Fayetteville, Arkansas, headed a party of forty wagons and one hundred thirty persons from Washington County, Arkansas, and the Cherokee Nation that departed April 20, 1849. They crossed Grand River near the site of the present town of Salina, Oklahoma, fording the river at the place crossed and described by Washington Irving, in 1832. They then proceeded northwest and
crossed the Verdigris above where Claremore now is and pursued a northwest course between Caney and Verdigris rivers until they struck the Santa Fe Trail, on the twelfth day of May, at a point on Turkey Creek about twenty-five miles east of the Little Arkansas River. Here at the fork of the two trails they set up a large stone upon which they had engraved "To Fayetteville, Ark., 300 miles—Capt. Evans’ Com’y, May 12, 1849." They left also at the monument in an oil cloth envelop an account of their journey thus far, with the request that the person discovering it would forward it to the Saint Louis Republican for publication. It was found on May 25, by a west-bound company from Missouri who caused it to be carried to Saint Louis and it duly made its appearance in the, Republican of July 2, and later in the Arkansas Gazette of July 26, 1849.
Not long afterward Captain Buford left Santa Fe with an escort for the east-bound mail and a number of Chihuahua merchants. He proceeded on the Santa Fe Trail until he came to Captain Evan’s Cherokee Trail which he followed and arrived at Fort Gibson July 29, after a journey of twenty-five days from Santa Fe covering a distance of eight hundred fifty-one miles. Captain Buford recommended this route for emigranting [sic] parties from Fort Smith and Van Buren. This became a well used route and was employed not only by the adventurers to Santa Fe and California, but by those subsequently travelling to the gold diggings at Cherry Creek, that afterwards became known as Denver, Buford reported that on June 7, the next day after leaving Santa Fe, he met between six and seven hundred California emigrants from Fort Smith and Van Buren.
Captain Marcy described20 this cherokee Trail a few years later, then somewhat altered. "Another road which takes its departure from Fort Smith and passes through the Cherokee country, is called the ’Cherokee Trail’. It crosses Grand River at, Fort Gibson, and runs a little north of west to the Verdigris River, thence up the valley of this stream on the northwest side for 80 miles, when it crosses the river and, taking a northwest course, strikes the Arkansas River near old Fort Mann, on the Santa Fe trail; thence it passes near the base of Pike’s Peak, and follows down Cherry Creek from its source to its confluence with the South Platte, and
from thence over the mountains into Utah, and on to California via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City.
"For persons who desire to go from the Southern States to the gold diggings in the vicinity of Cherry Creek, this route is shorter by some three hundred miles than that from Fort Smith via Fort Leavenworth. It is said to be an excellent road, and well supplied with the requisites for encamping. It has been traveled by large parties of California emigrants for several years, and is well tracked and defined."
The third California route across Oklahoma proceeded from Van Buren and Fort Smith up Canadian River on the Marcy trail until it came to Coal Creek when it took a more southerly route, passing Perryville, near where McAlester was afterward located, then through Boggy Depot and arriving at Fort Washita, which was located on Washita River about twenty-five miles above the mouth. It was customary for the emigrating parties to rendezvous at Fort Washita, where detachments would consolidate, elect their officers and make their final preparations before crossing Red River into Texas and straightening out on their long southwestern tangent to El Paso.
A party under Captain John A. N. Ebberts had left Fort Smith on Mach 20, 1849,21 and arrived at Santa Fe May 27. They called themselves the New York Knicker bocker Company, and included emigrants from Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, and Tennessee. They had twelve wagons drawn by ox and mule teams, and traveled up the south side of Canadian along the route that was followed by Marcy’s command a few weeks later. The Knickerbocker Company said it was the best natural road they had ever seen. Another party known as the Cherokee and Mississippi companies left soon after and arrived at Santa Fe on June third. There were thirty-eight in the party and they traveled by way of the North Fork of the Canadian, little River and Chouteau’s odd trading house, crossing the Canadian approximately in Blaine County, Oklahoma thence westerly four days, due north ninety miles, west and northwest for several days more in to Santa Fe.
