|In Part II, the Stubblefields traverse the treacherous Wichita River. Now it's time to cross the Red (on a ferry
boat) and set their sights on Oklahoma Territory. In Part III, Dustin Ward retraces the journey along the
|Buffalo on the Oklahoma plains. By the time the Stubblefields crossed the territory
(1890s), the buffalo herds had been driven to near extinction by the railroads and land
speculators. The decimation of the buffalo became the major point of contention between
the Indians and the white settlers. (Dustin Ward)
Day 3 – To Whiskey Creek
I believe they crossed the Red River at a place called “Hill’s Ferry” the morning of the 3rd day. Grandmother said in my tape that they
crossed on a ferry, and Hill’s Ferry was right on their route according to the 1894 map. It was probably Grandmother’s first ride on a boat,
and crossing that big wide river must have been quite an adventure for her.
I read that ferry fares averaged one to two dollars for light and heavy wagons, 18 cents for one man and horse, 6 to 12 cents for each
person, four to six cents a head for horses and cattle, and lesser amounts for smaller animals. With a heavy wagon, two adults and three
children, two horses, two milk cows and a pony, that ferry ride probably cost J.P. somewhere around $3.
The Red River takes its name, of course, from the color of the current. The color comes from the red clays of the river's headwaters to the
west. The Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River originates in New Mexico, flows through Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle,
becomes the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma, and then flows through Louisiana to the Mississippi. It could be a real menace to
early travelers trying to ford it because of its variable currents and quicksand bottom.
After they crossed the Red they were in Oklahoma Territory. The United States acquired most of the Territory in the 1803 Louisiana
Purchase from France. Oklahoma (a Choctaw word meaning “home of the red people”) was set aside as Indian Territory in 1834. In 1890
the region was divided into Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. The two were combined to become the State of Oklahoma in 1907 (ten
years after Grandmother arrived at Oak Creek Farm.)
J.P. and family were now traveling through Comanche and Apache lands. By 1897 the tribes had ceased hostilities and were generally
peaceful. Though homesteaders probably no longer feared for their lives in Indian country, they undoubtedly were more than a little
uncomfortable traveling through there anyway. There were occasional incidents when small bands of young Comanche braves would ride
up to a homesteader’s wagon, pick through his belongings, and “trade” for flour, coffee, frying pans, or whatever appealed to them at the
time. Luckily, the Stubblefields never encountered any problems like that.
They were in true Great Plains country now, with sky so big it seemed to swallow everything, and with tall prairie grass that blew in waves
across the flat surface of the land. Back then the native grasses (big and little bluestem, golden shortgrass, and buffalo grass) grew as
high as a pony’s back. There was an ever-present danger of prairie fire, especially in autumn and winter. Homesteaders would always try
to camp alongside a creek. Besides providing water to drink and bathe in, the creeks also provided some protection against raging
prairie fires. And alongside a creek was about the only place you would find trees on the Great Plains, therefore the only source of shade
from the sun and wood for cooking.
The creeks back then ran much clearer than the red muddy ones you see in western Oklahoma today. None of the Indian land was
cultivated, and the thick prairie grass anchored the soil and prevented erosion. The creeks ran with more water volume back then, too,
because there were no upstream dams to trap water for livestock and irrigation. So the creeks that Grandmother camped at were clearer,
swifter, and safer to drink than those you see today.
I read a couple of accounts of early settlers who camped at Whiskey Creek the first night after crossing the Red River at Hill’s Ferry. So
not having anything else to go on, I figure J.P. probably did about the same thing. I marked number 3 on the map at the Whiskey Creek
crossing. They would have traveled about 23 miles that day.
Day 4 –To Snake Creek
About 10 miles north of Whiskey Creek Grandmother would have gotten her first glimpse of the Wichita Mountains. They become visible
on the horizon like a mirage; small bluish humps only a little darker blue than the sky (under arrow above). They are only about 30 miles
away but seem much further. I bet when her dad told her their destination was on the other side of those mountains she thought the trip
would never end.
One of the things that stood out as I read accounts of early day settlers was their description of the abundance of wild game. They all
commented on the great numbers of deer, antelope, elk, prairie chickens, wild turkey, and quail. There were a lot of snakes, too. In my
tape Grandmother talks about seeing one: “We had a pony with us. We brought two milk cows and a pony, and my brother and I would
take turns riding the pony and we’d go ahead of the wagon apiece. I went out quite a way from the wagon and the biggest snake I ever
saw anywhere, I think, was crawling across the road. Looked like a big old fence post or something. And I rode back to the wagon and
told Papa what was up there, so as we got up there he got a chunk of something and killed the old snake. But I wondered why he did
because the ones he killed didn’t make a dent in getting rid of snakes.”
