The following Three Forks history articles by local writer, Jonita Mullins are a small sample of the columns she writes for the Muskogee Daily Phoenix.
For a more in-depth study of theThree Forks Area, Jonita’s book "Glimpses of Our Past, A Look at Three Forks History" is a compilation of over 80 articles written from her column. The 200 page book can be ordered directly from the author, Jonita Mullins, P.O. Box 3827, Muskogee, OK 74402.
These articles are listed in chronological order.
1. Mound Builders Left Visible Reminders of their Presence
2. French Responsible for Many Place Names in Oklahoma
3. Osage Were Dominant Tribe in Three Forks for Many Years
4. Osages Village Central to Early Oklahoma History
5. First American Exploration of Oklahoma Brought Attention to
6. Early Residents, Visitors to Area Traveled by River, Road and
7. Samuel Rutherford Family Is One of Oklahoma’s Oldest
8. Chouteau Family Dominated the Frontier
9. Sergeant for Lewis and Clark Found Home in Three Forks area
10. River Transportation Was Always Important to the Region
11. English Botanist Explored Oklahoma in 1819
12. Waterfalls Made Early-Day Navigation a Challenge
13. Fort Gibson Was Frontier’s Westernmost Garrison
14. Fort Gibson Has Distinction as Oklahoma’s Oldest Town
15. The Three Forks Was Home of Many Indian Agencies
16. Creek Agency Preceded Muskogee as an Early Town
17. Texas President Called our Area Home for a While
18. Washington Irving Immortalized the Prairies of Oklahoma
19. Washington Irving Immortalized the Prairies of Oklahoma
20. Jefferson Davis Came to Fort Gibson with the Dragoons
21. Coodey Was Big Resident in Small Frozen Rock Town
22. Operating Ferries Across the Rivers an Early Business
23. Zachary Taylor Briefly Commanded Fort Gibson
24. Riverboat Traffic Was a Challenging Business
25. Cherokee Payment Saved From River Disaster
26. The River Bridge Was Crossed on Christmas Day
27. Trans-Mississippi Congress Hosted by Muskogee in 1907
28. Floods Washed WWII off Front Pages in 1943
Mound Builders Left Visible Reminders of their Presence
By Jonita Mullins
Drive around certain parts of Oklahoma and you might see an odd shaped hill that seems out of place in the landscape. Chances are you may be seeing the remains of an ancient Indian mound created by people who lived in Oklahoma over a thousand years ago.
Known today as the Mississippian Mound Builders, these people settled along rivers that drained the Mississippi River Basin. In Oklahoma Mound Builders lived along the Grand River in Mayes and Wagoner Counties, the Arkansas River in Muskogee and Sequoyah Counties, the Poteau River in LeFlore County and the Little River in McCurtain County.
Unlike previous cultures that relied primarily on hunting for food, the Mound Builders were farmers. They planted corn, squash, pumpkins, beans and sunflowers in the rich river bottom lands where they lived.
They developed new methods of storing food and were involved in trade with other native peoples all across the North American continent.
The best preserved site of the various mounds found in Oklahoma is near Spiro in LeFlore County. The Spiro Mounds have yielded a rich array of archeological treasure that reveals a sophisticated culture controlling the flow of trade throughout the Mississippi Basin. It has been referred to as the “King Tut” of the Arkansas River valley.
The twelve mounds in the Spiro complex also prove that these Mound Builders had a good knowledge of astronomy. Certain house mounds line up exactly with the rising or setting sun at the changing of the seasons. Perhaps the complex acted as a giant calendar, important for an agrarian people in knowing when best to plant their crops.
The mounds were used as burial sites and also for ceremonies in their religions. Mounds might also have served as lookout points, helpful in tracking the movement of game or of enemy tribes. Some mounds served as lookout points long after their original builders were gone. In Wagoner County, a mound called Blue Mound was used by troops during the Civil War.
The Mound Builders in Oklahoma were of the Caddoan stock, and were likely ancestors of the Caddo and Wichita tribes of today. Mound Builders who settled east of the Mississippi River were ancestors of today’s Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
French Responsible for Many Place Names in Oklahoma
By Jonita Mullins
While both Spain and England made claims on what became Oklahoma, neither European country made a great effort to explore the land here. The French were far more interested in the interior country north of the Red River than their rivals the Spanish and English. New Spain (now Mexico) claimed and defended only the territory south of that river and the French did not contest that claim.
Instead they sent numerous exploring and trading parties up the rivers that fed the Mississippi. This territory they named La Louisiane after the French king. Oklahoma was at the southern edge of the Louisiana territory and never attracted French settlements as did regions closer to the Mississippi.
In fact, there are few if any structures or permanent evidence of the French presence in Oklahoma. What the French did leave in Oklahoma, however, were many place names that are either French or adaptations of French words.
In 1673, French explorer and priest, Father Jacques Marquette reached the mouth of a major river emptying into the Mississippi. He gave the river the name Arkansea after the Native Americans who lived along its banks. We know these Indians as the Quapaw, but the Osage called them the Arkakoze.
Eventually the French adapted the river’s name to Arkansas. The Arkansas River basin was the next frontier to be explored by the French. This led them through mountain ranges they named the Ozarks and the Ouachitas. More rivers further into the interior of La Louisiane were given French names. The Pouteau and Blanc (now called White) rivers were explored too.
The falls on the Arkansas River near present day Webbers Falls were called La Cascade on early maps.
And why is it that Oklahoma has an Illinois River and Canadian River when we are nowhere near Illinois or Canada? The likely answer is that French explorers from Illinois and Canada named these rivers after their homeland. Another French-named river is the Verdigris, derived from two French words -- verde meaning green and gris meaning gray.
But there are only a few towns with French names in Oklahoma. This is because the French did not truly settle in the region. Manard is believed to be named for a French missionary named Pierre Menard.
Chouteau and Salina are town names attributed to the French-American fur trader, A.P. Chouteau. And Sallisaw and Vian are towns with names derived from French words. Sallisaw is said to come from the word salaison, meaning salted meat and Vian from viande which means meat. Sounds like the French were hungry while visiting Sequoyah County.
Osage Were Dominant Tribe in Three Forks for Many Years
By Jonita Mullins
While the dramatic saga of the removal of the Five Tribes is perhaps the best known of Native American history in this region, it was not the earliest Indian history. The Three Rivers area was long inhabited by native people going back to at least 700 AD. At that time, the Mississippian Mound Builders were living here, creating the burial and religious mounds that were central to their advanced civilization. These mounds still exist around Muskogee, Okay, and Wagoner. Some have been excavated, but others remain sacred and untouched.
Following the gradual demise of the Mound Builders society, came the Wichita Confederation. This was a loose alliance of tribes and clans who lived in permanent round thatch houses along the river bottomlands.
They were farmers who raised squash, beans and corn and also hunters who relied heavily on the buffalo for food and clothing.
The Wichita were gradually pushed southward by the more aggressive Osage tribe. The first records about the Osage show them living in a large permanent village on the Osage River in what is now Missouri. The Osage depended upon the buffalo, but were also farmers. As the French and Americans began to establish trading posts along the Mississippi River, the Osage became astute traders as well.
In fact, the Osage became professional hunters, depending more and more upon their trade with Europeans and Americans for their existence. But game grew scarce in their traditional hunting grounds so they began to move further west and south in hunting expeditions.
This led the Osage into the Three Forks area. Because of an abundance of water and salt, the area also had an abundance of game. By the mid-1700s, the Osage were spending much of their time in the Three Forks region, camping between the Verdigris and Six Bulls (now called Grand) Rivers. Their trade trail back to Missouri was so often used that it became the first "highway" in this region and was known as the Osage Trace.
In the late 1700s, the Osage were led by three chiefs – Pawhuska, Cleremont and Cashesegra. Pawhuska was the principal chief, but Cashesegra led a young and aggressive band of the Osage.
Sometime between 1780 and 1802, Cashesegra led his group to settle permanently in the Three Forks area. Their village was located across the river from where Fort Gibson would later be built. A.P. Chouteau purchased a trading post at Three Forks and it served also as the Osage Agency, with Chouteau acting as the U.S. government agent to the tribe.
In 1816, the Osage sold its land in the Three Forks to the United States in a deal negotiated by William Lovely and called Lovely’s Purchase. Later this land would be given to the western Cherokees. The Osage were settled on a reservation in Kansas and their dominance in the Three Forks region came to an end.
Osages Village Central to Early Oklahoma History
By Jonita Mullins
The Osage Indians were a Souian tribe that had settled in Missouri Territory, living in villages along the Osage River. But by the mid 1700s the Osages were spending months hunting game in the Three Forks region and by 1800 had almost completely left Missouri to settle along the Three Rivers.
There were three prominent leaders of the Osages – Pawhuska, Cleremont, and Cashesegra, also called Big Tracks. The latter chief led his followers to settle at the Three Forks in a village located between the Verdigris and Grand Rivers. They were called the Arkansas band of Osages.
Chief Cleremont settled his followers further to the north and west out on the open plains, but in an area surrounded by a series of mounds. Their village became known as Claremore Mound; today it is simply called Claremore. These mounds fascinated the early missionaries who visited Cleremont’s village. They were described by Dr. Marcus Palmer as being all about 200 feet high, all of even height and all as level at the top as the plains they rose above.
Tradition says that the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh visited Claremore Mound in 1811 as he traveled through the South and West trying to unite the various Indian tribes in resisting American expansion. There is no indication that the Osages joined with Tecumseh in his dream of a united Indian cause.
Osages from Claremore Mound would travel to the many trading posts at the Three Forks, bringing the buffalo hides and other pelts and furs they had taken in the hunt. The Osages enjoyed a monopoly on the fur trade in the area until the Western Cherokees began to settle in the region.
Tensions mounted between the two tribes and they would often attack each other’s hunting parties. In 1818, a group of Cherokees attacked Claremore Mound while many of the village’s warriors were gone on a hunting foray. The Cherokees took nearly 60 Osages captive from this battle and U.S. agents to both tribes spent several tense months negotiating for the return of these captives to the Osages.
It was the animosity between the Osages and Cherokees that led to the establishment of Fort Gibson at the Three Forks in 1824. By locating the fort in the heart of the Osage-held territory, the government hoped to ease the tensions between the two tribes. Fort Gibson, under the command of Col. Matthew Arbuckle, was reasonably successful in that mission.
Claremore Mound passed from Osage control when that tribe was moved by treaty to Kansas and the area became a part of the Cherokee Nation.
First American Exploration of Oklahoma Brought Attention to Three Forks
By Jonita Mullins
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, explorers were sent out by President Thomas Jefferson to map the region because the boundaries had never been clearly established. While Lewis and Clark were dispatched to explore the northern rivers of the territory, Zebulon Pike was commissioned to travel and map the southern rivers.
