|In Part I, author Dustin Ward provides a little background on what made the Stubblefields from Sunset, Texas, decide to hitch their
wagon due north to Oklahoma Territory. In the second part, Dustin recreates their journey.
|The author marked the possible route taken by the Stubblefields on this 1895 map. The family crossed the Red River north of Henrietta and
followed roads and creek beds over the Wichita Mountains to their Washita County homestead. (Dustin Ward)
Day 1- To Henrietta
There are very few facts to go on concerning the exact route they took, but there are a few clues here and there. In both Herk’s and my
tapes Grandmother says it took them a week to get from Sunset to the Oak Creek farm, which is a distance of approximately 155 miles. At
that rate they would have to average about 22 miles a day. That is a starting point for trying to figure out where they may have stopped to
camp along the way.
In Uncle Herk’s tape Grandmother says “we went off up through Montague, then angled up through what’s called Henrietta.” That makes
perfect sense because Henrietta is northwest of Sunset, and to get there they would have to “angle up” through Montague County.
Henrietta is the county seat of Clay County, and in the 1880’s was a major shipping point for buffalo bones. White hunters had slaughtered
the herds and left them to rot on the plains. Their bones were everywhere, lying on the prairie and bleaching in the sun. Then some
enterprising soul realized that money could be made by collecting the bones and shipping them up east to be made into fertilizer. A new
industry was begun.
I read an account that said piles of buffalo bones stretched half a mile along the railroad tracks, and were thirty feet wide and sixteen feet
high. Hundreds of pioneer families beat droughts, debts, and famine by picking and selling buffalo bones. I find it ironic that the buffalo,
who provided the Plains Indians their livelihood while they were thriving, later provided a livelihood for the very people who slaughtered
I would imagine that Henrietta was the biggest town Grandmother had ever seen in all her ten years! I can imagine her wide eyes when she
saw the 1890 courthouse and jail pictured below. There was nothing like that in Sunset, which is all she had known.
I’m just guessing again, but J.P. probably would have stocked up on provisions in Henrietta, then camped the first night on the creek just
outside town. After a full day’s travel, grandmother was undoubtedly a tired little girl that evening and fell asleep quickly and happily her
first night on the road.
Day 2 –To the Wichita River
If you look at the 1895 map on the next page (I marked their probable route in red), you can see that Henrietta would be the last real town
they would go through on the entire journey. When I first started trying to figure out what route J.P. had taken, I didn’t even consider him
taking the route I marked because it was through Indian land – no towns and no wagon roads that I knew of. I couldn’t see J.P. just heading
out across the prairie through unsettled Indian land. Notice that on the left and right sides of the map there are towns. If there are towns
there are roads. So I figured he took a less direct, but more populated route through the towns marked on either the left or right sides of
Then one day I came across something that changed my mind altogether. I was at the Oklahoma Historical Society reading accounts of
pioneers who settled Oklahoma Territory, and I came across this, written by a Texan who settled in Wichita County in 1893: “When I got to
Henrietta I found that there was a daily stage line between that place and Fort Sill. This stage carried the mail and such passengers as
might be going that way, together with light express. Midway between the Red River and Fort Sill was what was commonly called the Snake
Creek Station, it being located where a small stream of that name—a tributary of East Cache Creek—was forded.”
Eureka! After reading that, I was pretty sure it was the route J.P. had taken out of Henrietta. A stagecoach line would require a good wagon
road, and there would be some stage stations spaced out along the way. Also it would be a more direct route to their destination, 40 or 50
miles shorter than the routes I first considered. (And back then that would mean two fewer days travel.)
I did some more checking and found that the stage line was once an old military road called the Ft. Sill/Jacksboro Road in the 1870’s.
(Remember, Jacksboro TX is where Satanta and Big Tree were taken to stand trial for the Warren Wagon Train Massacre). Then I found an
old 1894 map with the Ft. Sill/Jacksboro Road clearly marked on it, along with the designation “Hill’s Ferry” at the crossing of the Red River.
Now I was not only fairly sure of the route J.P. took, but also the point at which they ferried across the Red River. And that is the route I
marked in red on the map.
