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Railroad Expansion Put Cleora and Ketchum on the Map in Northeast Oklahoma

Railroad Expansion Put Cleora and Ketchum on the Map in Northeast Oklahoma



This is the tenth  in a series of articles for Echos Of The Past provided by  the Grand River Historical Society www.grandriverhistory.com

All aboard at Copeland Switch for a mythical 1950 train ride on a long forgotten railroad, the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad (the MO & G) that ran the length of the Grand River Valley 

Grand River Valley Northeast Oklahoma

from 1912 to the mid – 1960’s. Although the line began at Baxter Springs and wound its way through Fairland, we choose to board at Copeland Switch, across from today’s Tom Cat Corner at the junction of highways 59 and 85A,. But now during the summer of 1950, we leave Copeland and travel southwest across the fields north of Echo Bay and beyond Littlefield’s Corner then turn north and follow the new grade (now 85A) which was created because of the creation of Grand Lake then across the railroad bridge at Horse Creek to the station at New Bernice. Someone mentions that the original town of Bernice established in 1913 was now under water and the town and railroad track originally had been relocated 2 ½ miles east before being inundated by the lake in 1940,

Continuing on through Bernice we travel about five miles to the town of Cleora. The original community was nearer the river but was moved to take advantage of rail transportation. Today, the town now includes a two story hotel, a post office, and a Dr’s office. We reflect on the fact that if we were to pass through Cleora 

Cleora Oklahoma on Grand Lake in Northeast Oklahoma

50 years later, the train would have run right through Kahoot’s Convenience Store as it made its way southeast across the upper end of Duck Creek to Ketchum.

Folks at Ketchum had also anticipated the coming of the MO&G several years before by moving some of their buildings from what then was known as Ketchum Crossing founded in 1898 by Reverend James Ketchum, a wealthy Delaware Indian It would have happened later anyway because now Ketchum Crossing was covered by 80 feet of water under Ketchum Cove.

Leaving Ketchum we continue to Pensacola another creation of the railroad. In 1910 a speculator from Kentucky, James Wilson, began buying Indian allotments and platting a town, however he had a problem. He needed a post office but one already existed called Pensacola and it was located just 1 ½ miles north. It would be very difficult to persuade the government that another post office was needed nearby. Wilson knew that Isaac Garber owned the store housing the post office and after considerable overtures to Garber and the surrounding neighborhood, convinced them that it would be to their economic advantage to move to the new site and they agreed. The name “Pensacola” first the home of “Greenbrier Joe” Martin, then the name of a post office three miles south of his ranch buildings had moved another 1 ½ miles south and was finally a town located on the MO&G.

Years before when the railroad was being proposed its owners determined that they would begin construction southbound from Baxter Springs, Kansas and northbound from Muskogee. And consequently our next stop Strang, also a result of the railroad, became the site for the two sections to meet. On Valentines Day, February 14, 1913 a “Golden Spike” Golden Spikes Monument Video ceremony occurred that drew thousands of spectators.   Most had never seen a steam engine  or train and were in such awe that they scattered in terror when the engineer, a practical joker, pulled the whistle and yelled that he “was going to turn the train around.”

From Strang our train turns south across the Grand River on a bridge whose abutments are still visible and follows the east bank of the Grand River to Salina. All of this section of the road would be flooded by Lake Hudson in 1965, but now in 1950 it is a peaceful scenic ride. Back in 1912 some businessmen had decided to create “New Salina” about ¾ of a mile south of the present town and constructed some buildings, but the new location soon faltered because the post office had remained in Salina and folks wanted to shop there.

Following the river bend and steaming on past the future site of Kerr Dam just east of Markham’s Ferry Crossing the train turns sharply to the left and enters Locust Grove, still another railroad town platted in 1912. Then traveling southwest we cross the river again at Rocky Point northeast of Wagner and leaving the Grand River Valley continue through Okay and then merge with the Katy Railroad at Muskogee Arriving at the station the conductor shouts “end of the line.” Improvement of trunk roads and highways for trucking plus creation of the Grand and Hudson lakes prove the conductor to be prophetic. Fifteen years after our mythical ride in 1950, the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf came to the “end of its line.”


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Railroad Expansion Put Cleora and Ketchum on the Map in Northeast Oklahoma

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”  John 15:7




Cabin Creek Battlefield near Big Cabin, Oklahoma


This is the seventh  in a series of articles for Echos From The Past provided by  the Grand River Historical Society www.grandriverhistory.com

Most of the articles for “Echos” dwell on the history of northeastern Oklahoma events and people, but occasionally it’s necessary to point out a 21st century issue. So it is with Cabin Creek, site of two Civil War battles and several skirmishes. Although most of the battles fought west of the Mississippi were not of the magnitude of those in the east the battles at Cabin Creek (located in Mayes County, Oklahoma) were very significant.

