Tips for When You Go

I know that as history lovers, you'd
rather cut off your hand than hurt any
item of historical significance. Alas,
sometimes our families aren't hip to
historical site etiquette. My three-
year old son once climbed on a
tombstone while I had my back to him
- I was SO embarrassed and no one
even saw us! So some rules you can
tell your significant others are:

  • Watch for holes in the ground
  • Don't pick up anything that
    compromises the integrity of
    the site, whether it be a brick or
    a piece of metal

  • Obey NO TRESPASSING signs

  • Ask permission to enter, if you
    can. Most people will be
    accommodating to your
    requests.

  • Watch for signs of vandalism.
    Alert the historical societies if
    you see anything, and take care
    that there aren't any bad
    influences lurking about!

  • Turn off the car and explore!
    Take a camera, a sketchpad...
    close your eyes and envision
    what the town must have
    looked like a long time ago.
In the early 19th century, the eastern portion of the Red River Valley between Texas and
Oklahoma was mostly populated by Native Americans, however sparsely - the Caddo had already
been driven off the land, through force or by fleeing the approaching white man. It was right after
the Louisiana Purchase, and boundary lines had not been well established. Further, the surveys
of lands given to the Choctaws and Chickasaws were faulty - whether this was intentional is open
to debate - and the whole area was in dispute. Did it belong to Texas, Indian Territory, or Arkansas
Territory?

Within the next twenty years, the wild grass prairies and wooded hills would be populated by
newcomers. Anglo American settlers eager for the new lands acquired by the Purchase would try
to settle around the river. They brought with them African American slaves. The Trail of Tears
would lead the dispossessed Choctaws and Chickasaws into a new frontier, vacated a few years
earlier by the Quapaws. The river, while still a wild stream, was slowly being transformed into a
thoroughfare.

The Fort Beckons
To help settle the area, Fort Towson, built in 1824, served as an outpost to protect travelers and
the newly arriving Indians. The Choctaws, originally from the Mississippi Valley, settled near the
fort in the town of Doaksville, which they selected as the seat of their tribal government (the
Chickasaws would move further west to settle at
Boggy Depot). Doaksville also became a hub for
commerce throughout the region. It would have its own jail, hotel, and tavern.

Across the river, Anglo American pioneers who'd been chased out of Indian Territory  settled the
southern portion of the Red River. They chose a site that they discovered was the safest for river
crossings, and one that was not too far away from the fort and its business. Along with African
American slaves they founded Jonesboro. It also became the northern gateway to Texas,
welcoming the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. The town grew into a sizable river
port, hugging the river banks with brick-built homes, wooden warehouses around the port, and
small industries.

Jonesboro found its end rather quickly. In 1846, a tremendous flash flood literally  drowned the
town. A contemporary account explained how the river grew almost a mile wide. Jonesboro
citizens decided to move to drier land. Most moved to nearby Clarksville, and others relocated to
surrounding towns such as Boston (New), DeKalb, Paris and Bonham.

Luckily, Doaksville didn't sit right at the river. It survived the flooding, but couldn't survive the
demise of Fort Towson. As the line of American settlement forged west, so did the fort's soldiers,
and Doaksville severely declined in population. When the railroad bypassed the town after the
Civil War, the Choctaws moved the government seat to Tuskahoma. Doaksville ceased to exist on
later maps.

The Trail Lures
While the frontier stagnated during the Civil War, it rebounded into a frenzied push to the west
afterwards. Small towns west of what is today Interstate 35 began appearing. In Texas, Spanish
Fort became a rough and tumble border town. The first inhabitants of the town had been the
Taovayans, who successfully beat Spanish troops by building (or occupying) a moated fort in the
late 18th century. Anglo settlers claimed the site for themselves and named it Spanish Fort
(believing the canon and fort they found belonged to the Spanish). Located just a few miles east
of the river crossing at Red River Station, Chisholm Trail cowhands would visit to buy supplies,
meet up with friends, and maybe order a new pair of boots at H. J. Justin's shop on the town
square.  Outlaws called Spanish Fort home, too - its proximity to Indian Territory making for an
easy getaway. The town found its demise when the railroad laid tracks farther south.

