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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 7, No. 2
June, 1929
FIRST EXPLORATION OF THE HEADWATERS OF RED RIVER

Page 180

Historical records state that about 1852 Captain Randolph B. Marcy was sent from Fort Belknap, Texas, by order of the War Department of the U. S. Government to explore the headwaters of Red River.

But this expedition resulted in failure. Captain Marcy blundered in mistaking a branch of the river for the main stream, and he returned without having explored the main stream to its source. This blunder and failure led to the subsequent quarrel between Texas and Oklahoma over Greer County.

While the writer was principal of Jones Academy near Hartshorne, Indian Territory, in 1893 the school was visited by Dixon Durant, an old Indian on whose land the city of Durant was located and for whom it is named.

Durant was, I think, an uncle of Hon. W. A. Durant of Oklahoma City, and who can probably verify this story. Durant’s story is in substance as follows:

"When a small boy I came with our family from our old Mississippi home over the ’Trail of Tears’ and we located in southeastern Indian Territory north of Red River (now Bryan County). During my youth we fished in Red River and I often wondered where it came from. One spring, 1850 or 1851 I think it was, the wanderlust seized me and I decided to go and see where the river came from.

"As I grew up I had become expert with both the rifle and bow and arrow, and was one of the fleetest of foot among the young men of my tribe. The significance of this will appear in the course of my story. I had purchased from a trader, who brought supplies up the river, a fine, German-made double barreled muzzle loading rifle with which I was a good shot. (The writer has been told by several reliable persons who spoke from personal knowledge that Durant had many times, shooting this rifle from the back of a running pony, killed fleeing deer at 200 to 300 yards).

"Taking this rifle, which I lost when the wild Comanches captured me, together with some fishing tackle I started afoot early in April to find where Red River came from. Game,

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fish, and berries supplied me with food. I met several adventures with buffalo, panther and wolves; but this is a history story and I pass them by. I reached the headwaters of the south branch of main stream sometime about the last of July, finding it in the foothills of the big mountains (Rockies).

On starting back I left the river and turned my course southeast for a week or more without adventure until one day I came upon the fresh trail of a band of Indians. This gave me a scare and made me cautious for several days. The scare wore off and I again slept soundly at night. Then one night I was awakened by yells as four or five big Indian bucks sprang upon me and held me down. This proved to be a band of twenty-odd wild Comanches traveling northeast. They tied my wrists and ankles with buckskin thongs and guarded me closely as we traveled by day. At night they stretched me flat on the ground and tied my wrists and ankles to stakes driven in the ground while they slept in a circle around me. We finally crossed Red River and their vigilance somewhat relaxed. Then one night after about two weeks spent on the hot, toil worn trail a heavy rain fell. This softened the hard, dry soil into which my stakes were driven. The night was dark and stormy and by 2 o’clock I had succeeded in loosing all the stakes that held me down.

"Picking my chance I sprang to my feet and leaping over the circle of half sleeping Indians I darted away in the dark. They were up and after me on the instant but it was dark with gusts of rain and wind and I was fleet of foot. By circling I gained a lead but they picked up my trail and held on to it for two days and nights. By wading a shallow stream for a couple of miles and doubling back through a rocky gorge I finally threw them off. But the thongs had cut my wrists and ankles; my bare feet were bruised, cut, and bleeding, and I was exhausted from constant running and lack of food for I had eaten nothing for two days and nights. The third day I killed a bird with a rock, tore it open and warmed it on a hot rock and ate it. Finding a secure hiding place I took a long sleep and rest.

"My feet, infected, swollen and bleeding, were hurting me terribly, but I dragged along on knees and hands towards home. While making my way toward the southeast in this way a band of friendly Indians came upon me. They took

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me to a clear mountain stream somewhere west of the Wichita Mountains and before leaving gave me a bow and arrows, a flint and steel, with a supply of jerked meat. Here I lay for about ten days with my feet immersed in the cool water of the stream. Then binding my feet, which were much better but not well, with the strips of buffalo hide and buckskin strings they had left for me I slowly and painfully made my way back home which I reached in October.

"I had accomplished my purpose of finding where Red River came from but the Comanches kept my fine rifle. My feet have never fully recovered from their lacerations and have given me a great deal of trouble since as the scars bear witness."

Note: This is an authentic account of what is probably the first exploration of the headwaters of the main, or south, branch of Red River. During the later years of his life Dixon Durant joined the ministry and spent much of his time preaching to both Indians and whites. He preached in both Choctaw and English languages; and prayed the most eloquent, sincere, and touching prayers the writer has ever heard.

BY B. L. PHIPPS, Durant, Oklahoma.

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