In the summer of 1806, Pike left St. Louis and traveled across the prairie to the Arkansas River (in what is now Kansas). They arrived at the Big Bend of the Arkansas in late fall. While Pike continued up the river, he dispatched his second in command, James Wilkinson, to travel down the Arkansas.
Wilkinson and a party of five soldiers followed the Arkansas River south, traveling in pirogues (hollowed out logs) cut from cottonwood trees. Wilkinson’s journal of this exploration is the first American account of Northeastern Oklahoma. He reported passing several Osage villages as well as a number of Cherokee and Choctaw hunting parties.
Travel down the Arkansas was slow going as the weather began to turn colder. On occasion, the explorers would have to chop through layers of ice formed on the river. Rain and snow hampered them as well. At one point, a pirogue turned over in the icy water and dumped much of their supplies. Had it not been for a friendly band of Osages re-supplying the Americans, they might not have survived the journey.
On December 23, 1896, Wilkinson’s party rested at an Osage village located between the Verdigris and Grand Rivers where they join the Arkansas. Wilkinson found the Osages eager to trade with the Americans and they asked that a trading post be established in the area. Wilkinson would make such a recommendation in his report to the President, but that report actually came a little late.
As Wilkinson’s group continued down the Arkansas, they met Joseph Bogey traveling upriver from Arkansas Post, a settlement at the mouth of the Arkansas River. Bogey, a Frenchman who had been trading along the Arkansas for a number of years, had secured a license to trade with the Osages in the Three Forks area.
With a large boat loaded with goods for trade, and a crew of 12 men, Bogey was braving the late December cold to travel to the mouth of the Verdigris. He entered this river and found a deep stretch of still waters below the Verdigris Falls (near Okay). Here he built his trading post at a spot where his keelboats could land.
Bogey’s post was the first at Three Forks and one of the first in the entire state of Oklahoma. Within the next ten years, another dozen traders would move into the Three Forks area, making it one of the most important fur trading centers west of the Mississippi.
Early Residents, Visitors to Area Traveled by River, Road and Rail
By Jonita Mullins
Early transportation throughout the Three Rivers region naturally depended upon the rivers. With the Arkansas, Verdigris and Grand Rivers flowing together at Three Forks, this region became an early hub for traffic west of the Mississippi.
The rivers were important for the export of furs, salt and tobacco which early residents — the Wichita and Caddo Confederacy — traded with other tribes and then with Europeans at St. Louis, Arkansas Post and New Orleans.
As early as the 1780s, the Osage had begun to settle in the Three Forks region. Their principal trade partners were the Chouteau brothers at St. Louis. The Osage traveled overland from the Three Forks to Missouri along a trail that became known as the Osage Trace. This trail, which followed the natural contours of the land, became the basis for many roads that followed.
With the establishment of Fort Smith, Fort Gibson and Fort Towson, military roads were built connecting these posts. It was along these roads that many of the Five Tribes made the final leg of their tearful trail into their new homeland, Indian Territory.
Since this new territory was set aside for Indians only, the Three Forks region soon became a place for pioneers to simply “pass through” on their way to settling the West. In the 1830s and ’40s the Osage Trace was crowded with settlers heading out from St. Louis to Texas. The trail became known as the Texas Road.
Grant Foreman described the route of the Texas Road:
One branch came from Baxter Springs, Kansas, and followed the Verdigris and Grand rivers to Fort Gibson. The other branch came from Saint Louis through Springfield and Maysville to Salina, and joined the other. The Texas road proceeded southwest from Fort Gibson past Honey Springs and crossed Canadian River just below where is now Eufaula.
Another road carrying pioneers through Three Forks was called the Cherokee Trail. Gold seekers to California and Colorado followed this trail from Fort Smith through the Three Forks area westward to join the Santa Fe Trail.
During the Civil War, several battles were fought in Indian Territory for control of the Texas Road, including the Battle of Honey Springs. Following the Civil War, railroads began to forge into Indian Territory. The first was the Missouri-Kansas & Texas (KATY). The route chosen for this first rail line followed closely that of the Osage Trace, crossing the Arkansas River near the ford of the Texas Road. The railroad surveyors and engineers could not improve upon the instinct of the Indian and pioneer in choosing the best route.
During the decade of the cattle drives, the Texas Road became the East Shawnee Cattle Trail and hundreds of cattle were driven up from Texas to the railhead at Muskogee. Today, Highway 69 crosses through Oklahoma along this very same route. It has been said that when constructing Highways 69, a roadbed did not need to be laid. The ground was rock hard from the tramp of hundreds of Texas longhorns passing over it.
Travelers along this road today may not realize it, but they are following the path of Indian fur traders, pioneer settlers, railroad entrepreneurs and singing cowboys.
Samuel Rutherford Family Is One of Oklahoma’s Oldest
By Jonita Mullins
The Three Forks area might have been a remote wilderness when it became a part of the United States in 1803, but within a decade, it was getting crowded, at least by frontier standards. Like a magnet, the three rivers seemed to pull traders into the region, all hoping to profit from the abundance of fur-bearing animals that inhabited the spring-watered prairie.
One of the traders who came early to this region was Samuel Morton Rutherford, who had been born in Virginia around 1795. At age 12, he and his family settled in Tennessee and he completed his schooling there. When he reached 17, he joined the Tennessee Volunteers and fought in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
That battle against the British to protect the important shipping route along the Mississippi River, brought many young soldiers into the Louisiana and Arkansas territories. Here Rutherford met another adventurer named Nathaniel Pryor who also fought at New Orleans under General Andrew Jackson. These two young men, probably with many other militiamen mustered out after the war, decided to settle at Arkansas Post and try their hand at the fur trade.
Between 1816 and 1819, Pryor and Rutherford along with other traders such as Samuel Richards and Robert Mosby French worked the fur trade between Arkansas Post and the Three Forks. By 1819 Rutherford and French were settled on the west bank of the Verdigris River. According to his great-granddaughter, Frances Rosser Brown, Rutherford sold his part of the business to Nathaniel Pryor after just a few years.
Rutherford moved back to Arkansas for a time and quickly moved into positions of authority there. He was sheriff of Clark County and later Pulaski County and served in the Arkansas Territorial Legislature. His experience in trading among the Indians brought him back to Indian Territory when he was appointed as a special agent to the Choctaws. He lived at Sculleyville while in this position and also when serving as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
In 1859, he was appointed a member of the commission that would treat with the Seminoles and arrange for their removal from Florida to Indian Territory. Then he stepped into the position of agent to the Seminoles and lived at Wewoka until the Civil War broke out.
In his latter years, Rutherford settled at Fort Smith, Arkansas and was buried at the Oak Cemetery located there. His descendants, however, continued in the Choctaw Nation of Indian Territory. Mrs. Brown stated that she believed her family was one of the oldest in Indian Territory because her great-grandfather, Samuel Morton Rutherford, made the Three Forks his home long before the Indian Removals brought the Five Civilized Tribes to Indian Territory.
Chouteau Family Dominated the Frontier
By Jonita Mullins
When Colonel Matthew Arbuckle ascended the Arkansas River in 1824, looking for a site to locate a fort in the Three Forks area, he originally intended to build on the Verdigris River. But he found that the best boat landing on that river was already occupied by a bustling community of fur traders, so the fort was placed on the Grand River instead.
Along the Verdigris, above its confluence with the Arkansas, a number of trading posts were engaged in a thriving business. The earliest had been established in late 1806 by Joseph Bogey and he was followed by other traders such as Nathaniel Pryor, Hugh Glenn and Samuel Rutherford. According to historian Grant Foreman this fur trading community was the earliest non-Indian settlement located in what became Oklahoma.
The largest and most prosperous of the fur trading establishments in the area was without dispute that of A.P. Chouteau. Colonel Chouteau was a descendant of the wealthy French family who had helped to establish St. Louis. He had graduated from West Point in 1806, but had retired from the military to join his family in trade with the Indians, primarily the Osage.
In fact, the Chouteaus had turned their trade with the Osages in Missouri into one of the largest fur trading outfits in America, rivaling that of John Jacob Astor. And along the way, they had established themselves as experts in Indian affairs. It was to the Chouteaus that Lewis and Clark had turned for assistance in outfitting their Corps of Discovery in 1804.
A.P. Chouteau took responsibility for the family’s fur trade in the Three Forks area. By the time Fort Gibson was established in 1824, he had taken a small trading post on the Verdigris and had built it to one of the largest on the western frontier. He employed a large number of men, of all races, to work in his fur factory and his shipyard.
Chouteau would build the boats on which he shipped his peltries to either New Orleans or St. Louis. He hired skilled river men to navigate the tricky Mississippi and upon reaching their destination, they would sell the furs and the wood used to build the boat. Then they would load a keelboat with supplies, such as casks of nails and of liquor, and would return to Three Forks.
Besides being regarded as an astute businessman, Colonel Chouteau was also a recognized authority in Indian Territory. Until his death in 1838, Chouteau was frequently involved in treaty negotiations among various Indian tribes. The military at Fort Gibson welcomed his visits and would often consult with him on matters relating to Native Americans. Officials in Washington respected his judgment and often deferred decisions on Indian affairs to him. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chouteaus were one of the most important families on the American frontier.
Sergeant for Lewis and Clark Found Home in Three Forks Area
By Jonita Mullins
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark launched their famous expedition in 1804, the entire country waited with expectation to learn what they would discover as they crossed the American continent. The Corps of Discovery, as their expedition came to be called, was made up of military men who had experience in frontier exploration – the frontier of Kentucky. One of the sergeants who proved invaluable on the Lewis and Clark Expedition was Nathaniel Pryor.
We know very little of Nathaniel Pryor’s early life except that he was born in Virginia and married around age 23. However, only single men were recruited for the Corps of Discovery so it is believed that Pryor may have been widowed when Captain Clark asked him to join the expedition. Pryor was recruited at Louisville, Kentucky in October 1803 and was made a sergeant in charge of the keelboat that carried the bulk of their supplies up the Missouri River.
Pryor traveled across the continent of North America with Lewis and Clark, enduring sickness, hunger, cold and all the other deprivations of the difficult journey. Time and again, the two captains commended Pryor in their journals. When the Corps of Discovery returned to St. Louis, every member of the expedition was hailed as a hero and parties were thrown in their honor wherever they traveled.
Pryor continued in military service as an ensign in the First U.S. Infantry. He served under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He rose to the rank of captain in the Forty-Fourth Infantry and for the remainder of his life was addressed as Captain Pryor. In 1816, Pryor entered business with a fur trader named Samuel Richards at the French-American settlement of Arkansas Post located near the mouth of the Arkansas River. He remained there for a few years, then obtained a license to trade with the Osage at a post on the Verdigris River at the Three Forks where he associated with Joseph Bogey.