21The accounts of these California emigrating parties are taken from the files of the Arkansas Gazette for 1849 and 1850 in the Congressional Library; many of them were copied in that paper from contemporary accounts in the Fort Smith and Van Buren papers.
Another party of thirty-five emigrants recruited from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana organized at Edward’s trading house at the mouth of Little River. Under the command of Captain Shaw they left Little River April 16, and arrived at Santa Fe thirty-six days later. June 28, a small party from Fort Smith with two ox teams was brought by Howard and Sullivan into Santa Fe after two months on the road. Another party of forty with ten wagons under S. B. Bonner of Georgia and Colonel P. Hawkins left Fort Smith on June 21 and arrived at Santa Fe fifty-five days later.
Accounts brought back in the fall and winter of 1849 threw the east into a fever of excitement and thousands began making preparations to rush to California as early in the spring as the grass would make travel possible; in this particular, the Fort Smith route had a great advantage over the northern routes. The Arkansas Gazette; Fort Smith Herald and Van Buren Intelligencer and other Arkansas papers were teeming with news of emigrants about to plunge into Indian Territory on their way to the Eldorado. On March, 1, 1850, a citizens committee of Fort Smith issued a circular setting forth the merits of the Canadian river route to Santa Fe and California and containing information for travelers about to leave for west. On March 1,1850, J. N. A. Carter, of Van Buren, announced that, as soon as the grass would make it possible to travel he would head a party to California. He had gone out the year before by the Arkansas River route an propose going again that way.
Early in April, a party from eastern Texas arrived at Fort Smith on their way. Colonel W. B. Runnels, of Mississippi, came up Arkansas River by boat to await the arrival of others who were to join his party. Eight other wagons of emigrants were camped near Fort Smith making their preparations to start. Doctor Potts, James Sewell, Jr., and fifteen others from McLean’s Bottom were on their way to Fort Smith where they were to be joined by a party from Franklin County, under W. M. Martin. Doctor Harger, of Fort Smith, announced that he was making up a party to leave for the gold diggings on May first.
By the middle of April, it was reported that California
emigrants were arriving daily at Van Buren and Fort Smith. Colonel Reynolds and his party with fifteen wagons left Fort Smith for Fort Washita where they would rendezvous for several days awaiting other detachments. The vanguard of Captain Cotteral’s party had left Van Buren for Fort Washita to await the remainder of their company before crossing Red River and proceeding southwestwardly to the Rio Grande and Gila rivers. Two parties from Johnson County, one with pack mules and the other with wagons had just left Van Buren over the Canadian River route. Captain Robert Harris and a company of emigrants from Washington and Crawford counties had left over the Cherokee Trail for the northern route. Harris who was described as an experienced frontiersman planned to take his party through the Rocky Mountains by the head of Arkansas River. Captain Riddle from near New Madrid had arrived with a party that included several ladies.
The first of May the papers reported that the emigration was increasing daily and hourly, and predicted that the roads would be crowded all summer. Doctor A. Bronson, O. H. Smith, Green Snuggs, H. Rigney and their party had left Van Buren to join others at Fort Washita. They had two wagons and fourteen mules and pack saddles. Judge Brown had left also for Fort Washita where he would head a party planning to leave there on May first. T. T. Henry, S. A. Harris, J. H. Peel and H. Byrd, from Conway County, had departed. Tanner and his company from Jefferson County, and the Scott County boys were going out on Colonel Marcy’s road up Canadian River, on which another party of twenty-seven men had just started.
While the fevered emigration to California brought prosperity to Fort Smith and Van Buren, it was not an unmixed blessing. Emigrants came in such numbers that they purchased and ate up all the provisions in the towns so that the local population were nearly destitute of food. Serious apprehension was felt too at the exodus of the population of Arkansas to California. Senator Borland wrote a letter of warning, which was published in April, 1850. He stated that a thousand had gone from that state in 1849 and that two thousand would go the next year, which threatened to drain the state of people and money. And this great move-
ment was going on in spite of untold hardship and suffering and peril confronting the emigrants in this flood of humanity. In 1849 and 1850, cholera was raging over the country and the California trails were marked by hundreds of graves of the victims of this dread disease, though it was not so much felt on the southern routes as in the north where thousands of Indians died from it.