The Military Road from Fort Scott, Kansas was a vital lifeline for federal troops to get supplies to Fort Gibson throughout the war because for the most part the rebels owned the countryside in northeastern Oklahoma. But, a crossing at Cabin Creek on Greenbrier Joe Martin’s ranch took on particular significance in June of 1864 after Stand Watie and his troops had ambushed and sunk the J.R. Williams, a steamboat carrying supplies up the Arkansas River from Fort Smith.  It was well known that the crossing at Cabin Creek was a good spot to harass and ambush northern wagon trains. And, of course the confederate objective was not only to prevent wagon trains from reaching Fort Gibson, but to confiscate the supplies for themselves.

Confederate sympathizers west of the Mississippi were no different than their eastern counterparts. The south had initiated the war in April of 1861 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina based on emotions that had festered for years rather than on reason. The logistics for war favored the north which was more heavily populated, 20 million compared to 9 million, contained most of the industry required to conduct a war, and was far more interconnected by rail service which enabled them to move supplies and troops quickly.  

Battle of Cabin Creek near Grand Lake Oklahoma

The south gambled that the need for cotton in Europe would gain allies, but for various reasons that never happened. So the south quickly fell behind in efforts to supply their army. As the war ground on Confederate troops were increasingly ill fed and ill equipped, many without shoes or appropriate weapons and still wearing the same clothes they wore when the conflict started. The fact that the south fought for four years out manned and out gunned is a remarkable feat in itself. Probably the only reason the conflict lasted that long was best summed up by a confederate captive. When asked, “Why are you fighting so hard?” the soldier answered, “Because you’re down here.” Civil War Video


Similarly, Confederate General Stand Watie’s 

Confederate General Stand Watie

troops were in desperate need of supplies and had failed to obtain them in a battle at the same site in July of 1863. But in September of 1864 they succeeded in winning not only the battle but in a military sense the lottery as well, more than a million dollars worth of supplies. If that same victory had occurred in the east what would the history books have reflected? One can only speculate that at a time Grant was threatening to take Richmond and the fall of Atlanta occurred, Cabin Creek would have received considerable press in the south…..and the north. Without a doubt it would have boosted southern morale and resolve and might even have affected the outcome of the presidential election in the north. Lincoln’s critics weren’t happy with the slow progress of the war and any negative publicity may have given his opponents the impetus they needed to promote compromise with the south and win the election.

However, this article isn’t about the battles and skirmishes at Cabin Creek or its possible influence on the war, those details will be reviewed another time. This is about 2010, and the inadequate recognition the site is given today. Only ten acres, probably 1/10th of the battle site has been set aside with some descriptive monuments. And, unless the visitor is a student of the battle the monuments are at best only evidence that something of importance happened and at least the explanations they offer are confusing. Only those who have carefully studied the battle could unravel the sequence of events. In addition to the minimal recognition of the battle itself, locating the site is a challenge. To say the least, signage on highways 28 and 69 are confusing and even when directions are given to the site it is somewhat akin to participating in a snipe hunt.

It is quite obvious that today’s society requires instant gratification and we are obsessed about obtaining our rights, but not so quick to recognize our responsibilities. Developing Cabin Creek as a full fledged interpretive battle site that honors our citizen soldiers is our responsibility. They deserve no less.

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Jean Pierre Chouteau | A Visionary for the Ages |the Father of Oklahoma

This is the fifth  in a series of articles for Echos From The Past provided by  the Grand River Historical Society www.grandriverhistory.com

Jean Pierre Chouteau, A Visionary For The Ages written  by Dr. Bruce Howell

Just as today, businessmen in the past faced continual challenges and the Chouteau brothers were no exception. As explained in the previous article, because of politics they had lost their lucrative fur trade market close to St. Louis. They had to explore new territory. So When Jean Pierre Chouteau left St. Louis in March of 1796 to search for a trading post beyond Missouri’s western borders, he was looking for a site as well as a waterway to transport furs to market. His party, maybe 18 in all, included other French traders and a few Osage Indian guides. Moving west southwest from St. Louis for about 400 miles the party came upon a sizeable stream which the guides called Ne-o-zho. Chouteau called it grande riviere or Grand River, the name it maintains today after crossing into  Northeast Oklahoma.

pirogue construction

A boat or pirogue was fashioned from the trunk of a cottonwood tree and Chouteau, along with an Indian guide floated down the river with the rest following along on the river bank.

