Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

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

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 4, No. 4
December, 1926
A JOURNEY ACROSS OKLAHOMA NINETY YEARS AGO

W. B. Morrison

Page 333

Among the great men who have contributed to the early history of Oklahoma and the Southwest, few, are better known than Albert Pike. Born in Massachusetts, where he spent his early years and received a good, education, Pike came while still a young man to the Territory of Arkansas. Nominally a lawyer and literary man, he had the true instincts of the western pioneer adventurer. He traveled over almost the entire Southwest, made friends with the Indians, and became an authority on all matters relating to conditions in this section, and for that reason, at the outbreak of the Civil War, was selected by the Confederate government to negotiate treaties with the Indian tribes. Pike’s fame as a poet and as an authority on Freemasonry are also well known all over the world.

In the year 1835, Pike published in the "Arkansas Advocate", a newspaper which he established at Little Rock, quite an interesting account of a journey over the virgin prairies of the Southwest, in which he and Aaron B. Lewis were the principal characters.

Lewis was living in 1831 near old Fort Towson, which had been built only a few years before for the protection of the Choctaws, then traveling their "Trail of Tears" from Mississippi to Oklahoma. He was a typical westerner of the day, full of the spirit of adventure, a good hunter, of undaunted courage and self-possession. Like Coronado of an earlier day, Lewis had heard wonderful tales of the riches of New Mexico—a sort of Utopia, where gold and silver were abundant and easy to obtain. So, nothing daunted by the great journey and the dangers of every sort that might beset the way, he organized a party and set out for this new land of Promise late in September 1831.

The party at the start was composed of Lewis and two other backwoodsmen, eleven Cherokee hunters, and a young doctor and his wife. They set out nearly due west from Fort Towson, crossing the Boggy River just below the junction of

Page 334

the two branches. There seems to have been a trail or road that far, which had been marked out by the soldiers of Fort Towson, but after crossing Boggy, the road practically lost itself in the prairies. Lewis kept a sort of diary of his westward journey, which afterwards he gave to Pike, but the descriptions of places are not often sufficiently detailed to enable the present-day reader to locate all of them. However, they kept almost due west, forded the stream which he called "Blue-Water" (Blue River), probably somewhere near the northern boundary of what is now Bryan County, and turned northwest into the hills of Johnston and Murray counties, in which they were lost for several days, finally reaching the "Fausee Washita," as the Washita was always called in those days, probably somewhere near the present site of Davis. This was in the "Cross Timbers," that stretch of shrubby oaks and undergrowth that extended from central Texas nearly as far north as the present site of Oklahoma City, and which served as one of the most definite landmarks to the traveler on the prairies. The party did not cross the Washita, however, but proceeded up its north bank about fifty miles, where the Cherokee hunters and the young doctor and his wife gave up the tiresome journey and turned back.

Lewis and his other two white companions followed the Washita out of the present territory of Oklahoma and pressed on towards the west. It was late in December when they finally reached the western settlements near Santa Fe, after several weeks of hardships and sufferings from hunger and cold. Any man less resolute than Lewis would have undoubtedly perished on the way, and it was only his courage and persistence that saved the lives of his two companions. As a result of this experience, Lewis had a long illness from, which he did not fully recover until April of the following year. During the spring and summer, however, he trapped beaver on the Grand River and hunted mountain sheep, but found no gold or silver.

At Santa Fe he met Albert Pike, who had also come out from the eastern settlements, not only to see the country, but possibly with something of the same hope of wealth that had led Lewis on.

All of them were disappointed and disillusioned by their experiences in New Mexico, and when the Mexicans became

Page 335

increasingly hostile, the Americans decided to return whence they came. So late in September, 1832, Pike and Lewis, accompanied by a few other white men, started back across the trackless expanse of desert and prairie, taking at first a south by east direction, which carried them through what was then known as the "Staked Plains" of Texas. After crossing the "Plains" they turned towards the north and reached Red River on October 21. The account does not make it clear just where this point was, but it was November 7 before they reached the Washita River at a place evidently a little north of Davis, though they kept an easterly direction after crossing Red River. It must be remembered, however, that as a portion of the party was always traveling on foot, no great distance was covered in a day, and much time was lost in securing food by hunting the buffalo, deer and other wild game of the prairies.

At the Washita they met a hunting band of Osage Indians under their chief "Clairmore," as Pike called him. This is evidently the Otsage chief, generally called Clermont and his "Osages of the Oaks" who were living at this time on the banks of the Arkansas in northeastern Oklahoma. Pike said they were large noble looking Indians with immense Roman noses, and much more friendly in disposition than the Cherokees and Choctaws.