Speaking of snakes, I wrote earlier about a settler who mentioned a place called “Snake Creek Station” on the stage road between
Henrietta and Ft. Sill. It was a place where travelers could stop to camp, water their horses and livestock, and stock up on provisions. I’m
thinking J.P. probably camped somewhere in the vicinity Snake Creek Station that night.
It could be that Grandmother had trouble falling to sleep that night if she lay there wondering just why they named that place Snake
Creek! And that night (or any night on the journey, for that matter) Grandmother would have heard owls and coyotes. She might also have
heard the howls of wolves or screams of a panther, because they were roaming the plains back then too.
Day 5 – To Medicine Creek
On the fifth day they would have reached the Wichita Mountains. The towns of Lawton and Cache weren’t there then, and wouldn’t be
for another four years when the Kiowa/Comanche lands opened for settlement (in 1901). Ft. Sill was there, though. I don’t think they
stopped there because Grandmother never mentioned anything to anyone about it, and I think she would have. Also, if you look back at
the 1895 map, it’s a little out of the way of their route.
There is a natural passage through the Wichita Mountains near West Cache Creek that is now State Highway 115. I believe that is the
route J.P. took, and it is certainly a more direct route than skirting either the east or west sides of the Wichita range.
There were two pioneer outposts in the area where J.P. could have stopped to stock up on provisions. One was called “the Red Store”
and was located somewhere in the area the town of Lawton is located today. The other was called West Cache Trading Post and was
near the wagon road into the Wichita Mountains. Both places did a lot of trade with Indians living in the area and with pioneers passing
through. My bet is they stopped at the latter, near West Cache Creek.
In Uncle Herk’s tape Aunt Leta asks about some names carved into rocks at a spring near Cache. This is how Grandmother described it:
“It was just flat sand rock. Right down in those rocks was that spring water. And I remember Papa taking his horses out there. It was off
the road we traveled . . . I don’t know how he found it. Of course we followed along, or I did, and I could read some things but couldn’t
pronounce them, and it seems to me like two or three feet around that spring was different names carved of the old, old cattlemen
and things that come through there – before it was ever settled.”
I’ve tried and tried to find where that spring was located, but can’t find any record of it. I had some e-mail correspondence with a very
helpful gentleman named Charles Ellenbrook, who knows the Wichita Mountains as well as anyone. (He is author of the book Outdoor and
Trail Guide to the Wichita Mountains.) He said the closest spring to the Cache area is called Hackney’s Spring, but there are no names
carved there. I’m thinking if the names were carved in sandstone they would probably have eroded away after 100 years anyway.
This area was heavily populated with Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita Indians, so Grandmother would have seen more Indians here than on
any other part of their journey. It may have been here that her mother Alice tried to communicate with one of the Indian women. This is
how Grandmother told it in Uncle Herk’s tape: “Mama and an old squaw met up, and they were trying their best to talk to one another.
Each one wanted to know about their children. And she told Momma that she had three that had gone to heaven – she’d take her hands,
you know, and she indicated three of hers had died. And I remember how hard they tried to understand one another.”
It was also in this area, probably, where Grandmother poetically describes on Uncle Herk’s tape the beautiful Indian horses she saw on the
trip. “I saw herds after herds, and they was just as pretty to us kids as if they’d been that many wildflowers. Now I thought that was just
something heaven had sent, was those pretty, painted horses. All colors.” (Wasn’t that a great description! In the tape you can actually
hear the awe in Grandmother’s voice some seventy years after she saw those horses.)
I don’t know for sure where J.P. and family pulled their wagon over and camped that night. It may have been on West Cache Creek near
the trading post, or they may have gone further north and camped on Medicine Creek within the mountain range. I’m thinking since
Indians often put up their teepees and camped around the trading posts, J.P. probably went further north. And since Medicine Creek is a
beautiful little creek surrounded by mountains, I’m going to say that’s where they camped.
Day 6 – To Saddle Mountain
On my ride through the Wichita Mountains I came across these buffalo grazing right
next to the road. I pulled my bike right up next to them. They didn’t seem to
appreciate the Harley sound at all and looked fitful, so I shut it down. They quickly
got back to grazing and I got several good pictures. It was kind of a thrill to be this
close to the mighty buffalo! I’ve been here before and the buffalo are usually way off
next to the mountains and you would need a zoom lens to get any kind of picture.
But I could have taken a few steps and touched one of these guys (there are signs
here and there throughout the refuge warning people not to get too close, so I
didn’t.) I felt lucky to be so close and spent about an hour watching these amazing
There is a good story of how the buffalo came back to the Wichita Mountains. As we
all know, white buffalo hunters had practically extinguished the species through
wholesale slaughter. The Kiowa and Comanche Indians, who had always honored
the buffalo through the Sun Dance, started performing a new ritual called the Ghost
Dance to bring them back. But the Ghost Dance didn’t work and they didn’t come
back. That’s where Quanah Parker enters the picture.
