Tag Archive for history of Northeastern Oklahoma

The Dalton Gang Found Northeast Oklahoma Profitable

The Dalton Gang Found Northeast Oklahoma Profitable

Wagoner to Adair to Vinita all Hit By The Dalton Gang




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

Most Northeastern Oklahomans are familiar with the Adair train robbery conducted by the Dalton Gang in July of 1892, that a sum of money was taken and that there were two casualties, both doctors, one of whom died from his wounds. But a less familiar story concerns the background of the Dalton brothers Grat,  Bob, and Emmett and the 1 ½ year existence of the gang which would be decimated at Coffeyville, Kansas the following October.

Like many pioneers the boys’ family migrated to Oklahoma. Their father, James Louis Dalton, born in Kentucky in 1824 was a Mexican War veteran serving under the command of General Zachary Taylor. Following the war Louis settled in Westport Landing, Missouri (now Kansas City) and operated a saloon. In 1851 he married sixteen year old Adeline Younger. The Dalton family eventually numbered ten boys and five girls, not atypical for farm families of that era. Leaving Westport, they moved first to a farm near Lawrence, Kansas and later four miles west of Coffeyville. As they matured, various family members left home to find work as farmers or ranchers or to marry. Brother Frank who became a U.S. Marshall for “Hanging” Judge Parker, was killed in the line of duty in 1887 and buried in Coffeyville. Of those who later formed the infamous “Dalton Gang,”  Grat

Grat Dalton

Grat Dalton's Booking Photo

became a deputy sheriff and later moved to California, Bob became a deputy marshal for the state of Kansas and Emmett, a teenager, found employment first as a cowhand, and later as a lawman. In 1880, Louis and Adeline Dalton moved the remaining members of the family from Coffeyville to Indian Territory leasing farm land south of Vinita near Locust Hill. Later, following Louis’ death in 1890 while visiting in Coffeyville, Adeline moved the remaining family members to a farm near Kingfisher.

Various authorities who have studied western gunfighters and gangs estimate that one out of four were former law men who used their skills and turned to crime as a more profitable venture. Both Bob and Emmett were no exception and in 1890 their first venture into the more lucrative business of lawlessness was an unsuccessful attempt at horse theft near Claremore. Nearly getting caught, they fled west and on February 6, 1891, teamed up with brothers Bill and Grat in a failed attempt at a train robbery at Atilia, California. Returning to Oklahoma, their reputation as outlaws firmly established, Bob and Emmett organized a gang that included several other misfits. 

Train Robbery

Their first train robbery was on May 9, 1891 at Wharton Station, a way stop which is now part of Perry, where, according to their account, $9,000 was stolen. During that summer Bill Doolin, an Arkansas cowboy who was described as “fearless” joined the gang and on September 19, 1891 they robbed an M K & T train at the Lelietta water stop four miles north of Wagoner. During their stint as lawmen, the Doolins had learned that the express car on trains contained a “through safe” that was used to ship large amounts of money.

Supposedly, the combination to the safe was known only to those at the railroads origin and final destination. In fact, the Doolin’s as former lawmen knew that this was sometimes a ruse to prevent robbery, consequently the messenger in charge of the express car could often “be persuaded with a pistol at his head” to remember the combination. In this instance they apparently were convinced by the messenger that he actually did not know the combination and the gang escaped only with a bag of silver valued by railroad officials at $2,500.00.

Returning west to the Cherokee Strip the Daltons continued raids on banks in that region as well as another train robbery at Red Rock June 1, 1892. Just prior to the Red Rock robbery and after a 107 day horseback ride from California, brother Grat returned to the Kingfisher farm and joined the gang. The stage was now set for the Adair train robbery. 

The Dalton Gang

The Dalton Gang

The three Daltons, Bill Doolin and four other henchmen first planned to rob the train at Pryor, but fearing a trap, moved their target to Adair. Bob and Grat had been lawmen in the area and knew Adair quite well so on July 15, 1892 they made their move. Securing the station, the gang waited until the train stopped. After a forty minute gun battle with railroad detectives and the robbery complete, they left headed north to Big Cabin then back west to Kingfisher to plan what would be their last attempt at robbing banks, two at Coffeyville just a few miles from their old homestead. Interestingly, Bob and Grat, both of whom were killed at Coffeyville, joined their father Louis and older brother Frank in the town cemetery. Emmett survived, served prison time and was released in 1907. He died July 13, 1937. The brief saga of the Dalton Gang had ended.

Wagoner to Adair to Vinita Hit By The Dalton Gang|The Dalton Gang Found Northeast Oklahoma Profitable

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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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Northeast Oklahoma | Texas | Route 66 | Where Are We?

Northeast Oklahoma | Texas | Route 66 | Where Are We?