Fleetwood, Oklahoma, is another
Chisholm Trail era ghost town. The cows would ford the river at
Red River Station in Texas and pass through Fleetwood and its dry goods store. Fleetwood
served as the last supply stop for trail hands heading north. Fleetwood remained a small ranching
center even when the trail trickled to a halt, as a toll ferry and later, a toll bridge, spanned the
river crossing. Until the first half of this century, Fleetwood had a school and grocery store. As
opportunity lured younger people to the larger towns and a free bridge was built west on US 81,
Fleetwood succumbed to modern flight.

I chose to include these four ghost towns because each were directly related to one another. As
you can read from their histories, the Red River Valley is indeed interconnected, the river not
separating two states but defining their shared past.
Know Your History!

The main reason why none of these
towns exist as such today is that the
railroads bypassed them.
Traveling History
Here's how to get to these sites and what you'll see. Some of the
ghost towns still have residents; others only exist through the text
of historical markers.

Doaksville - From US 70 in Fort Towson, take the north road to the
cemetery (signs posted). Drive to the back of the cemetery (which
is worth a visit in its own right, with WPA built stone walls and hand
carved tombstones) and you'll find a set of stairs. After traversing
them, you'll enter a trail leading to the old Doaksville settlement. An
archaeological survey done by the Oklahoma Historical Association
uncovered several stone foundations. Along the trail, signs explain
what the remnants once contained. This is a fun but eerie walk
through a deserted town in the middle of a forest. I heard footsteps
walking behind me when I was there, yet I came alone...  

Jonesboro - Jonesboro (or Jonesborough) is located on a tight
bend of FM 410 where the settlement of Davenport now lies (FM
410 is a looping road that connects on both ends to FM 195 in north
western Red River County). You'll find a roadside park with a few
historical markers and an old tombstone which was discovered by a
farmer plowing his field. After the flood of 1846,  Jonesboro was
carried off brick by brick by other settlers. Even the graveyard was
dismantled. Martha Sue Stroud, resident Red River County
historian, details the sad demise in her outstanding book, "Gateway
to Texas: The History of Red River County." Further down the road
is the site of a Caddo archaeological excavation.

Spanish Fort - This ghost town has still quite a few residents, but
can be considered a ghost nonetheless for the history that used to
be here. Situated on FM 103 (north of  US 82 in Nocona on FM 103-
follow the signs), it sits close to the river. You'll find an old store,
abandoned school, and a few historical markers. Don't miss Old
Spanish Fort Cemetery, where gunfights ended many of the lives
buried there. The remains of the fort are on private land.

Fleetwood - Take US 81 to Terral, then turn east down Main Street
(follow the historical marker sign). The old store catches you by
surprise. Northeast behind the store are the remains of the school
house. Further east down the road is a group of markers
recounting the history of Fleetwood.. The sweeping views alone
are worth the trip.
At this cistern in Doaksville, the last
Confederate General, Stand Watie,
surrendered.
Jail ruins in Doaksville, which is now a
protected archaeological site.
Looking inside the abandoned store in Fleetwood, Oklahoma. See any
ghosts? I don't, but I do see some bullet holes...
The grave of Jane Chandler Gill at
Jonesboro is said to be the oldest Anglo
grave in Texas, or at least the Red River
Valley. While the historical marker claims
she died in 1816,  Skipper Steeley, a
historian from Paris, Texas, found
evidence that she actually died in 1846.
This unmarked cement grave at the Old Spanish Fort cemetery looks a little
like a shroud.
Four Red River Ghost Towns
Store at Spanish Fort along the Chisholm Trail
Interested in a tour of these ghost towns? Contact me!