Email logo YouTube logo

Crossing the Red River

library pictures
By Mary Ann Hadley
Published: March 28, 2011

The Whites' wagon train continued their May journey northward from Texas, never to return. On Wednesday, April 30, 1879, having waited near the Red River for several days, the group determined to chance a crossing of the river, swollen by the spring rains. Thy had intended to cross the Red River at Colbert's Ferry, but because of the condition of the river, the ferry owner, a prominent member of the Chickasaw nation, did not consider the crossing to be safe.

Tiring of delays, the White party traveled a few miles upstream, it is believed, to an older site once used by the Butterfield Stage Coach, and even earlier as the Shawnee Trail cattle crossing.

There they found a poor ferryman who agreed to take the wagons across. Ferry fee for that era was generally set at one dollar per two-horse team and wagon, and each crossing took about 30 to 40 minutes. The front wagons pressed northward, leaving behind the rear wagons in the marshy bogs that define the southern boundary of the Chickasaws.

By nightfall, becoming wary of bandits, they decided they would do well to travel more closely together. Not a treacherous journey, still there were many inconveniences. They navigated the unfamiliar terrain admirably enough, moving northward through quicksand, then dense cross timbers, and finally encountering a prairie glen with large, hairy tarantulas. Several larger rivers were to be crossed by ferry. Smaller rivers and streams were forded with the assistance of Native Americans who excelled in charging 25 cents for most favors.

Elder J. O. Corliss had been elected trail master. Inexperienced at the task, he served better as scout, messenger, and special assistant to the Whites. Corliss' lack of experience called forth heavy criticism from several of the Whites traveling guests. Ellen would later remonstrate the inappropriateness of their complaints.

Red River to Blue River, toward Johnson's Ranch

Making their way northward, generally, the traveling party spent their second night on the west bank of the Blue River. Crossing the river the next morning, the party set their sights northwesterly, following an established wagon road which paralleled the river toward Charles "Boggy" Johnson's original ranch house, some 20 miles north of Tishomingo. There they would purchase limited provisions, do a washing and rest over the Sabbath.

Ever careful to keep the communication lines open, the Whites sent a rider to some 40 miles eastward to Atoka to telegraph their whereabouts and to pick up the latest mail. They informed friends and family in Battle Creek of their next stop. Old Stonewall, now called Frisco, is some 20 miles southeast of the present city of Ada, Okla.

To supplement a staple of jerky and crackers, for which James had made provision, Ellen, with Marian Davis and two young girls on the journey, foraged for wild berries and edible greens as opportunity permitted. She deplored this duty, regretting there was not a cook in the group.

Although frantically busy, Ellen did take a little time to observe the spring beauty of native Oklahoma wildflowers and forest as well as the Arbuckle Mountains to their west, and the Shawnee Hills to their east, which the travelers carefully avoided. She also took charge of the spiritual welfare of the travelers, conducting worship services while on the trail.

Addressing Native Americans at Stonewall

On Sunday morning they set out northward through a beautiful savanna. Arriving early at Old Stonewall, a Chickasaw town, the traveling party found a willing audience at the Chickasaw boarding school, located on the highest point in that area. Ellen addressed a congregation of about 100 Native Americans who responded graciously to the gospel message.

To Okmulgee (Seminole and Creek Nations)

Avoiding the nearly impenetrable ancient oak forests that extend from central Texas up to eastern Kansas, the wagon train made its way across the Canadian River near the southern boundary of the Seminole Nation, then traversed the Creek Nation, destined to view that tribe's impressive Council House near Okmulgee. There, James and Ellen spoke to the handsome ruddy citizens.

Into Eastern Kansas

Writing of his plans to turn back northwesterly, to follow the Chisholm Trail, James noted that they had traveled 160 miles from Denison and had yet 200 miles to travel to their Kansas camp meeting destination. A wagon train would normally do well to travel about 20 miles per day.

The Whites were anxious to get to their Kansas camp meeting appointment while their traveling companions looked forward to a "better life" in Colorado. It seems that James' zigzagging travel plans were immediately adjusted, as the party continued on in a northeasterly direction. Approaching the final days of their journey, the wagon train's course paralleled the MK & T railroad northward through the Cherokee Nation.

Finally, after crossing Kansas' southern border, they intersected the railway. The Whites, not willing to pass up a good opportunity, boarded for a speedier mode of travel to the camp meeting at Emporia. Had they taken the northbound steam locomotive at Denison, the journey would have consumed parts of two days, in contrast to the near-month wagon train journey.

Ellen arrived at the Emporia campground thoroughly exhausted and twelve pounds lighter, but happy to be back into her camp meeting circuit. For months she had feared she was not using her time and energies efficiently. Never again would she return to Texas or Oklahoma.

The remainder of the wagon train arrived at the campground several days later, then completed their journey westward to Boulder, Colorado. The Whites, meanwhile, made several camp meeting stops through the summer of 1879. Some weeks later all the wagon train traveling companions were reunited near the Whites' summer cabin in Colorado.

[Back to series index]

About this Article Series

The complete story of the Whites' Texas sojourn had never before been published before this series of articles appeared in the Keene Star newspaper (Dec 2003-Apr 2004). The series touches on the highlights, and presents little known facts about the Whites' stay in Texas.