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In the 1600s and early 1700s Spanish adventurers from New Mexico explored parts of present Oklahoma. The Spaniards developed the first known trail in Oklahoma for which any records are available. Known as the Great Spanish Road to the Red River, it originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and terminated in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The road crossed the Texas Panhandle and entered Oklahoma on the 100th Meridian near the present town of Erick on the North Fork of the Red River. It then crossed the stream twice and followed the course of the Red River south to the Washita River southwest of Durant. There it forded the Red River to the Texas bank and proceeded downstream to Natchitoches.

Spain possessed the huge Louisiana region from 1763 to 1803, and during that period Spanish priests, traders, and trappers made good use of the route. They used shallow-draft boats as far as the streams were navigable, and then they carted their possessions and goods overland. The avoidance of hostile natives and a level course for travel and camping were important priorities in their explorations. The route of travel needed to have waterways for the boats, wood for campfires, and water and grass for humans and horses. Good camping spots and plentiful game were also required.

The Great Spanish Road provided all of these features and benefits, as illustrated by the deep, indelible ruts cut into the prairie by heavily laden, wooden carts. The highly visible ruts made it easy for others to follow the route in both directions. Even after the United States acquired Louisiana in 1803 and Mexico won its freedom from Spain in 1821, traders continued to use the pathway as an important commercial route to move people and merchandise. Near present Hugo, Oklahoma, the Great Spanish Road intersected a trail through Texas from Chihuahua, Mexico, developed in 1839 by Mexican traders. Using a network of trails, merchants could move goods move in and out of Louisiana via the Red River to or from Santa Fe or Chihuahua.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: William Paul Corbett, "Oklahoma's Highways: Indian Trails to Urban Expressways" (Ph.D. diss., Oklahoma State University, 1982). Grant Foreman, "Early Trails through Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3 (June 1925). Roy L. Swift, "Chihuahua Expedition," The New Handbook of Texas (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1995). A. B. Thomas, "Spanish Exploration of Oklahoma, 1599-1792," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 6 (1928).

Lynn Brown

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