The gold rush projected the slavery question into heated newspaper discussions. Much publicity was given to Senator Benton’s statement that the only feasible route to California was in the north by Fort Laramie and Fremon’t trail. The question of carrying slavery into California was involved in bitter controversy over the respective merits of the northern and southern routes and regret was expressed in many quarters that the proponents of the Fort Smith route had not made their influence more potent. In June, 1850, a party coming into Independence from the west reported that they had counted ninety-two hundred wagons bound westward, and it was estimated that there were then seventy-five thousand west-bound emigrants on the upper trails as against twenty-five thousand on the southern routes.
In a few years, however, the friends of the southern route had a powerful champion in Jefferson Davis, who, as Secretary of War, directed the survey of a route for a railroad from Memphis to California. On March 3, 1853, Congress passed an act22 directing such explorations and surveys as might be deemed necessary to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Secretary Davis then ordered a survey to be made along the thirty-fifth meridian, which, for the most part, lies south of the Canadian River, and gave direction for following the headwaters of the Canadian, crossing the Rio Grande del Norte and proceeding on to the Pacific Coast.
The surveying party under Lieutenant A. W. Whipple started from Fort Smith July 14, 1853, and followed approximately the military road marked along the south side of Canadian River by Captain Marcy in 1849 as the California road. From Fort Smith the party proceeded fifteen miles southwest to the Choctaw Agency which had become known
as Scullyville, near where is now Spiro. Since the establishment of the Agency in 1832 the Choctaw had been accustomed to receive their money at this place. Money in Choctaw is "Iskuli-fehna," hence the name "scully" attached to the place.
Passing through the north part of Haskell and Pittsburg counties the surveyors arrived at the Shawnee Hills and Shawneetown in what is now Hughes County. They found there a considerable settlement of Shawnee Indians with well cultivated fields. Crossing to the north side of Canadian River they visited Edwards’s settlement, near the mouth of Little River. Here they found Edwards’s son-in-law, Jesse Chisholm, from whom they purchased several head of beef cattle. Chisholm, they reported, was the owner of seven Mexican slaves whom he had bought from the Comanche Indians. Leaving Shawneetown, they passed through Pontotoc County and reached old Camp Arbuckle, on the river in McLain County. The old log buildings abandoned here when Fort Arbuckle was established, were now occupied by several hundred Delaware Indians under the celebrated chief and guide Black Beaver. They had been unable to induce either Chisholm or Black Beaver to act as guide for the surveying party. A little farther they came to Mustang Creek where they noted an old Indian trail used by the southwestern Indians coming to Chouteau’s trading house. The Indian trail pointed out an easy grade for the railroad
Whipple’s report23 contains an interesting account of that part of Oklahoma examined by him, and of a number of people, Indian and white, whom he met. The survey however, was unavailing to locate the transcontinental railroad in Oklahoma. It was built in the north instead. The causes and effects of this result belong to other discussions. A wide field is open if one wishes to speculate on the different history that would have been written in Oklahoma, in the west and in the nation, if this railroad had been built instead of the Union Pacific.
Before the rush to California began, a flood of emigration had been rolling across Indian Territory in another di-
23Whipple, Lieutenant, A. w., and Lieutenant J. C. Ives, Explorations for a Railways route from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean (Washington, 1853-4).
rection. While the Mexican War was raging, emigration to Texas was in full tide and the main route employed by the emigrants was a road in the eastern part of Indian Territory known as the Texas Road. One branch came from Baxter Springs, Kansas, and followed the divide between the Verdigris and Grand rivers to Fort Gibson. The other branch came from Saint Louis through Springfield, Missouri, and Maysville, Arkansas, and past Fort Wayne on upper Spavinaw Creek to Salina, and joined the other. There were six stations between Fort Gibson and Baxter Springs where the stages changed horses and refreshments and lodgings Were provided; one about where Wagoner now is, Chouteau’s Station and one about ten miles northeast of Pryor and the others distributed between there and Baxter Springs. The Texas road proceeded southwest from Fort Gibson past Honey Springs and crossed Canadian River just below where is now Eufaula. Here was a place called Fishertown and another called North Fork Town. Other stations built on the Texas Road were Perryville and Boggy Depot. At the latter place the road forked and one branch went directly south to Warren’s on Red River and the other reached the river at Preston by way of Fort Washita.