He was looking for the mouth of a spring branch that fed into the river and a place with a rocky bottom that could be used as a passable ford.

Just imagine that river before it was inundated by Grand Lake. Today, Chouteau would have passed under Sailboat Bridge near the confluence of the Grand and Elk River, on past Carey Bay and Patricia Island, curved around the southern tip of Monkey Island, perhaps considered Horse Creek as a site, continued under a 150 foot cliff beneath The Coves residential area, past Duck Creek, then beneath Langley Bluff to the confluence of the river with Big Cabin Creek, and finally to Saline Creek that empties into what today is Lake Hudson. There, he found what he was looking for, within the city limits of present day Salina, not only the ideal building site but near a salt deposit as well. The rest of his party following along the river bank would have ridden through the woods and fertile grassy meadows that lined the river and, in later years became home to farmers. It was the same journey that, one hundred years later, Henry Holderman, another entrepreneur, would make while searching for a dam site on the river to produce electricity.

In all, the Chouteau party spent two days journeying from where they launched the pirogue north of Miami to the mouth of Saline Creek flowing into the Grand River. At last, Jean Pierre Chouteau had found the ideal location. He wanted to build a trading post that was far enough from St. Louis to capitalize on an abundant fur trade, and with a water highway connecting to the Arkansas River that eventually would reach the Mississippi and the New Orleans market.

Inadvertently, Chouteau had also laid the groundwork for a debate among historians. Today, Salina is advertised as the “oldest city in Oklahoma” because of the Chouteau settlement in 1796. Historical purists insist that honor should be given to another settlement, Fernandina, located in Kay County near Newkirk. Some argue that Fernandina was established by French traders earlier in the 1700’s because of certain European artifacts that were found there. Others disagree and believe it was an established Wichita Indian village where other Frenchmen traded with the tribe. In either case, the scales tip toward Salina for “oldest city” honors because Fernandina no longer exists.

Returning to Chouteau, we find him busily directing construction of a trading post as well as coordinating scouting parties that were sent in every direction to search for signs of Indian hunters and villages. After the camp was finished, for the next six weeks one by one, the scouting parties returned. And, one by one their report was not good. They had learned to their dismay, that no tribes had permanent villages within several days journey of the trading post! Using today’s jargon, Chouteau had flunked a basic rule of Business 101 ……”When establishing a business be certain there are customers, location, location, location.” Discouraged, the party abandoned camp and returned to Fort Carondelet and the Indian Village near the Osage River in southwestern Missouri.

Again, by abandoning his trading post, Chouteau fueled the basis for still a second debate among historians. Since he left the Salina site during the spring of 1796 and didn’t return until 1802 (with another business plan) was Salina established in 1796 or 1802?

In either case, that wasn’t an issue of interest to the Chouteau’s. Although discouraged with the failure to find customers for their fur trading business, the Chouteau brothers optimistically developed a new plan of action. Using their money and influence with the Osage, they began an extensive campaign to add fuel to a long-standing argument between factions of the Osage tribe. Typically, just like politics today, there has always been an argument among Indian tribesman (listen to Indian Flute Music) regarding who should run the tribe and the Osage were no exception. Playing on egos within the leadership over the next six years, the brothers convinced two influential chiefs, Big Track and Clermont, to move their permanent villages down into the valleys of the Arkansas, Grand and Verdigris Rivers. Ultimately, Big Track relocated near the three forks of those rivers and Clermont settled a few miles north of Claremore. 

Osage Indian Encampment

The brothers now reopened the trading post naming it La Saline, WITH customers thus giving credence to another axiom, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Now with the trading post established, the Chouteau’s had not only improved their financial situation but attracted the attention of others. Eventually, Jean Chouteau turned the Salina fur trading business over to his son Auguste and returned to St. Louis to manage what became a fur trading empire. As the years passed, the territory long since ceded to the United States as a part of the Louisiana Purchase, attracted other settlers. And, with the passage of  Indian Removal Act of 1830  , the population swelled even more, setting the stage for generations of immigrants of all races whose offspring would become famous in the future as artists, athletes, and astronauts. But in the beginning and through his perseverance, Jean Pierre Chouteau had established the cornerstone of what would become the state of Oklahoma and as such deserves the title, “Father of Oklahoma.”

Please visit my blog to read previous  segments of this story.


copy write 2011 Charlotte East JEAN PIERRE CHOUTEAU | A Visionary For The Ages | The Father of Oklahoma


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