Here Captain Pryor married an Osage woman and enjoyed good trade relations with Chief Claremont and his band of Osage. Pryor quickly established himself as a highly respected leader among the American traders who were beginning to populate the Three Forks area. His experience with Lewis and Clark had been valuable training for surviving the wilderness and dealing with the native people.
In 1819, Pryor served as a guide for Thomas Nuttall, a Harvard scientist who was researching the flora and fauna of the Indian country. He also helped with the establishment of the Union Mission in 1820 among the Osage.
However, Pryor’s friendship with the Osage created some difficulties for him. In 1820, the Osage, under a warrior named Mad Buffalo, clashed with the Western Cherokees and three were killed. The Cherokees vowed revenge and sought Mad Buffalo at Pryor’s trading post. Pryor aided Mad Buffalo in escaping and to retaliate, the Cherokees robbed the trading post of a large number of furs.
In 1827, his former captain, William Clark, then governor of Missouri Territory, appointed Pryor as acting U.S. sub-agent to the Osage. So well-respected was Pryor, that both Sam Houston and Captain Matthew Arbuckle at Fort Gibson petitioned to make this a permanent position and it was in 1831. Unfortunately Pryor died shortly afterwards at his home on Pryor Creek. The creek and the town of Pryor take their name from this American hero.
River Transportation Was Always Important to the Region
By Jonita Mullins
Long before oxen wagons or railroad steam engines brought travelers to the Wild West, the rivers were the most often used mode of transportation. The settlement of this area, where the Arkansas, Grand and Verdigris Rivers join together, was greatly assisted by those navigable rivers. In fact, the rivers made the Three Forks region an ideal site for commerce that was unsurpassed in the entire southwest.
Native Americans and early European explorers traveled the rivers by canoe or pirogue. The pirogue was a hollowed log in which the traveler would kneel and paddle. Such travel was uncomfortable, but often quicker than traveling over land.
Some of the first non-Indian settlers in this region were missionaries who established the Union Mission near present-day Mazie in Wagoner County. Their two flatboats made of logs poled up the Grand River in February 1821 after a ten-month journey from New York. Without river navigation, the journey would have been much longer.
By the time Fort Gibson was established on the Grand River in 1824, the keelboat had become the preferred mode of river travel. The first troop transport to Fort Gibson could not have been done without the keelboat. This type of boat was a small craft about seventy feet in length. Without engine or sails, these boats were brought upstream by physical labor. This usually meant horse or mule teams along the riverbanks would pull the boats by a rawhide towline. Sometimes crews of twenty to thirty men would haul the boats upstream.
As early as 1828, steamboats were navigating the Arkansas River. The first steamboat to land in the Three Forks area was the Facility, bringing 780 Creeks to the Creek Agency on the Verdigris River. By the 1840s, steamboat navigation was in its heyday. There were 22 steamboat landings on the Arkansas River between Fort Smith and Fort Gibson. Steamboat companies in New Orleans regularly advertised Creek Agency as one of their destination points.
Most of these steamboats were small and they were often wrecked on submerged trees during times of low water. The falls at Webbers Falls also proved to be an obstacle during low water periods. Steamboats sometimes had to be towed by mule teams to get them past the rough current at the falls. If water levels fell too low, travel would simple halt until rains brought the river levels up again.
Steamboat travel declined after the Civil War and for a time there was a lull in river navigation except for small craft. In the early 1900s, progressive citizens in Muskogee began to push for a return of the larger steamboats to ply the rivers. The City of Muskogee was a steamboat that traveled the Arkansas during Oklahoma’s early oil boom days.
The push for improved river navigation continued, and in 1968 the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System was completed and Muskogee again became a port city. The Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers today link the Three Rivers area with the Mississippi River and the world. Barge traffic continues the long service of the rivers to transportation and commerce in Oklahoma.
English Botanist Explored Oklahoma in 1819
By Jonita Mullins
Thomas Nuttall was an English botanist who came to America to study and to explore. The American wilderness was a fascination for the scientific community and many were eager to discover new species of plants and animals. All of the exploration parties that Thomas Jefferson sent into the Louisiana Purchase, were scientific in part because Jefferson himself was a scientist and very much interested in the flora and fauna of this unknown land.
The scientific community in America at the time was centered in Philadelphia and many leading scientists of the time taught and studied there. It was here that a young botanist named Thomas Nuttall arrived from England in 1808. He was primarily self-taught, but he was intelligent and eager to make a name for himself in the scientific community. He was convinced that exploration of the many unknown species of plants in America would give him that opportunity.
Nuttall plunged into his journeys with the exuberance and ignorance of youth. He was a scientist, not a mountain man, and he was not prepared for taking on these journeys, but he somehow managed to blunder through, collecting plants and keeping very detailed journals about his travels.
Here was a scientist journeying along sometimes treacherous waters and he didn’t even know how to swim!
He traveled throughout Missouri Territory and learned much about dealing with Native American people who fascinated him. He was received by the Indians as a “medicine man” because he sought from them information about the plants they used as medicinals.
The botanist reached the Arkansas River in January of 1819. The Arkansas piqued the interest of Nuttall because no botanist had ever ascended this river which meant he would be the first. He decided he would follow its course all the way to its source.
Nuttall’s general habit in making his explorations was to hire a local trapper or resident to act as a guide. He stayed for a time at Arkansas Post which was an important early settlement at the mouth of the Arkansas.
Then he ventured up river to Fort Smith where he spent time visiting the military post and with the doctor assigned there. He accompanied the military during the spring of 1819 on some of their expeditions into southeastern Oklahoma.
After exploring the Fort Smith area, Nuttall was eager to continue up the Arkansas. He persuaded fur trader Joseph Bogey to allow him to travel with him to his trading post on the Verdigris at Three Forks and arrived in July of 1819.
Nuttall would often leave the rivers and strike out on foot across the prairie. For him this was the only way to explore, since he was interested in collecting plant specimens. When night fell, he would simply curl up on the ground and go to sleep, often without building a fire. He carried a gun, but did not really know how to use it.
Nuttall met a trapper at Three Forks that he only referred to as Mr. Lee. Lee agreed to take Nuttall further west on the Arkansas.
Because it was late summer, they encountered many harsh conditions, including hostile Indians and a lack of water. Nuttall drank from a scummy pond and becomes quite ill and almost
died out on the plains. He and Mr. Lee were forced to turn back before reaching his goal of finding the source of the Arkansas in the Rockies.
Nuttall returned to the Three Forks and spent time among the fur trading community located there, recovering from his illness. It was while staying here that Nuttall made a prediction that is particularly interesting to us who live here. He predicted that an important city would be located at the Three Forks area, and, of course, we know he was talking about Muskogee!
Waterfalls Made Early-Day Navigation a Challenge
By Jonita Mullins
It’s hard to imagine today, but mighty waterfalls on the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers once made navigation difficult and sometimes impossible. Travelers in canoes or pirogues (hollowed out logs) could portage around the waterfalls, but when the heavier and much larger flatboats began to ply the rivers, the tumbling water was a major obstacle. Thus in the early days, the waterfalls became the "end of the way" for folks traveling by river.
But what was an obstacle for travelers was an opportunity for traders and small communities developed at the waterfalls and became the destination point for keelboats and steamboats. On the Verdigris River, the falls occurred just after the river took a big turn southward before joining the Arkansas River at the Three Forks. Here Falls City started and this little town took on several locations and names throughout the years, but all were in sight of the "Falls of the Verdigris." Today this town is called Okay. The Falls of course, are no longer visible.
On the Arkansas River, the waterfall was a more spectacular display of nature’s wild, untamed beauty.
Called "La Cascade" on early maps of the area, this waterfall had a straight drop of around seven feet.
When river levels were high in the fall and spring, the drop was not nearly as dramatic and navigation over the falls was possible. In the dry summer months, travel would come to a halt at La Cascade.
It is uncertain who first noted the waterfall, but since it was given the name La Cascade, it was probably a French explorer. The first American to document the waterfall was Lt. James Wilkinson who was part of the Zebulon Pike Expedition sent out by President Thomas Jefferson the locate the source of the Arkansas River.
Wilkinson and a group of five enlisted men passed La Cascade in December of 1806.
An English naturalist named Thomas Nuttall explored the region in 1819 and kept meticulous records of what he encountered out on the frontier. He also noted the waterfall on the Arkansas, stated that the boat ran aground at the waterfall, but because the water level was particularly high, he and his party were able to continue upriver.
A trading community developed at the Arkansas Falls just as it had near the Falls of the Verdigris. Here a Cherokee chief named Walter Webber settled in 1829. He operated and trading post that did a very good business at this location. Gradually the waterfall began to be called Webber’s Falls because everyone traveling up the river would stop at Webber’s trading post. Eventually the community that grew up around Webber’s trading post was given the name Webbers Falls.
The waterfalls on the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers no longer pose a problem for inland water travel. The McClellan-Kerr Waterway System overcame the waterfalls with a lock at Webbers Falls and by dredging a new channel for the Verdigris River to bypass the falls.
Fort Gibson Was Frontier’s Westernmost Garrison
By Jonita Mullins
When Fort Gibson was established in 1824, it was the furthermost western fort in American territory. It was a part of a chain of forts that ran from Fort Snelling in Missouri to Fort Jesup in Louisiana and included Fort Towson built in Indian Territory just a few months after Fort Gibson. But Fort Gibson was considered pivotal in keeping peace among the Indians and at times garrisoned more soldiers than all the other frontier forts combined.
The necessity of Fort Gibson was due to the continual conflict between the Osages who considered the Three Forks area their hunting grounds and other tribes. In particular the Western Cherokees who had begun a slow migration into the region were viewed as a threat by the Osages and a series of battles and skirmishes kept the area in turmoil.
In November of 1823, Osage warrior Mad Buffalo had led an attack on Cherokees in Arkansas Territory that resulted in the death of four settlers. An instant cry for more military protection was sent to Washington. The fort at Belle Point, known as Fort Smith, was proving to be too far removed from the Osage settlements on the Three Rivers to be effective. Another fort would need to be built closer to the conflict.
General Winfield Scott, commander over all forces on the western frontier, ordered Col. Matthew Arbuckle, the commander at Fort Smith, to locate a fort further west. Arbuckle believed putting a fort at the mouth of the Verdigris would be advantageous. With men from the Seventh Infantry, Arbuckle traveled by flatboat up the Arkansas River from Fort Smith.
