|In Part I, author Dustin Ward provides a little background on what made the Stubblefields from Sunset,
Texas, decide to hitch their wagon due north to Oklahoma Territory. In the second part, Dustin recreates
|The author marked the possible route taken by the
Stubblefields on this 1895 map. The family crossed the Red
River north of Henrietta and followed roads and creek beds
over the Wichita Mountains to their Washita County
homestead. (Dustin Ward)
Day 1- To Henrietta
There are very few facts to go on concerning the exact route they took, but
there are a few clues here and there. In both Herk’s and my tapes
Grandmother says it took them a week to get from Sunset to the Oak Creek
farm, which is a distance of approximately 155 miles. At that rate they would
have to average about 22 miles a day. That is a starting point for trying to
figure out where they may have stopped to camp along the way.
In Uncle Herk’s tape Grandmother says “we went off up through Montague,
then angled up through what’s called Henrietta.” That makes perfect sense
because Henrietta is northwest of Sunset, and to get there they would have
to “angle up” through Montague County.
Henrietta is the county seat of Clay County, and in the 1880’s was a major
shipping point for buffalo bones. White hunters had slaughtered the herds
and left them to rot on the plains.
Their bones were everywhere, lying on the prairie and bleaching in the sun.
Then some enterprising soul realized that money could be made by
collecting the bones and shipping them up east to be made into fertilizer. A
new industry was begun.
I read an account that said piles of buffalo bones stretched half a mile along
the railroad tracks, and were thirty feet wide and sixteen feet high.
Hundreds of pioneer families beat droughts, debts, and famine by picking
and selling buffalo bones. I find it ironic that the buffalo, who provided the
Plains Indians their livelihood while they were thriving, later provided a
livelihood for the very people who slaughtered them.
I would imagine that Henrietta was the biggest town Grandmother had ever
seen in all her ten years! I can imagine her wide eyes when she saw the
1890 courthouse and jail pictured below. There was nothing like that in
Sunset, which is all she had known.
I’m just guessing again, but J.P. probably would have stocked up on
provisions in Henrietta, then camped the first night on the creek just
outside town. After a full day’s travel, grandmother was undoubtedly a tired
little girl that evening and fell asleep quickly and happily her first night on
Day 2 –To the Wichita River
If you look at the 1895 map on the next page (I marked their probable route
in red), you can see that Henrietta would be the last real town they would go
through on the entire journey. When I first started trying to figure out what
route J.P. had taken, I didn’t even consider him taking the route I marked
because it was through Indian land – no towns and no wagon roads that I
knew of. I couldn’t see J.P. just heading out across the prairie through
unsettled Indian land. Notice that on the left and right sides of the map
there are towns. If there are towns there are roads. So I figured he took a
less direct, but more populated route through the towns marked on either
the left or right sides of the map.
Then one day I came across something that changed my mind altogether. I
was at the Oklahoma Historical Society reading accounts of pioneers who
settled Oklahoma Territory, and I came across this, written by a Texan who
settled in Washita County in 1893: “When I got to Henrietta I found that
there was a daily stage line between that place and Fort Sill. This stage
carried the mail and such passengers as might be going that way, together
with light express. Midway between the Red River and Fort Sill was what
was commonly called the Snake Creek Station, it being located where a
small stream of that name—a tributary of East Cache Creek—was forded.”
Eureka! After reading that, I was pretty sure it was the route J.P. had taken
out of Henrietta. A stagecoach line would require a good wagon road, and
there would be some stage stations spaced out along the way. Also it would
be a more direct route to their destination, 40 or 50 miles shorter than the
routes I first considered. (And back then that would mean two fewer days
I did some more checking and found that the stage line was once an old
military road called the Ft. Sill/Jacksboro Road in the 1870’s. (Remember,
Jacksboro TX is where Satanta and Big Tree were taken to stand trial for the
Warren Wagon Train Massacre). Then I found an old 1894 map with the Ft.
Sill/Jacksboro Road clearly marked on it, along with the designation “Hill’s
Ferry” at the crossing of the Red River. Now I was not only fairly sure of the
route J.P. took, but also the point at which they ferried across the Red
River. And that is the route I marked in red on the map.
One thing we know for sure is that they camped on the Wichita River. In my
tape Grandmother says, “We camped one time on the Wichita River. Papa
thought it was so pretty we camped on the edge of the river. He had bought
my brother and I some pretty things to fish with, colored floats and things
like the kids used to use so much. We just had to fish that evening and he
got pretty close to the river, and that storm came up that night and Papa
hobbled his horse and put him out on the grass. I heard him tell Mama that
maybe he’d better go get the horses and pull the wagon out up on the
bank. And when it would lightning I could see down on the river and it was
getting up. I was scared, and I’ve been nervous about muddy water ever
since. I was scared to death. I thought we’d just tumble over there in that
old swift river and that’d be the last of us.”
|The grave of the author's great-great grandfather', James
Stubblefield, in Sunset. (Dustin Ward)
|The 1890 jail house in Henrietta, an important trading and
stage-coach center on the Texas prairie during the frontier
years. (Dustin Ward)
|This marker in Sunset denotes the California Trail and
Butterfield Overland Stage Coach Crossing. (Dustin Ward).
|Dustin explains the frontier:
Up to just six years before they [the Stubblefields] arrived the pioneers of
north Texas were constantly terrorized by Indian raids. I’m going to digress
here a little bit and provide some historical background of Indian/white
relations just prior to the arrival of the Stubblefields in Texas. And it does
have a very clear connection to my Grandmother.