They remained with the Indians for several days, and then continued their way down the river, crossing and re-crossing this stream, and finding almost insurmountable resistance to progress in the "Cross Timbers" and the Washita Hills (the Arbuckle Mountains). In three days they traveled fifty miles, but Pike thought that the actual gain in distance was possibly only thirty. On November 14, the Washita was left behind, and the party slowly pursued a course almost due east, evidently over what is now Johnston County. The prairie in places had been burned over, and game was scarce. For two days they were without a mouthful of meat. On the morning of the 20th they met a Delaware Indian, and got a small amount of tobacco from him, but he slipped away without inviting the white men to his camp or supplying them with any food. The next day, the travelers were fortunate enough to kill a small deer, and they at once devoured the whole animal except one ham and one shoulder.

Page 336

At about noon on the 23rd they struck Blue River, and followed down the course of that stream, until the afternoon of the 24th when they found themselves in the Red River bottoms at the mouth of Blue. Here a day was spent in camp. Game was plentiful; Lewis killed a bear and her cub and could have killed deer in plenty had he wished. Pike said there could be no finer hunting grounds than these bottoms, but that for briars and vines he considered it one of the worst places on earth.

On November 25 the party set out again towards the north, hoping to intercept the military trail to Fort Towson. The landmark by which Lewis hoped to recognize the trail was a "conical bare mound called the Cadeau Hill." This must have been what is now called Sugarloaf Mountain in the northeast part of Bryan County, which was certainly not far from the old trail, and just a few miles west of Sugarloaf to-day lie the Caddo Hills, where some years previous to the time of our story a large band of Caddo Indians had been almost annihilated in a battle with roving Choctaws from east of the Mississippi.

They found traces of the trail, but at first followed it in the wrong direction, the weather being cloudy and dismal, so that they lost their bearings. They soon turned east again, however, and reached the first fork of the Boggy on the 29th, and crossed it by cutting a sycamore tree over the stream. A day was spent in fighting their way through the vine-covered district now called the "Forks of Boggy," but at noon on the 30th the second fork of Boggy was encountered. Here they remained until the next day, meanwhile killing some wild turkeys upon which they made supper and breakfast. On the morrow the river was crossed by felling a tree as before. Soon they met a party of Choctaws who were busy cutting a bee tree. The travelers offered to purchase some of the honey, but with ill success, while the red men tried to beg powder and balls from them. This experience provoked Pike to say "A Choctaw is without exception the meanest Indian on earth."

Pike and Lewis intended to go on to Fort Towson, but when about the middle of the next afternoon the road from Fort Smith to Red River was reached, again a mistake was made, and they took the northern end of it, marched sixteen

Page 337

miles and camped that night in the rain without food. They then decided to go on to Fort Smith, and with the greatest difficulty completed the long journey within the next few days, exhausted and penniless, having even sold their weapons to the Indians for enough food to prolong life. "When we reached Fort Smith," said Pike, "we must have made a most ludicrous appearance. Falgstaff’s ragged regiment was nothing to us. I had a pair of leather pantaloons scorched and wrinkled by the fire, and full of grease; an old jacket and vest, and a pair of huge moccasins in mending which I had laid out my best skill during the space of two months, and in so doing had bestowed upon them a whole shot pouch; a shirt made of what is commonly called ‘counterpane’ or big checked stuff, and which had not been washed since I left Taos; and to crown all, my beard and mustachios had not been clipped during the same time. Some of us were worse off. Irwin, for example, had not a half a shirt. In short, to use a western expression, ‘we were as pretty a looking set of fellows as ever a man put up to his face."’ The party had traveled from New Mexico, as they estimated it, a distance of fourteen hundred miles, of which Pike stated that he walked six hundred and fifty miles.

It will be remembered that this was the year (1832) in which the famous author, Washington Irving, made his "Tour on the Prairies" so charmingly described in "Crayon Miscellany." Pike knew that the distinguished writer had visited this section to get local color for his stories, and gave this as a reason for not being so exact in descriptions of the Oklahoma country he passed over, "for he (Irving) will describe that portion of the western world in a manner that would do shame to any poor endeavors of mine to convey the idea of it." Pike regretted that he had not met the great writer on the prairie, "for in that case we could have given him more material for a description of the far west, and I should probably have had our journey laid before the public by better hands than my own."

W. B. MORRISON,
Southeastern State Teachers’ College, Durant, Okla.

Return to top


Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site