Arriving in April 1824, they found that the best landing sites on the Verdigris were already claimed by the several fur trading outfits operating at the Three Forks. So Arbuckle and his men headed up the Grand River and found a rock ledge about three miles above its juncture with the Arkansas. This ledge, which still exists today, formed a natural landing point for the boats that would supply the fort with men and materials for years to come.
The soldiers of the Seventh Infantry began the daunting task of clearing the land for the fort. A thick cane brake lined the shores of all three rivers and had be either hacked down with machetes or burned off.
Enormous trees were felled for logs to build a stockade and living quarters for the soldiers. It wasn’t until 1826 that the fort was finally completed.
Fort Gibson played an important role in the settlement and development of Indian Territory. It served as the base of operation for many expeditions to the western tribes. Soldiers were sent from its walls to build many of the others forts in the territory. And many important meetings between the government and area tribes were held here.
Fort Gibson Has Distinction as Oklahoma’s Oldest Town
By Jonita Mullins
The town of Fort Gibson began as a camp surrounding the actual fort that was built on the Grand River in 1824. All military posts had camp followers who wanted to do business with the government, its soldiers and the military families. These included legitimate businesses such as mercantiles, blacksmiths, laundries, and hostelries and perhaps a few illegitimate ones including gambling tents and saloons.
By 1827, Fort Gibson had the first post office in what would become Indian Territory and then Oklahoma. It was called Cantonment Gibson, Cherokee Nation at first, and John Nicks served as the first postmaster.
Since this was a politically appointed position, postmasters changed often as did the location of the post office. It has been said that nearly every old building in downtown Fort Gibson housed the post office at one time or another.
In 1857, the United States abandoned Fort Gibson as a military post and its ownership reverted to the Cherokee Nation. At that time, the Cherokee Council created the town of Kee-too-wah, platting town lots on the military grounds and offering the barracks and other buildings for sale to Cherokees. Records are sketchy, but it is generally believed that such notable Cherokees as William Ross, Dennis Bushyhead and Daniel Ross purchased the military buildings.
The town of Kee-too-wah never actually developed, however, because in 1861, federal troops once again occupied Fort Gibson to control Indian Territory during the Civil War. The Fort was closed again in 1871, but troops were occasionally stationed there for the next 20 years whenever the need for a military presence might arise.
Like most towns in the American West, Fort Gibson was greatly impacted by the coming of the railroad.
While the first line through Indian Territory – the Missouri, Kansas & Texas – deliberately skirted around Fort Gibson into the Creek Nation, by the 1890s several trains were serving the Cherokee Nation. When the Kansas & Arkansas Valley Railroad passed near Fort Gibson, like so many other towns, the businesses of the town eventually all moved closer to the tracks. The two locations of the town were then referred to as "Old Town" and "New Town." Later many black-owned businesses located in the "Old Town." The old and new town sites were incorporated as the city of Fort Gibson in 1898.
In 1904 all the land that had belonged to the Fort was included in the town site survey conducted by the Department of the Interior. Most of it had passed from the Cherokee Nation to private ownership by this time. However, the "Old Stockade" area was reserved for a park and purchased by the town. It was first called Sam Houston Park.
Two schools occupied stockade buildings after they were no longer used by the military. In 1865, Dr. Henry Stanley, famous explorer to Africa, operated a school at the Fort. In 1897, Lura Rowland a young blind woman from Arkansas began a school for blind students in the old barracks. This school later moved to Muskogee and became the Oklahoma School for the Blind.
Fort Gibson had its struggles with disastrous fires, floods, and the Great Depression like so many other towns. During World War II, the town’s population swelled with the coming of Camp Gruber to nearby Braggs. Today Fort Gibson is a town steeped in history and distinguished by its venerable age of 180 years.
The Three Forks Was Home of Many Indian Agencies
By Jonita Mullins
One of the reasons that the Three Forks area was so significant to the development of Indian Territory was the location of Indian agencies here. As soon as the Louisiana Purchase was completed in 1803, the federal government began to establish its presence in the area through Indian agents. The Indian agent, as the government’s representative to the native people, became one of the most important and influential men in the Territory.
The Indian Agent was appointed by the President and often the position was a reward for military service or a political perk. It was the agent’s responsibility to negotiate treaties and settle disputes. With the authority of the federal government behind him, he would often be the keeper of the peace when tensions arose between tribes or between whites and Indians. These agents often worked to further educational opportunities and expand trade among the Indians they served. Of course, some Indian agents looked out for their own interests rather than that of the Indians, but on the whole these agents did strive to improve conditions in Indian Territory.
Many agents were well-known individuals who had already established a name for themselves before coming to Indian Territory. Others remained in Indian Territory after serving as agent to continue in positions of influence and importance. One of the earliest agents for the Osages was A.P. Chouteau for whom the town of Chouteau is named. His trading post at the Three Forks was usually referred to as the Osage Agency. This same trading post later served as the first Creek Agency.
Another Osage agent was Nathaniel Pryor for whom the town of Pryor is named. Pryor was a soldier who had been part of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. He also served at the Battle of New Orleans under General Andrew Jackson. After he left the military, Pryor also established a trading post at the Three Forks among the Osages.
Another trader/agent in the Three Forks region was Sam Houston who acted as an agent for the Cherokees. Houston only lived in Indian Territory three years, but during that time made a trip to
Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Cherokees. He also attended most of the treaty meetings held at Fort Gibson during his brief stay here.
The government consolidated the agencies of the Five Tribes in 1875 and a Union Agency was established in Muskogee. The agents appointed to the Union Agency included Col. Robert L. Owen who later became one of the first Senators from Oklahoma. Leo Bennett was an editor of the Muskogee Phoenix and the Eufaula Indian Journal before serving as the Union agent. He later served as federal marshal in Indian Territory. A third agent, Col. D.M. Wisdom later served as Muskogee’s second mayor.
Creek Agency Preceded Muskogee as an Early Town
By Jonita Mullins
Prior to 1850 there were very few towns in the Three Forks area. Besides Fort Gibson, the earliest settlement in the vicinity was Creek Agency. Around 1828, A.P. Chouteau sold his trading post on the east bank of the Verdigris River near present day Okay to David Brearley, the newly appointed Creek agent.
Brearley had been put in charge of overseeing the Creek removal from their lands in the southeastern United States to Indian Territory.
The first Creek emigrants arrived at this site in February 1828, on the steamboat Facility. This was the first steamboat to travel up the Verdigris River. Over the next few years, several more steamboats arrived carrying the Creeks to their new home. In New Orleans, steamship companies began advertising Creek Agency as one of their destination points west of the Mississippi.
In 1833, a severe flood wiped out the Agency building and most of the little community of trading posts and cabins located at Three Forks. At this time, Creek Agency moved further west to the property of Creek Chief Chilly McIntosh. It was here that Creek Agency gained a post office in 1843. From this location, the Creek Agency made another move around 1851 to the south side of the Arkansas River at the base of Fern Mountain. Early fur traders had already been established in this area for a number of years.
A map sketched by a very early settler named T.F. Meagher shows the Creek Agency community just before Muscogee came into being. The Creek Agency was in the center of a group of homes and businesses and the Creek courthouse was located southeast of the agency. The per capita payments by the government to the Creeks were made at the courthouse. A Creek schoolhouse sat to the northeast.
Across the road from the Agency building was the store of George Stidham for whom the town of Stidham was named. Later James A. Patterson operated his mercantile in this same building. The Parkinson store was northeast of the agency building and a nearby group of cabins made up Aunt Minerva’s Boarding House, most probably where the Indians stayed when visiting the Agency or coming to trade their furs. A blacksmith shop was another business located nearby.
T.F. Meagher’s home was due north of the agency and a number of other cabins were scattered throughout the vicinity. One cabin where Charles Foster lived was known as the Gingerbread Cabin because his wife Nancy Lott baked and sold gingerbread here. Rev. John Bemo, an Indian preacher had a large homestead
According to Meagher’s notations on his map a Civil War battle between Confederate Creek and Cherokee forces and Union Creek, Cherokee and Osage forces occurred near the Agency. He also marked the location of graves of Civil War soldiers, most likely those who were killed in this battle. The Wealaka Road, Tullahassee Road and Hitchita Trail all passed near the Agency.
Creek Agency continued as a town until the Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad built through the area in 1872. Then the businesses and eventually the agency itself moved into the new town of Muscogee to be closer to the rail line, and the town of Creek Agency eventually ceased to exist.
Texas President Called our Area Home for a While
By Jonita Mullins
While no U.S. President has ever called Oklahoma his birthplace, three men who would later serve as president all crossed paths on the frontier of Three Forks. At the time, the stockade of Fort Gibson, a few trading posts, the Creek Indian Agency, and some small homesteads were all that made up the Three Forks area. But it was a place where three men lived for a time and no doubt gained experience that would serve them when they later became president. They were Sam Houston, Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis.
The first to arrive in the Three Forks area was Sam Houston. Called “The Raven” by his Cherokee friends, Houston had left a rising political career in Tennessee after resigning abruptly from the office of Governor in that state. He moved west to escape the scandal of a failed marriage to live among the Cherokees he had grown up with back in Tennessee.
Houston married a Cherokee woman, Dianna Rogers, and established a trading post and home that he named Wigwam Neosho. The site of his trading post was near present-day Okay and from his home he could watch the riverboat traffic on both the Verdigris and Neosho (now Grand) Rivers where they flow into the Arkansas. He surely also would have noticed the growing stream of settlers traveling southward along the Texas Road which forded the Arkansas River near his home.
On his arrival in Indian Territory, Houston almost immediately plunged into tribal affairs, often advising the commander at Fort Gibson on dealings with the Indians. His Cherokee friends asked him to travel with their second chief Blackcoat to Washington to address issues of Indian sovereignty. After working with the Cherokee three years, Houston left Indian Territory and Dianna for a new life in Texas. He later sent for Dianna to join him, but she refused, not feeling she would fit in the white world and not wanting to leave her own people.
Houston quickly involved himself in the volatile politics of Texas. Being officially a part of Mexico, the Texas territory was rapidly being settled by Americans who clamored for independence. Houston, who had served in the military during the War of 1812, was appointed general in a growing Texas army. He served as a delegate to the Convention that declared Texas Independence in 1836. Houston was promptly named commander of all the Texas forces. Just over a month later, Houston and his men defeated Mexican General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto which decisively won Texas independence from Mexico.
In the fall of that same year, Sam Houston was elected first president of the Republic of Texas. He served two terms as president and the town of Houston was established as the Republic’s capital. After Texas joined the Union in 1845, Houston represented the state as a Senator. He fell from political favor, however, because he opposed Texas’ secession from the Union to join the Confederacy. Houston was removed from office in 1861 and died just two years later in July 1863.