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



Long before Route 66,  (stretching through Greencountry, Oklahoma) that famed stretch of pavement from Chicago to Santa Monica, California was designated as the Mother Road, another well traveled highway existed in northeastern Oklahoma called the Texas Trail or Road. First an Indian path or trace, then a marked trail wide enough for wagons, it served as a link for immigrants beginning their journey from Springfield, Missouri west, then southwest through Oklahoma and on to Texas. In northeastern Oklahoma the road can generally be traced diagonally from Baxter Springs, Kansas to Afton, then diagonally north of Ketchum, across Cabin Creek, then south and east of Adair and Pryor. From there, today’s U.S. Highway 69 generally follows the old trail to the Red River near present day Denton, Texas.

Roads as we know them today were not the roads of the 18th century. For example, probably the most well known link to the west, the Pennsylvania Turnpike that ran from Washington DC to the Mississippi River was, at best, a trail. Often it was just marked in prairie lands with a pile of rocks or in wooded areas a hatchet mark on the trees. These trails only became clearly defined roads after thousands of wagons passed over them, leaving an indelible trail marked by wheel ruts. According to some residents some ruts, evidence of the Texas Road, are still discernible west of Ketchum angling toward the historic marker near the junction of state highways 82 and 85.

In the first half of the 18th century around 1820, the road was traveled by Texas bound immigrants attracted by Mexican land grants, then after 1846 to the new state of Texas to homestead government land. They were joined in 1849 – 50 by California bound gold seekers. By the accounts of some who lived near the road, there was a constant stream of horse and oxen drawn wagons as well as travelers on foot and horseback. Documents confirm that by the late 1850’s more than a hundred thousand wagons had passed by particular checkpoints on their way south and on west.

Although there was a distinguishable “highway” south worn by wagons and travelers, the same road served more as a point of departure for northbound cattle drovers. This industry began evolving in the late 1840’s because of the growing demand for beef in the east so it became highly profitable to herd cattle long distances to the nearest rail head. From San Antonio throughout eastern Texas that nearest northern railhead was first to West Port (later called Kansas City) and after that to Baxter Springs, Kansas. By 1868 after Baxter Springs became a popular destination the Stockyards and Drovers Association boasted of having corrals for 20,000 head of cattle supplied with ample grazing land and water.

Interestingly, northbound travelers called the road the Shawnee Trail possibly because it passed a Shawnee Indian village on the Texas side of the Red River. After Texans drove their cattle north across the river near Colbert to begin the 300 mile journey across Indian Territory, they used the trail more as a reference point than a road to follow because the thousands of cattle required forage and water that led them off the beaten path. In addition, there were natural impediments for these large herds ranging from forests to narrow valleys in the Jack Fork Mountains to river crossings further north. Later, there were man-made obstacles as homesteaders began farming the land adjacent to the road and Indian Tribes demanded payment for crossing their land.

As the road wound north beyond Muskogee where the Arkansas, Verdigris and Grand Rivers joined, it began to look like the end of a frazzled rope as drovers, looking for forage to fatten their cattle before selling them, found different routes to meadows of abundant blue stem grass on both sides of the Grand River valley. According to accounts of settlers, cattle herds could be found grazing from Afton on the west side of the Grand River, across the valley to White Water Creek southeast of Grove.  Black and White Cattle Drive Video

The life of the drover or cowboy on the Texas Road was somewhat different than that portrayed by Marion Morrison (aka John Wayne).   It was not the life romanticized on the silver screen ….no gun fights or gettin’ the girl. And, while “The Duke” might retire to his air conditioned trailer after a film session, possibly for a little libation, his trail hand counterpart after an 18 hour day in the saddle would be hoping for a meal, hot or cold, and clean water to drink. And while John sought the comfort of his bed on an August night such as we are experiencing now, the trail hand would be searching for a spot on the ground that appeared to have the least chiggers, ticks, and mosquito’s and fall asleep exhausted. In short, there was nothing glamorous surrounding the daily life of a drover. Cattle Drive Through Oklahma

Traffic on the road slowed to a trickle during the Civil War because of the constant skirmishes between the Federals and Confederates as well as danger from “bushwhackers” such as gangs led by Bloody Bill Anderson and William Quantrill. Major Civil War battles in Oklahoma, the battles of Honey Creek and Cabin Creek, also took place directly astride it. While the conflict was more or less a forecast of future diminishing use, the beginning of the end really came in 1871-72 with completion of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, “The Katy”, was constructed from Kansas to Texas along generally the same route, at least from Vinita on south, thus ending much of the need for the road. Those who utilized it, both immigrants and cattle, could now ride to their destination in relative comfort. The passing of the Texas Road signaled the end of one era in Oklahoma, but the Katy, following the path of the “mother road”, set the stage for a new era, the settlement of Indian Territory and Oklahoma’s eventual path to statehood.

Northeast Oklahoma | Texas | Route 66 | Where Are We?