In the early 1870’s the only Indians who were not subdued or on
reservations were the tribes of the Great Plains. All the eastern Indians, the
Mohawk, Pontiac, Delaware, etc. were subdued. As mentioned earlier, the
Five Civilized Tribes were living peacefully on reservations. The Pacific
Coast tribes were no problem. But the Great Plains tribes, the Lakota (or
Sioux - Crazy Horse’s tribe), the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa
were a different matter. They ruled the Great Plains. They were master
horsemen, courageous warriors, nomadic. They followed the great buffalo
herds, from which they got their sustenance, shelter, tools, and way of life.
A secondary strategy was to kill the Indian’s beloved horses. Without
horses they would be forced to stay in one place – on the reservations. So
whenever they could, the Cavalry would kill their horses - sometimes by the
So the Kiowa and Comanche started to cross the Red River from Oklahoma
Territory to steal horses from Texas settlers. A great number of settlers
were ambushed and killed, entire families wiped out in many cases.
Sometimes white children were stolen and raised among the Indians as
slaves. It got so bad that in 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant sent none other
than General William Tecumseh Sherman, the General of the Army and great
Civil War hero, to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma Territory, to do something about the
Shortly after Sherman arrived at Ft. Sill he took a column of 7th Cavalry down
to Texas to see for himself the severity of the problem. At the same time a
band of Kiowa arrived, led by the ferocious Satanta (I read somewhere that
Larry McMurtry based his Lonesome Dove character Blue Duck on Satanta.)
Among Satanta’s band were two equally ferocious Kiowa warriors, Big Tree
|Will little Edna make it across the river? Find out in Part III!
|Palo Duro Canyon, site of the last Plains Indians stand against
white encroachment. (RRH)
|An old neon sign in Nocona, in
Montague County (RRH)
Okay, here’s the connection to my Grandmother. When I was a kid I remember Grandmother and my dad talking about a scary Indian
named Big Tree who had lived not too far from the Oak Creek farm. They are one and the same. About 15 miles southwest of what would
later become Grandmother’s birthplace (Sunset), the Kiowa warriors saw the dust from Sherman’s column. They hid and watched the
soldiers approach, debating whether to attack or not. The medicine man with them said he had a vision that they should not attack the
first target, but the second one that rode past. So Sherman’s column rode on past, unaware and spared.
The second target was a wagon train. The Kiowa attacked and caught the teamsters completely by surprise. All were killed but one, a man
who had shot and killed one of the Kiowa. He was captured and tied to a wagon tongue. A fire was built under him and he was burned to
death. This depredation became known as the Warren Wagon Train Massacre, and it became pivotal in the Government’s resolve to
subdue the remaining hostile tribes (especially, I would imagine, when Sherman learned that he narrowly escaped what could have been a
disastrous encounter himself!)
About a week after Sherman got back to Ft. Sill, Satanta, Big Tree, and Satank showed up on the porch of Sherman’s headquarters to
complain about not receiving the rations the Government had promised them. In the argument that ensued, Satanta lost his temper and
bragged about having done the Warren massacre. The interpreter told Sherman, and of course Sherman immediately called for guards to
arrest them. There was a short scuffle and Big Tree tried to escape by jumping through a window, but they were all captured and taken to
It was decided that the three would be bound over to Texas to stand trial for murder. It would be the first time that Indians were held
accountable for their raids and tried for murder in a white man’s court. They were each handcuffed and put in separate wagons for the
long trip down to Jacksboro, Texas to stand trial. (Jacksboro is about 30 miles southwest of Sunset.)
Satank was a member of the elite Kiowa warrior society known as Koitsenko, and was duty bound to fight to the death. When he was put
into his wagon, he turned his back to his guards and started singing the Kiowa death chant. As he did so he was biting the skin from one
of his hands so he could pull it out of the handcuffs. He finally got his hand free and spun and wrenched a rifle out of one of the guard’s
hands. But before he could get a shot off the other guard shot and killed him.
Satanta and Big Tree were taken on to Jacksboro where they were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Upon hearing the sentence
Satanta pronounced to the court, “You hang us, it be like spark in prairie grass. Cause heap big fire.” I guess the Government saw some
truth to his statement because their sentences were soon commuted to life imprisonment. And after spending two years in Huntsville
prison they were paroled by Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis.
A condition of parole was that they would stay put on the reservation and never take part in any hostilities again. But in 1874 Satanta
joined in a raid against buffalo hunters at the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas. He was later captured and sent back to Huntsville prison for
violating his parole. In 1878 he jumped from a second story window in the prison hospital to his death.
The Kiowa and Comanche continued on the warpath and were among the last of the nation’s Indians to be placed on reservations. They
had ruled the Plains from Kansas to Texas for over 150 years because of two things – the buffalo and the horse. By 1875 the buffalo were
gone and after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon their horses were gone (the U.S. Cavalry captured and slaughtered over 1100 of their
horses). So in June of 1875 they acknowledged defeat, were stripped of their weapons, and were brought to Ft. Sill as prisoners of war.
In 1887 (the year my Grandmother was born) the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act. It called for the dissolution of Indian
tribes as legal entities and divided tribal lands among the individual members, granting 160 acres to each family head and 80 acres to each
single adult. Big Tree was given 160 acres on the Washita River about 5 miles east of what would become the Ward family farm.
I may have gotten a little carried away with the above history lesson, but I wanted to give some background about the times that preceded
the Stubblefield’s arrival in Texas. And, as you can tell, I’m fascinated with Indians, especially the Kiowa and Comanche who were among
the fiercest, proudest, and hardest to subdue. When I discovered that the Big Tree I’d heard Grandmother and my dad talk about so many
times was an actual historic figure - well it just really impressed me.
|Oklahoma Territory, Part II
by Dustin Ward