Washington Irving Immortalized the Prairies of Oklahoma
By Jonita Mullins
In 1832, Congress created a Commission to assist in the relocation and settlement of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. This Commission chose Fort Gibson as its headquarters, it being the westernmost U.S. outpost at that time and located in the heart of the lands being set aside for the Indians.
The Commission was also given the task of making treaties with the Plains Tribes who roamed the western sections of the Territory following the annual migration of the buffalo. Until this time, many of these tribes had made no treaty with the U.S. and had had little contact with white settlement.
Three men were appointed to the Commission – Montford Stokes, Rev. John Schermerhorn and Henry L. Ellsworth of Hartford, Connecticut. Congress put at their disposal the Mounted Ranger Company under the command of Captain Jesse Bean who would be stationed at Fort Gibson.
Captain Bean arrived at Fort Gibson in September of 1832 and was shortly ordered to undertake an exploration of the western regions of the newly established Indian Territory. His mission was to try to make an initial contact with the Plains Tribes such as the Comanches and Pawnees.
In the meantime, Henry Ellsworth was traveling westward from Connecticut. On board a steamship on Lake Erie, Ellsworth met the famous author Washington Irving who was interested in touring the west. Ellsworth invited Irving to come along with him to Fort Gibson and Irving jumped at the opportunity. They continued by steamship down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River then up to St. Louis where they visited the Chouteaus and William Clark.
From St. Louis they traveled to Independence and then started south along the Texas Road. A.P. Chouteau, who operated a trading post on the Verdigris River at Three Forks, accompanied the party on this leg of their journey. They arrived at Chouteau’s Verdigris Trading Post on October 8, 1832 and continued from there the four miles to Fort Gibson. It was necessary to cross the Grand River by ferry which was operated by soldiers. Irving noted the whitewashed barracks of the Fort in his journal.
At Fort Gibson, the Ellsworth party learned that Captain Bean’s Rangers had left just three days earlier on his expedition into the Plains. They wished to join the Rangers in this adventure so Colonel Arbuckle, commander at the Fort, dispatched two Creek Indians to find Bean with instructions to wait until Commissioner Ellsworth could join him.
Ellsworth’s group spent the next two days getting outfitted for the trip. They limited their supplies to just what could be carried on their own mounts and a few packhorses. They followed the Arkansas River northwest, traveling through what would become Wagoner and Bixby, but saw no towns back then, only the neat, well-stocked farms of Creek Indians on rich river bottom land.
They joined Bean’s Rangers at the Cimmaron River and proceeded across the prairie in a wide circle of what is now central Oklahoma. They arrived back at Fort Gibson on November 9, well-satisfied with their journey. Washington Irving immortalized this adventure in his book, A Tour on the Prairies.
Jefferson Davis Came to Fort Gibson with the Dragoons
By Jonita Mullins
A new regimental unit called the First Dragoons arrived at their post at Fort Gibson in 1834. This mounted unit had been established by Congress in 1833 to patrol Indian Territory and protect the Santa Fe Trail.
Among the First Dragoons was a young lieutenant named Jefferson Davis, a West Point graduate from Mississippi. Davis, like most soldiers of his day, was expected to begin his military career on “hazardous duty” out on the frontier.
The Dragoons had not long been at Fort Gibson when severe flooding on the Arkansas River and much standing water caused an outbreak of malaria – one of the worst the army had ever dealt with. The soldiers were in a poor state to head westward on an expedition to make contact with some of the Plains Tribes.
Davis served as a company commander on the expedition and while he survived the journey, nearly 150 of his comrades died on that fateful trip.
Davis continued at Fort Gibson until he resigned from the military in 1835 to marry Sallie Taylor, the daughter of General Zachary Taylor. He returned to his home in Mississippi and quickly moved into politics. He began a term in Congress in 1845 just as Texas was petitioning to enter the Union. This threatened to drag the U.S. into war with Mexico over disputed lands along the southern border.
When war with Mexico seemed inevitable, Davis resigned from Congress and was elected colonel of the First Mississippi Regiment of riflemen. This regiment was joined by another from Tennessee and won a decisive victory at Fort Teneria, Mexico. Davis was severely wounded in this battle but remained on the field until the victory was assured. He returned to his home in Mississippi as a war hero.
In 1847, Davis was appointed to the Senate and remained in that office until 1852 when he joined the Cabinet of President Franklin Pierce as Secretary of War. He returned to the Senate in 1857 and there fought against the growing movement for Southern secession. While a staunch supporter of states rights, Davis did not believe secession was the solution.
Nevertheless, when his home state of Mississippi voted to secede, he resigned from the Senate and returned to the military to take command of Mississippi’s forces. A few weeks later, he was elected as president of the Confederate States, a position he initially rejected but was persuaded to accept.
While publicly Davis never stated any doubts in the Confederate cause, privately he may have held reservations about its success. He worked quietly in the winter of 1864-1865 for a peace agreement to end the Civil War. Before any terms were worked out, the defeat of General Lee brought an end to the Confederacy. Davis was arrested for war crimes but was never tried. After two years, he was released from prison. He died in New Orleans in 1889 and was buried at Richmond, Virginia.
Coodey Was Big Resident in Small Frozen Rock Town
By Jonita Mullins
Across the Arkansas River from where the OG&E plant is now located, sat the little community of Frozen Rock. The most prominent resident in the small town was William Shorey Coodey for whom Coodey Creek in Muskogee is named.
William Coodey was the son of Jane Ross Coodey who was the oldest sister of Cherokee chief John Ross. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee around 1806 and received his education there. He was elected secretary of the Cherokee delegation that traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1830 and he remained an active leader in the Cherokee Nation for the remainder of his life.
In 1834, the Coodey family removed from Tennessee to Indian Territory. By 1838, they had built a large double log cabin on the high eastern bank of the Arkansas River at Frozen Rock. It was such a well-built home that Carolyn Thomas Foreman wrote it was still standing some 85 years later.
To this home many influential members of the Cherokee Nation would often gather to discuss the important political happenings of the day. The home was one of the most refined in Indian Territory and a landing at Frozen Rock allowed steamboats to make a stop here before proceeding to Fort Gibson or Creek Agency.
The site of Frozen Rock had earlier been a Seminole camp when members of that Nation first arrived in Indian Territory. They landed by steamboat at Fort Gibson and resided south of the fort until they were eventually settled on land further to the west. Coodey’s daughter Ella later recalled finding blue beads left from the Seminole camp when she would play in the dirt around the foundation of the house.
The Coodey home was run in the manner of a Southern plantation and the Coodeys did hold slaves. One African American slave was named Rabbit and the ford across the river at Frozen Rock became known as Rabbit’s Ford. It was at this ford that Union troops from Fort Gibson crossed the Arkansas River to attack and destroy the Confederate Fort Davis.
When William Coodey and his family arrived in Indian Territory, tensions were still very high between the Western and Eastern factions of the Cherokees. Coodey helped to write the Act of Union between these two factions and also was the author of the Cherokee Constitution. Nearly every year, Coodey would travel with a Cherokee delegation to Washington to meet with government officials on matters pertaining to the tribe.
In fact, Coodey died in Washington in April 1849 at the age of forty-three. He was buried in Washington at the Congressional Cemetery. The Washington Union newspaper commended him at his death as "a citizen of the Cherokee Nation long and favorably known to the government and to the citizens of Washington as an able and faithful representative of the Cherokee people."
Operating Ferries Across the Rivers an Early Business Opportunity
By Jonita Mullins
On the frontier, putting a bridge across a small creek or stream might be a matter of cutting a couple of trees long enough to span the water and nailing spaced boards along their length. But bridges over rivers such as the Arkansas, Grand and Verdigris took more equipment, manpower and engineering than existed in the early days of Oklahoma’s settlement.
The only way to get across the rivers was to ford them – to wade into the water and hope to be able to make it to the other side. Fording the rivers in the Three Forks area could be difficult, even dangerous, and was not for the faint of heart. If the river level was too high, even the most intrepid traveler could not get across.
As more and more people began to move through or settle in the Three Forks, the need for accessible river crossings increased. And a few enterprising individuals saw a business opportunity in this need. They started ferry operations along the rivers at natural fording spots. Often a small community had already developed around these locations, serving the needs of area residents and travelers who would come there to cross the river.
One of the earliest ferries in operation was the Nivens Ferry that crossed the Arkansas River just south of its juncture with the Grand River. Travelers on the military road to and from Fort Gibson would use this ferry as would settlers heading south on the Texas Road. Two other ferries on the Arkansas were the Smith Ferry and Drew’s Ferry located to the south and north of the Nivens Ferry respectively. Ferry operators charged a fee to carry individuals, their horses, oxen and wagons across the river. At busy crossings, a ferry operator could make a good living providing such transportation.
Some travelers grumbled about the fee, but most recognized that it was a service they needed and it was better than risking their lives or possessions to turbulent water or hidden quicksand. Ferries also allowed travelers to cross the river regardless of the water level. The only problem with the ferries was that when they were busy, people would have to line up at the crossing and wait their turn to get across.
At Webbers Falls, a ferry was begun by a Cherokee doctor named William Campbell. He operated two ferries – a steam ferry when the river level was high and a cable ferry when the water was low. Campbell started his ferry out of necessity. His home was located at the river and he would often have complete strangers stranded and camped in his yard or staying in his house because the river level was too high for them to cross.
Campbell’s ferry helped establish a town on the other side of the river opposite Webbers Falls. At first it was called Illinois Station, then the town was called Campbell. The town later changed its name to Gore in honor of Senator Thomas P. Gore.
Ferries continued in operation well after statehood in Oklahoma. By the 1920s, a push for paved roads led finally to the building of bridges over the rivers. Ferries and fords then became a thing of the past on the rivers of the Three Forks area.
Zachary Taylor Briefly Commanded Fort Gibson
By Jonita Mullins
General Zachary Taylor was appointed commander at Fort Gibson in 1841. The fort’s long-standing problem with diseases had prompted some to call for the abandonment of Fort Gibson, but the troubles brewing in Texas in the late 1830s had stirred up rumors of tribal unrest. Mexico was promising Indians in Texas and Indian Territory money and land if they would side with Mexico against the Americans seeking Texas independence. Fort Gibson was seen as vital to keeping the tribes from entering into the fray.
By the time General Zachary Taylor assumed command at Fort Gibson, he had gained a reputation as an Indian fighter with nearly 40 years service in the military at posts all along the western frontier. Though his military service often required him to battle Indians, he also protected them from invading white settlers.
Taylor believed the best way to keep peace between Indians and the American settler was to maintain a strong military presence. He brought this view to Fort Gibson and under his command there, peace was, for the most part, successfully maintained.