Quanah, like Geronimo, became friends with President Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy
Roosevelt was probably the most “macho” President we ever had. He was a Rough
Rider, hunter, horseman and fisherman. He had great respect for Indians and
became good friends with both Geronimo and Quanah Parker. He even came to the
Wichita Mountains one time to hunt wolves with Quanah on horseback. Quanah saw
it as an opportunity to talk to the new President about the extinction of the buffalo.
In short, he asked the President to bring the Buffalo back.
Roosevelt honored his request, and in 1901 set aside a portion of the Wichita
Mountains as the nation’s first game preserve. He arranged through the New York
Zoological Park and American Bison Society to ship fifteen buffalo to Cache OK by
train. When the train arrived the Comanche, Kiowa, and Wichita Indians in the area
were there to welcome the buffalo back. They were dressed up in their finest and
brightest regalia. I read that Quanah wept when the buffalo were loaded off the
train. From that initial herd of 15 there are more than 500 on the refuge today.
I also saw a herd of Texas longhorn on the refuge. The true Texas longhorn was at
one time getting bred out, heading toward extinction. A small herd of the true
unmixed breed was brought to the refuge in 1927. There are more than 250 now.
So back to J.P. and family. When they took the wagon road through the Wichitas and
came out the north side they were on Kiowa lands. Their route would probably have
taken them by a tiny community called Saddle Mountain. By 1902 Saddle Mountain
had a post office and Indian mission, but when they passed through there wasn’t
much there. They may have camped for the night in the area. I marked it as 6 on the
Day 7 – To Oak Creek Farm
Now here’s a mystery. In my tape of Grandmother she talks about going through
“Mountain City.” She says, “We came to the Wichita Mountains, and before we got to
the farm we went across several sections of land, through a little place they called
Mountain City. We just angled over up there over to the farm. There was no roads
surveyed out, you know.” I think she was referring to Saddle Mountain when she
said that. I couldn’t find where there had ever been anything called Mountain City.
There was a Mountain Park, but it didn’t exist when they came through and was too
far west anyway. And there’s Mountain View, but it was called Oakdale when they
came through (changed to Mountain View in 1902.) So I’m thinking she may have
been referring to Saddle Mountain when she said Mountain City.
Whatever the case, it is clear from what she said above that once they got close to
their destination there were no more wagon roads. The wagon road they took
through the mountains bore to the east. They needed to angle northwest. So this is
the point on their journey where they just struck out across the prairie and found
their own way to the Oak Creek farm.
J.P. and family passed Rainy Mountain on this last leg of the journey. It just sits out
there by itself, a prominent land feature in the area. Rainy Mountain is a powerful
symbol to the Kiowa. It symbolizes their sacred homeland, their final destination.
A Kiowa named M. Scott Momaday grew up around Mountain View not far from Rainy
Mountain. He became a Pulitzer Prize winning author, taught for a while at Berkeley
and now teaches at the University of Arizona.
He wrote a book called The Way to Rainy Mountain. In it he says, “A single knoll rises
out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the
Kiowa, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain.” He goes on
to say “Loneliness is an aspect of the land. All things in the plain are isolate; there
is no confusion of objects in the eye, but one hill or one tree or one man. To look
upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the
sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where
Creation was begun.”
I figure J.P. and family passed on the east side of Rainy Mountain somewhere
between Gotebo (which wasn’t even there then) and Mountain View (which was
called Oakdale then). They would have finally arrived at their destination, the Oak
Creek Farm, sometime in the late evening. In my mind’s eye I can see my
Grandmother, little ten-year old Edna Maude, excitedly hopping off the wagon so
happy to have finally arrived after the hard seven-day journey. I can see her looking
out over the surrounding hills for the first time and taking in the beauty of her
surroundings. I can see her rushing to the house, looking at the few rooms, so
excited about her new beginnings. And at ten she would have had no idea she
would fall in love, marry, raise eleven children and see her grandchildren play on
|Now for a description of Edna's life on
the Oklahoma Prairie, continue on to
|Medicine Creek. (Dustin Ward)
|Rainy Mountain (Dustin Ward)
|The "new" Trading Post dates from the 1950s.
Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas still visit the post
|Just like in the 1880s, the interior of the post is a
real mess of things, some really good stuff, some not
so great. (RRH)
|The original Cache trading post now sits inside an
abandoned amusement park behind the newer
incarnation of the Trading Post. (RRH)
|Oklahoma Territory, Part III
by Dustin Ward