Lieutenant J. W. Abert, an army officer traveled the Texas Road from Fort Gibson in October, 1846, by way of Maysville, Bentonville, Springfield, and Waynesville. He said in an official report:24 "The way from Fort Gibson was literally lined with wagons of emigrants to Texas and from this time until we arrived at Saint Louis, we continued daily to see hundreds of them."
The Texas Road was much employed during the Civil War in the movement of troops and teaming of supplies by both sides to the conflict; and the bloodiest battle fought in Indian Territory was waged at Honey Springs25 directly on this great thoroughfare, almost east of where Oktaha now is. It has been many years since this famous old road was used, but here and there the old cuts and ruts may be seen invariably following the easiest grades and caressing good springs and other favorable camping sites.
25Abel, Annie Heloise Ph. D. The Indians as Participants in the Civil War (Cleveland, 1919), 288 ff.
The marvelous instinct of the pioneer and emigrant that discovered the easiest and most practicable route through this country was not surpassed by the highly trained surveyor with his expensive instruments; and it is a remarkable fact that when the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad was surveyed through eastern Indian Territory the route adopted was almost identical with that of the Texas Road. And now that the automobilist follows the same route in going to Texas and the flyers whose passage over Muskogee has become so common, look down on the shining rails of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad as their guide, it would seem appropriate to have named the Jefferson High way the Texas Road as a well merited tribute to the patience and fortitude of the pioneer who laid it out and painfully covered its distance with his oxen or horse teams at from fifteen to thirty miles daily, unconscious that the course blazed by him would in time be charted and relied upon by the man who flew through the air.
Another famous trail but of evil renown was what was called the Whiskey Road, extending from Van Buren and Fort Smith up the north side of Arkansas River, to Webbers Falls. The soldiers at the army posts were constantly engaged in efforts to prevent the introduction of whiskey into Indian Territory. Steamboats brought it up Arkansas River but as discovery of large shipments was comparatively easy, resort was had to flat boats, keel boats and canoes that slipped up stream in more secrecy. But the wagon-road following closely the bank of the river was employed with the greatest success and, in the ’thirties and ’forties, whiskey was brought up by the wagonloads in quantities to the mouth of the Canadian from where it was forwarded up that stream and the Arkansas; the success of this enterprise was so well established that the road employed came to be known as the Whiskey Road.
After the war, the abandonment of the army posts in the eastern part of Indian Territory, Forts Gibson, Towson, Washita, and Arbuckle and the establishment of new posts in the west, Camp Supply, Fort Cobb, and Fort Sill to look after the Indians in that section; and the location of a number of Indian agencies there, the Kiowa and Comanche agency, Cheyenne and Arapaho, Wichita, and Caddo agencies
caused the marking of a large number of new roads and trails. But the coming of the cattle business was the greatest single factor in the running of new trails and roads. A map of Indian Territory propared [sic] by the War Department in 1875 shows a network of cattle trails, roads running to and from Army posts, Indian agencies, converging on post offices and villages growing out of the influx of white people, roads crossing into towns in Texas and Kansas.
The best known cattle trail shown on the map is the great Abeline Trail coming from Henrietta, Texas, crossing Red River into what is now Jefferson County, then running north through the western edge of the Chickasaw Nation past Chickasha and through the eastern part of Canadian County; then northwest to where it crossed Cimarron River, north of Kingfisher, where it was joined by the Chisholm Trail coming in from the southeast. From here it ran slightly east of north to the Kansas line. The Texas Cattle Trail crossed Red River at Preston and ran north through Stonewall in what is now Pontotoc County, crossed the Canadian at Edwards’s settlement and so on northeast. The Shawnee Cattle Trail ran past the vicinity of Pauls Valley, crossed the Canadian at where is now Shawnee and went northeast to the Misouri [sic], Kansas, and Texas Railroad at Muskogee. The Osage Trail ran through the Osage Nation.