In 1844 Taylor was ordered to Fort Jessup, Louisiana as tensions were mounting between Mexico and the United States over disputed land along the southern border. He was ordered to have his command ready to move toward Mexico as the annexation of Texas proceeded. In January, 1846, Taylor advanced toward the Rio Grande with a force of 6,000 men.
After winning two decisive encounters, Taylor triumphed despite overwhelming odds in a battle against the Mexican general Santa Anna at Buena Vista. His command had defeated a Mexican force of 20,000, and Zachary Taylor – nicknamed Old Rough and Ready – became a national hero.
Taylor had never expressed any political preferences or ambitions, but following his victory in Mexico, organizations formed quickly to nominate him for President. He was elected in 1848. In February 1850 President Taylor held a conference with southern leaders who were threatening secession. He told them that if it became necessary to preserve the United States, he personally would lead the military and he would hang anyone "taken in rebellion against the Union.” He never wavered from this position and talk of secession quieted while Taylor remained in office.
In July 1850, Taylor contracted a stomach ailment that may have been cholera. He died on July 9, and more than 100,000 people lined the funeral route to view their hero. His untimely death lessened his lasting impact on national politics and meant he would be unable to play a further role in preventing the Civil War.
President Taylor lived only briefly at the Three Forks of Oklahoma, but his “rough and ready” philosophy made an impact on America for peace. From living among the Five Civilized of the western frontier to residing in the White House in Washington he was a soldier who knew an unwavering strength was a great peacemaker.
Riverboat Traffic Was a Challenging Business
By Jonita Mullins
When you consider how difficult travel upon the rivers was in the early days of the frontier, you have to wonder why anyone would attempt it. But the simple fact was that all modes of transportation were difficult in a land with few roads and no bridges. Traffic upon the “water highway,” though challenging, was often the least cumbersome route to take.
The invention of the steam engine and its application to river travel opened up new possibilities for trade in the Three Rivers region. Up until that time – the late 1820s – river travel was made primarily by keel boats.
The power that moved these boats upstream was manpower, by rowing, poling or pulling the boats. Travel had to be done in the winter when river levels were high – but not at floodstage as they often were in the spring and fall.
For years the head of navigation on the Arkansas River was downstream from the Three Forks. Keelboats usually stopped at Fort Smith and supplies were then brought by wagon to Fort Gibson. Steam transportation pushed the head of navigation further upstream because the steam engine could provide greater power for passing the rough water at Webbers Falls.
One of the first steamboats to begin regular trade between New Orleans and Fort Gibson was the Facility.
Its captain was Philip Pennywit, a native of Virginia who had spent most of his life working as a riverman.
He had entered the trade as a young man and worked on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers between Cincinnati and New Orleans for a number of years.
Finally he had his own steamboat – the Facility – and it became a well-known boat on the Arkansas River.
Pennywit was, in fact, a pioneer in steam travel on the Arkansas. Most river captains were content to deliver their cargo to Fort Smith and not risk further travel upstream. But Captain Pennywit was determined to push the boundaries westward.
In 1828, he agreed to pull two keelboats behind the Facility all the way to Fort Gibson. The passengers on these keelboats were Creeks immigrating from Georgia and Alabama to their new lands in Indian Territory.
No steamboat had reached Fort Gibson before this time. Captain Pennywit arrived in Little Rock with no trouble but had to wait a month at this port for the water to rise. He then continued upstream but ran aground in the vicinity of today’s Kerr Lake and had to wait for the water to rise again.
Finally he arrived at Fort Gibson in February of 1828. The Facility was the first steamboat to reach this destination and the Three Forks then became the head of navigation on the Arkansas. Captain Pennywit attempted several other trips to Fort Gibson that year, but with limited success. On occasion he would have to drop anchor at Sallisaw Creek or Dardenelle and transfer his cargo to land.
Pennywit went on to operate other boats on the Arkansas, including the Waverly and the Neosho, before he retired from the river trade in 1847 and settled in Van Buren, Arkansas.
Cherokee Payment Saved From River Disaster
By Jonita Mullins
Travel by steamboat up the Arkansas River was a precarious business in the early days of river navigation.
Besides the ever present danger of hitting “snags” – submerged logs and other debris – boiler explosions and fires were also a hazard to the steam-powered boats. Few steamboats survived more than four or five years of service between New Orleans and the Three Forks.
One such steamboat was named the Cherokee which plied the rivers between New Orleans and Fort Gibson and the Creek Agency. In December of 1840, the Cherokee carried as a passenger Captain William Armstrong, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the western tribes. Armstrong had traveled to New Orleans to secure a payment for the Cherokees in accordance with their treaty with the federal government. The payment of over $100,000 was to be made at Fort Gibson.
The paper money making up the bulk of the payment was sealed in watertight kegs. An additional amount in gold and silver coins was locked in two strongboxes and kept in the clerk’s office.
After the steamboat had passed Little Rock and was 60 miles upriver of that town, the Cherokee’s boiler exploded. Tragically some 15 crew and passengers were killed and several others were wounded. The boat was torn apart by the explosion and within an hour sank in the Arkansas River.
Captain Armstrong reported to his supervisor that the box of gold was blown onto shore, split open and the coins were spilled about. Armstrong estimated about $90 worth of coins were lost. The box of silver coin, dimes and “half-dimes,” was blown onto the bow of the boat and virtually disintegrated. Armstrong scrambled to retrieve all the change he could and estimated he saved all but about $50.
The kegs holding the paper money fell to a lower deck of the boat, but because they had been secured with iron hoops they did not break apart. None of the paper money was lost. Armstrong, however, was forced to wait several days at the site of the explosion, guarding the money. It was a great relief to him when another steamboat arrived to carry the retrieved funds on to Fort Gibson where they were distributed to the Cherokees gathered there.
Such tragic and frightening incidents were quite common in the days of steamboat travel. The depths of the Arkansas River may still be littered with the remains of vessels that plied its waters in earlier times.
The River Bridge Was Crossed on Christmas Day
By Jonita Mullins
In 1871, when the Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad (the KATY) won the right to cross Indian Territory by being the first Kansas rail line to reach the border, its managers believed they could cross quickly through Indian lands to reach Texas. But that proved not to be true.
First the railroad workers were hampered by early spring rains that turned the prairie to mud. Then mosquitoes nearly drove them crazy as they worked through the swampy bottomlands. By June 1871, they had just reached Pryor Creek, 50 miles from the Kansas border and another 50 miles away from Fort Gibson.
Another hindrance was the open hostility many Cherokees felt toward the railroad. Individual Indians fenced off the best timberlands, forcing the railroad to negotiate with dozens of Cherokees for railroad ties instead of buying them through the Cherokee national council. So frustrating was the lack of cooperation by the Cherokees, the KATY managers decided to change the course of the railroad. Instead of following the Texas Road into Fort Gibson, the rail line would veer to the west so that it would enter the Creek Nation as soon as possible.
But by the end of July, the line had advanced only ten miles to Chouteau’s Creek and it was late August before it passed Flat Rock Creek to arrive at the Verdigris River. Here a depot was established that gained the name Gibson Station because a supply road was built from it to Fort Gibson. Passenger service from Gibson Station began in September 1871.
When the rail line reached the Three Forks area, two river bridges had to be built – first over the Verdigris and then three and a half miles further south over the Arkansas. The railroad supervisor expected to have the bridge over the Verdigris completed by September 15 and over the Arkansas by October 1. Again, these deadlines proved unreachable.
Because the ironwork had to be shipped in from the American Bridge Company in Chicago, the three spans of the Verdigris bridge were not in place until October 1. On that fateful day, the center span collapsed, killing several workers and injuring many more. A new span would have to be shipped in. But on October 8, the Great Chicago Fire broke out and the American Bridge Company had to delay all its shipments.
Work resumed after this delay and the Verdigris bridge was completed by the end of October. The tracklayers, who normally could lay a mile of track a day, took eleven days to cross the three and half miles to the Arkansas, delayed this time by heavy rains and a jungle of river cane. Then on November 17, a heavy rainfall flooded the Arkansas and washed out the framework for its bridge. The workers had to start over once again.
On December 7, the bridge was completed and ready for track to be laid across it to the site of old Fort Davis. This was the original site chosen for a large depot, but the terrain proved too uneven. So the tracklayers slogged through more rain, mud and cane to a site three miles further south. Here the depot would be built and named Muscogee Station in honor of the Creek tribe.
In a ceremony to celebrate finally reaching this milestone, the first steam engine crossed the KATY’s Arkansas River bridge on Christmas Day 1871. This steam locomotive was called a "General Grant" and the trial run across the bridge must have been a great satisfaction to the weary workers who had toiled long and hard for so many months to finally reach the heart of Indian Territory.
Trans-Mississippi Congress Hosted by Muskogee in 1907
By Jonita Mullins
On what is now a parking lot for the federal building in downtown Muskogee once stood Convention Hall, a building constructed for the purpose of hosting the Trans-Mississippi Congress. A group of Muskogee businessmen, mostly bankers, had financed the construction of the building that took up the city block between Main and Second Streets.
The Trans-Mississippi Congress was a regional commercial club whose purpose what to promote commerce and development west of the Mississippi River. It was organized in 1891 and held a convention each year in various western cities such as St. Louis, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.
At the 1906 convention in Kansas City, A.C. Trumbo attended as a delegate from Muskogee. He introduced a bid to have his hometown host the convention the following year. Since Oklahoma was about to become a state, there was a great interest in the region. Muskogee received a unanimous vote to host the convention in 1907.
There was one problem with Trumbo’s plan, however. Muskogee did not have a building large enough to house such a gathering. One would have to be built. So Trumbo, along with his father-in-law J.A. Patterson, led the crusade to get a building up in time for the convention to be held November 19-22, 1907. At a cost of $40,000, the building could seat five thousand people. The main entrance was on the second floor and was accessed by stairs from Second Street.
For the event, Muskogeeans developed a special cheer for the city. This was at the request of Charles Madison the president of the One Hundred Thousand Club. This organization had set a goal to see Muskogee’s population reach 100,000 by 1910. The city’s population was 22,000 at the time. The four-day Congress brought thousands of visitors to Muskogee, including the Chinese Ambassador to the United States and several governors of western states and territories. Thirty passenger trains a day arrived in Muskogee for that week, bringing delegates from all over the west.
Navigation on the Arkansas River was the main topic of interest at the Congress. It was opposed by the railroads which realized water transportation would bring competition and drive freight costs down. Other cities, such as Oklahoma City, also opposed the idea of Arkansas navigation, fearing it would give cities such as Muskogee an advantage in attracting industry.
Convention Hall continued to host many of Muskogee’s largest events for years after the Trans-Mississippi Congress. Boxing matches and other sporting events were held there as well as the annual fireman’s ball.
Ironically, the building was destroyed by fire in 1957.
Floods Washed WWII off Front Pages in 1943
By Jonita Mullins
News of the Allies fighting Japan in the Pacific was temporarily knocked off the front pages of newspapers in northeastern Oklahoma in the spring of 1943. For several days heavy rains in early May had drenched the Three Rivers region. The rain was welcomed by farmers, but when it just kept coming, flooding became a serious concern.
By May 11, rivers throughout the region were swollen beyond their banks and continuing to rise. This was before the extensive system of dams and reservoirs had been built on the Grand, Verdigris and Arkansas Rivers. There was nothing to stop the torrent of water draining into the Arkansas from its many tributaries.
Soldiers on a weekend pass to Tulsa could not return to Camp Gruber because highways were covered and bridges were closed. Their passes were extended until the floodwaters receded. Other soldiers from the 88th Division at Gruber were called into action to help rescue individuals who were stranded in trees and on rooftops. Using pontoon boats rigged with motors, the soldiers had to assist in evacuating the entire town of Webbers Falls.
Bottom lands along the rivers were inundated and it is estimated the Arkansas between Muskogee and Fort Gibson was nine miles wide at the height of flooding and the waters crested at over 48 feet, some 20 feet above flood stage. Levees along the river had huge holes torn into them. Muskogee’s water supply was cut off for days.
Several soldiers were thrown from a boat as they worked to rescue people in Haskell County. Four soldiers were drowned in this incident, as well as two civilians. One soldier who survived the dunk in the river was carried all the way to Fort Smith before he could be rescued.
Because of these soldiers’ deaths, when flooding again threatened in the spring of 1945, a mandatory evacuation was ordered.
Everyone living within flood prone areas was giving only a short time to pack up what belongings they could in a vehicle or wagon and move to higher ground. That year, German prisoners of war housed at Camp Gruber, also assisted with cleanup after the storms.
Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 2, No. 1
THE THREE FORKS
The Three Forks of the Arkansas is probably the first location within the limits of the present State of Oklahoma to be officially noticed and that by no less an authority than President Thomas Jefferson, in his message to congress of February 19th, 1806 submitting reports of Captain Meriwether Lewis, Dr. Sibley and Wm. Dunbar concerning the Indians west of the Mississippi. That the Three Forks should have assumed sufficient importance to be noticed at that time was due to the rivalry of some Indian traders in St. Louis.
Pierre Chouteau of St. Louis for twenty years had enjoyed a monopoly of the trade with the Osage Indians living on Missouri and Osage rivers, within the limits of the present State of Missouri. In 1802 the exclusive privilege of trading with these Indians was given by the Spanish officials to Manuel Lisa, Charles Sanguinet, Francis M. Benoit and Gregoire Sarpy. Chouteau, being a resourceful man and having great influence with the Osage Indians induced 2,000 of them to select as a chief Cashesegra or Big Track and remove from the Missouri river to the Three Forks-the junction of the Verdigris, Grand and Arkansas rivers-about four miles northeast of Muskogee. Here he could continue to trade with these Indians and make them bring to him the furs and skins of the game that abounded in that region: the bear, beaver, deer, elk, buffalo and other animals. He selected this locality because it was at the head of navigation from whence he could ship his furs and peltry to New Orleans and St. Louis; it was convenient to fur bearing game, and near the great saline on Grand River, now Salina, Oklahoma.
When Big Track died is uncertain, but the southern band of Osage who became known as the Chaneers and Arkansas Osage, were also known as Clermont's Band. It contained all of the most unruly young warriors of the tribe and they became the source of a great deal of trouble and anxiety to all the Indians about them as well as to the government. When the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, information of the change of government was communicated to the members of Clermont's band and they promptly threw the letter in the fire. They refused to believe that their friends the French had ceased to be the owners of their country and that the United States had become their sovereign. This information was brought to Lewis and Clark where they camped at the mouth of the Osage river, on May 31, 1804, and is reported in their journal.
With the remakable vision that characterized his administration, Jefferson was planning to explore the great purchase made by us, before the negotiations were consummated; and directly after the title to this great western empire had passed to the United States, Lewis and Clark started on their epochal adventure up the Missouri river and to the mouth of the Columbia. During the winter of 1804-1805 while they were in camp at Fort Mandan on the Missouri River, Captain Lewis prepared a report on the Indians north of the Arkansas River to be sent to Congress in February 1806.
Responding to the President's request for information, Captain Lewis said of the Osage: "About three years since, nearly one-half of this nation, headed by their chief Big Track, emigrated to the three forks of the Arkansas, near which and on its north side, they established a village, where they now reside." Answering the President's further inquiry as to the place where it would be mutually advantageous to set up a trading establishment with the Arkansas Osage, Captain Lewis designated the Three Forks of the Arkansas River.
The great influence of Chouteau with the Osage, and his enterprise in leading two or three thousand of this tribe from their old home, to the mouth of the Verdigris, where they established themselves convenient to navigation; and the resultant location of a trading post, missions, army posts, and Indian agencies in the neighborhood, affected enormously the importance and development of that vicinity and its influence over the surrounding country. And the name of Chouteau, now scarcely remembered in the annals of the southwest, was probably more potent in the destinies of this country than any other.
The three forks was planned by nature, and was early recognized and selected by white explorers as the local point for enterprise in the midst of a vast extent of unexplored country, which was in time to extend its influence to the winning of the great southwest. President Jefferson's message at this early day introduced the vital element of transportation into the destinies of this country, and fixed upon a point and route that survived in that employment until the coming of the railroad.
In 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike started on a tour to explore the headwaters of Arkansas and Red Rivers. In his command was Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson. On October 28, 1806, under orders of his chief from a point about a mile above Great Bend, Kansas, Wilkinson descended the Arkansas with five men in one skin canoe and one wooden canoe; Wilkinson was instructed to examine and report on the features of Arkansas river and the contiguous territory. He accomplished his mission during that winter in spite of incredible hardships; near the Verdigris he visited the winter camp of Cashesegra or Big Track who described his people as suffering from great poverty; he was extremely anxious for the United States to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Verdigris and said for that purpose, he would give the United States the land lying between the Verdigris and Grand rivers. Wilkinson in his report strongly recommended that such a trading post and a garrison be established at that point. Wilkinson said that "though Cashesegra be the nominal leader, Clermont, or the Builder of Towns is the greatest warrior and most influential man, and is now more firmly attached to the interests of the Americans than any other chief of the nation. He is the lawful sovereign of the Grand Osages, but his hereditary right was usurped by Pahuska, or White Hair whilst Clermont was yet an infant, White Hair, in fact, is a chief of Chouteau's creating, as well as Cashesegra, and neither has the power or disposition to restrain their young men from the perpetration of an improper act, fearing they should render themselves unpopular."
According to Timothy Flint, Pahuska derived his appellation of White Hair from a gray wig, or scratch, which he had taken from the head of an American at the disastrous defeat of General St. Clair. He had grasped at the wig's tail in the melee of the battle, supposing it to be the man's hair, and that he should have him by that hold. The owner fled, and the scratch to his astonishment remained in his hand. It instantly became in his mind a charmed thing-a grand medicine. Supposing that in a case like this it would effect a like deliverance, he afterwards wore it, as a charm, rudely fastened to his scalp.
On December 27th Wilkinson's little band passed the mouths of the Verdigris and the Grand where he first noted the cane that lined the banks of the Arkansas from that point onward.
At that early day the traders were coming to the mouth of the Verdigris to trade with the Osage, and a few days after Wilkinson passed the Verdigris he met the boat of Joseph Bogy, a French trader of Arkansas Post; Bogy was coming up the Arkansas with about ten thousand dollars worth of goods to trade to the Osage for their furs; on the 7th day of January near the mouth of the Verdigris he was attacked by a war party of Choctaw Indians under the celebrated Chief Pushmataha, who robbed him of all of his goods; Pushmataha justified their act by saying they were at war with the Osage and as Bogy was trading with the latter, he was subject for reprisal.
Choctaw and Cherokee hunters ranged the country west of the Mississippi at an early day, even before the Louisiana Purchase. By permission of President Jefferson, after the treaty of cession of 1808 was obtained from the Osage, a large number of Cherokee removed to the west and located on Arkansas and White rivers within the present limits of Arkansas. The Osage were jealous of these new neighbors who were hunting on land they had regarded as their own and many acts of violence resulted. The Osage were inveterate horse and cattle thieves and their depredations on the Cherokee became a serious menace to the peace of the country.
In July 1816 William L. Lovely, the agent for the Cherokee living in Arkansas induced the chiefs of the Osage to meet him at the mouth of the Verdigris where he attempted to adjust the difficulties between them and the Cherokee. And in consideration of Lovely's promise that the government would pay the claims of the Cherokee against the Osage for stolen property, the latter tribe agreed to convey to the United States, that great tract of land lying on the north side of the Arkansas River, and extended from the Falls of the Verdigris eastward to the Osage line established by the treaty of 1808. The western part of this tract of land is what was afterward established by the State of Arkansas as Lovely county, at the time the western Arkansas line was located at the mouth of the Verdigris by act of Congress in 1824; and which vanished as an Arkansas county when the boundary line was removed by Congress in 1828, eastwardly to where it now is.
Lovely's treaty however did not produce the peace that he hoped for. In August 1817, Tollunteskee and other western Cherokee chiefs wrote to Governor Clarke at St. Louis that for nine years they had been trying to make friends with the Osage, but to no purpose; they had been trying to raise crops for their families, but the Osage had stolen all their horses, so they were reduced to working the land with their hands: they had promised the President not to spill the blood of the Osage if they could help it, but that now the rivers were running with the blood of the Cherokee, they determined to proceed against their enemies.
The Missouri Gazette of August 23d, 1817, carried a story that was copied in Niles Register of September 17, to the effect that a formidable coalition had been effected consisting of Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee and Delaware from east of the Mississippi, and Caddoe, Cosshatte, Tankawa, Comanche and Cherokee west, for a combined assault on the Osage. The Coshatte, Tankawa and Caddo on Red River, and the Cherokee of the Arkansas complained that the Osage were perpetually sending strong war parties into their country, killing small hunting bands of their people and driving off their horses. The report came from a man from New Orleans who said that he travelled part of the distance between Ouachita and Arkansas rivers with a large party going to join the confederate troops, who had with them six field pieces with several whites and halfbreeds who learned the use of artillery under General Jackson during the recent war.
They had expected to fight a battle with the Osage near Earhart's salt works on Grand river for which the Osage were preparing themselves. This was the salt works at what is now Salina, Oklahoma, to operate which Cherokee Agent Lovely granted a license in 1814. The conflict occurred in due course, and Niles Register contained a story from St. Louis dated December 13, 1817, saying: "We have received information from Lawrence County that the attack on the Osage by the confederate Indians has been more decisive than those conflicts which usually take place in their warfare. The Osage had removed from the neighborhood of Earhart's Saline towards their village, where their parthian mode of fighting could have more effect. They were, however, driven off the place leaving on the ground a number of dead and wounded and several horses."
It was probably this same battle that Nuttall described in 1819: "Some quarrel, however, about two years ago arising between the two nations, the Osage way-laid 12 or 14 of the Cherokee and killed them. On this occasion, the Cherokees collected together in considerable numbers and ascended the river to take revenge upon the Osage who fled at their approach, losing about 10 of their men, who either fell in the retreat, or becoming prisoners, were reserved for more cruel destiny. The Cherokees now forgetting the claims of civilization, fell upon the old and decrepit, upon women and children, and by their own account destroyed not less than 90 individuals, and carried away a number of prisoners. A white man who accompanied them (named Chisholm) with a diabolical cruelty that ought to have been punished with death, dashed out the brains of a helpless infant, torn from the arms of its butchered mother. Satiated with horrid vengeance, the Cherokees returned with exultation to bear the tidings of their own infamy and atrocity."
When the news came to St. Louis of the intended hostilities, orders were given to Major William Bradford and Major Stephen H. Long to proceed up Arkansas river with a command of soldiers and establish an army post at the western boundary of Arkansas territory where the Osage boundary line touched that river and where they arrived in the fall. The point selected by them was at the junction of Poteau and Arkansas rivers called by the French "Belle Pointe" and after some years known as Fort Smith. Major Long, who belonged to the topographical branch of the army, continued up to the mouth of the Verdigris and to the Falls four miles above the mouth. He made observations and records of the latitude and longitude at the Falls and at the mouth of the stream.
This locality become known far and wide among traders, hunters and trappers and government officials as The Three Forks, The Forks of the Arkansas, and the Mouth of the Verdigris. Convenient to the fur trade, it was at the head of navigation and shipments could be made from there in keelboats to New Orleans and St. Louis. The Falls of the Verdigris prevented higher passage of boats and sea trading stores were constructed between the Falls and the mouth, four miles below. During high water the Grand river was navigated as far as the limits of the state of Missouri; and the canoe carried the Indians' furs down that stream, the Verdigris and the Arkansas to the Three Forks, but the deep water of the Verdigris was selected as the basin for cargo boats doing business between the trading houses and points down stream.
Among the early traders there were Pryor and Richards, Brand and Barbour, and Col. Hugh Glenn. Nathaniel Pryor, sergeant in the celebrated expedition of Lewis and Clark, and Samuel B. Richards were engaged in trading at Arkansas Post near the mouth of the Arkansas river, and had a license to trade at the mouth of the Verdigris and also to operate a boat to that point. Richards died in 1819. Pryor was married to an Osage woman. In the employ of Pryor and Richards was Samuel M. Rutherford, grandfather of the lamented S. M. Rutherford of Muskogee. Brand was married to a Cherokee woman and just below the Falls of the Verdigris and on the east side his firm built an extensive trading establishment, consisting of ten or twelve houses, cleared thirty acres of land and established a ferry at the same place. Barbour died in 1821 or 1822 and the trading establishment was purchased by Col. A. P. Chouteau who was engaged in trade with the Indians for many years. In 1828 he sold some of these buildings to the Government for a Creek Agency.
Col. Chouteau maintained two establishments-one at the mouth of the Verdigris from where he shipped his furs to New Orleans, and his homestead at the Grand Saline, near the present town of Salina. The latter place was a pretentious establishment. Here his Osage wife, Rasalie, and her sister, Masina, he lived and raised an interesting family of halfbreeds. He had a comfortable double log house and a large retinue of slaves and Indian retainers; cattle, horses, hogs and poultry and a race track. In 1832 he acted as guide from St. Louis for Irving and Commissioner Ellsworth and their party who stopped at Chouteau's house at the Saline where they were hospitably entertained; all of which is quite fully detailed by Irving and Latrobe in their books. Chouteau did not altogether approve of the work of the mission not far from his home. In his journal Irving made this note-"Col. Chouteau's comparison of two half-breeds-this one had been twice as long at the Mission as he other and therefore is twice as good for nothing."
The year of 1819 was one of increased interest at the Three Forks. It was in that year that the treaty between the United States and Spain determined the boundary line between the possessions of those two countries. Spain had contended that the Arkansas River should be the line, and when it was determined where the boundry was, interest was stimulated in the whole southwest. The trading settlement on the Verdigris was visited that summer by Thomas Nuttall, an English naturalist who spent several weeks there and in the neighborhood and wrote an entertaining book of his impressions and experiences. He made a prediction which is interesting in view of the subsequent building of the city of Muskogee near by. "If the confluence of the Verdigris, Arkansas and Grand rivers shall ever become of importance as a settlement, which the great and irresistable tide of emigration promises, a town will probably be founded here at the junction of these streams; and this obstruction in the navigation of the Verdigris, as well as the rapids of Grand River, will afford good and convenient situation for mills, a matter of no small importance in the list of civilized comforts."
That summer there came west two missionaries for the purpose of selecting a site for a mission among the Osage of Clermont's bond. Rev. Mr. Epaphras Chapman and Mr. Vinall of Connecticut ascended the Arkansas as far as Fort Smith where they were both detained by illness and the latter died. Mr. Chapman then continued and with the assistance of Nathaniel Pryor in securing the sanction of the Osage, selected a place for the mission on Grand River southeast of the present town of Pryor. Work was begun on the buildings the next year and the missionary family arrived at their new home on February 18, 1821, after a journey from the east of ten months.
The treaty with Spain in 1819 described the boundary line as ascending Red River to the 100th meridian, thence up that line to Arkansas River and up that stream to its source. Early in that year Major Stephen H. Long was placed at the head of a party to explore the headwaters of Arkansas River and ascertain the nature of the country definitely determined to belong to us. In his command was Captain John R. Bell who was directed by Major Long to descend Arkansas River and make observations along the route as Lieutenant Wilkinson had done 14 years before. On September 5, 1820, Captain Bell reached the trading house of Col. Hugh Glenn about a mile above the mouth of Verdigris River. He reported that Clermont's band of Osage contained 600 men and that Clermont then had four wives and 37 children. The saline on Grand River had been operated by Campbell and Earhart, but in 1819 Earhart and two accomplices in their employ, one of whom was named Childers, killed Mr. Campbell and scalped him. The murderers were captured and taken to Arkansas Post but soon escaped from custody and were not punished. Captain Bell proceeded down Arkansas River to the Illinois River where he stopped at the salt works of Mr. Bean who had just started to establish the necessary equipment for making salt; but his establishment was not yet running as he was waiting for the kettles he had purchased from the abandoned salt works on Grand River lately operated by Earhart and Campbell.
In 1812 a trading expedition was undertaken by McKnight, Chambers, Baird and others from Missouri who were arrested by the Spaniards and imprisoned in Chihuahua for nine years. In 1821 two of them escaped and coming down Canadian and Arkansas rivers met Col. Hugh Glenn of the Verdigris settlement. The wonders they related to Glenn of Santa Fe inspired in him the desire to undertake a trading exposition to that Spanish city. And accordingly Glenn, Jacob Fowler, Nathaniel Pryor, and a number of other men outfitted an expedition at the mouth of the Verdigris from where they left September 25th. The escaped prisoners went to St. Louis and related their story to willing ears in that city, with the result that another expedition left there under the command of General Thomas James. They descended the Mississippi and ascended the Arkansas in a keel boat; they too came by the mouth of the Verdigris. This was at that time known as the Santa Fe route, and many traders passed that way going to the Spanish country. Within the past year or two several old Spanish coins were picked up on the west side of Verdigris near where some of the trader's houses stood.
The Osage continued turbulent and became the scourge of all the Indian tribes for hundreds of miles around. Arkansas Territory was created in 1819 with a governor who was ex-officio Indian Superintendent. Governor Miller made several ineffectual efforts to bring peace between the Osage and the Cherokee and other tribes; it was then decided to increase the post at Fort Smith, and Colonel Arbuckle with four companies of the 7th Infantry took command at that place in 1822. After two years it was determined to remove the garrison to the Three Forks that the military arm might be closer to the belligerent Osage; and in April 1824 Colonel Arbuckle and his command removed to a point just above the mouth of Grand River and went into camp at a place that was called Fort Gibson. Directly after that Congress passed an Act removing the westerly boundry line of Arkansas forty miles west so that it crossed the Arkansas River at the mouth of the Verdigris.
The meagre literature of that time and place is replete with descriptions of the Osage Indians, chief among whom was Clermont who was in many respects an outstanding figure. Nuttall tells us a great deal of these Indians; Governor Miller of Arkansas gave detailed accounts of them; the missionaries at Union Mission wrote about them, and Clermont's town near the site of where Claremore now is; and Rev. Jedidiah Morse included some interesting descriptions of them in his report of 1822. Ten years later Washington Irving made an interesting note of Clermont in the journal from which he wrote his Tour of the Prairies. "Clermont, a late chief of the Osages-shrewd, intelligent, wary-difficult to be brought to a point. He and Col. Arbuckle had a great regard for each other, but often disputed about Indian matters. Both were prone to beat around the bush. One evening he and the Colonel had a long talk in which Clermont played shy as usual. At length Col. Arbuckle got out of patience 'Well,' he said, 'You have talked now for two hours and said nothing.' 'Brother,' replied Clermont, 'You have talked about as such and said about as little, so as it is growing late, I think' (wrapping himself in his blanket) 'I will go home.'"
1824, one hundred years ago, marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of this part of the country. And for many years the Three Forks not only occupied the conspicuous and interesting position in the development of the southwest that it has maintained since the consummation of the Louisiana Purchase; but with the coming of the emigrant tribes of Indians from the east, the establishment of three Indian agencies, Osage, Creek and Cherokee, the enlargment of the garrison, location of more traders stores, expeditions from here to the prairie tribes of Indians and execution of many treaties at Ft. Gibson, the commanding influence of this locality yearly became more potent in winning to civilization a large part of the great empire Jefferson purchased from France.
Constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System re-established the use of these historic waterways for commerce. The $1.2 billion federal investment was justified, in part, by the expectation that land side access would result in recreational benefits to Oklahoma and the Nation. The establishment of Three Forks Harbor will ensure that these benefits accrue as intended. Three Forks Harbor will provide boaters in Oklahoma, and the surrounding region, safe and convenient access to other ports of call on the inland waterway and the Gulf of Mexico via the Port of New Orleans. Likewise, visitors from ports of call around the world will have access to Oklahoma at Three Forks Harbor.