One thing we know for sure is that they camped on the Wichita River. In my tape Grandmother says, “We camped one time on the Wichita
River. Papa thought it was so pretty we camped on the edge of the river. He had bought my brother and I some pretty things to fish with,
colored floats and things like the kids used to use so much. We just had to fish that evening and he got pretty close to the river, and that
storm came up that night and Papa hobbled his horse and put him out on the grass. I heard him tell Mama that maybe he’d better go get the
horses and pull the wagon out up on the bank. And when it would lightning I could see down on the river and it was getting up. I was
scared, and I’ve been nervous about muddy water ever since. I was scared to death. I thought we’d just tumble over there in that old swift
river and that’d be the last of us.”
|The grave of the author's great-great grandfather', James Stubblefield, in Sunset, Texas. (Dustin Ward)
|The 1890 jail house in Henrietta, an important trading and stage-coach center on the Texas prairie during the frontier years. (Dustin Ward)
|Dustin explains the frontier:
Up to just six years before they [the Stubblefields] arrived the pioneers of north Texas were constantly terrorized by Indian raids. I’m going
to digress here a little bit and provide some historical background of Indian/white relations just prior to the arrival of the Stubblefields in
Texas. And it does have a very clear connection to my Grandmother.
In the early 1870’s the only Indians who were not subdued or on reservations were the tribes of the Great Plains. All the eastern Indians,
the Mohawk, Pontiac, Delaware, etc. were subdued. As mentioned earlier, the Five Civilized Tribes were living peacefully on reservations.
The Pacific Coast tribes were no problem. But the Great Plains tribes, the Lakota (or Sioux - Crazy Horse’s tribe), the Apache, Cheyenne,
Comanche, and Kiowa were a different matter. They ruled the Great Plains. They were master horsemen, courageous warriors, nomadic.
They followed the great buffalo herds, from which they got their sustenance, shelter, tools, and way of life.
A secondary strategy was to kill the Indian’s beloved horses. Without horses they would be forced to stay in one place – on the
reservations. So whenever they could, the Cavalry would kill their horses - sometimes by the hundreds.
So the Kiowa and Comanche started to cross the Red River from Oklahoma Territory to steal horses from Texas settlers. A great number of
settlers were ambushed and killed, entire families wiped out in many cases. Sometimes white children were stolen and raised among the
Indians as slaves. It got so bad that in 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant sent none other than General William Tecumseh Sherman, the
General of the Army and great Civil War hero, to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma Territory, to do something about the problem.
Shortly after Sherman arrived at Ft. Sill he took a column of 7th Cavalry down to Texas to see for himself the severity of the problem. At the
same time a band of Kiowa arrived, led by the ferocious Satanta (I read somewhere that Larry McMurtry based his Lonesome Dove
character Blue Duck on Satanta.) Among Satanta’s band were two equally ferocious Kiowa warriors, Big Tree and Satank.
|Will the Stubblefields make it across the river? Find out in Part III!
|Palo Duro Canyon, site of the last Plains Indians stand against white encroachment. (RRH)
Okay, here’s the connection to my Grandmother. When I was a kid I remember Grandmother and my dad talking about a scary Indian named
Big Tree who had lived not too far from the Oak Creek farm. They are one and the same. About 15 miles southwest of what would later
become Grandmother’s birthplace (Sunset), the Kiowa warriors saw the dust from Sherman’s column. They hid and watched the soldiers
approach, debating whether to attack or not. The medicine man with them said he had a vision that they should not attack the first target,
but the second one that rode past. So Sherman’s column rode on past, unaware and spared.
The second target was a wagon train. The Kiowa attacked and caught the teamsters completely by surprise. All were killed but one, a man
who had shot and killed one of the Kiowa. He was captured and tied to a wagon tongue. A fire was built under him and he was burned to
death. This depredation became known as the Warren Wagon Train Massacre, and it became pivotal in the Government’s resolve to
subdue the remaining hostile tribes (especially, I would imagine, when Sherman learned that he narrowly escaped what could have been a
disastrous encounter himself!)
About a week after Sherman got back to Ft. Sill, Satanta, Big Tree, and Satank showed up on the porch of Sherman’s headquarters to
complain about not receiving the rations the Government had promised them. In the argument that ensued, Satanta lost his temper and
bragged about having done the Warren massacre. The interpreter told Sherman, and of course Sherman immediately called for guards to
arrest them. There was a short scuffle and Big Tree tried to escape by jumping through a window, but they were all captured and taken to
It was decided that the three would be bound over to Texas to stand trial for murder. It would be the first time that Indians were held
accountable for their raids and tried for murder in a white man’s court. They were each handcuffed and put in separate wagons for the long
trip down to Jacksboro, Texas to stand trial. (Jacksboro is about 30 miles southwest of Sunset.)
Satank was a member of the elite Kiowa warrior society known as Koitsenko, and was duty bound to fight to the death. When he was put
into his wagon, he turned his back to his guards and started singing the Kiowa death chant. As he did so he was biting the skin from one of
his hands so he could pull it out of the handcuffs. He finally got his hand free and spun and wrenched a rifle out of one of the guard’s
hands. But before he could get a shot off the other guard shot and killed him.
Satanta and Big Tree were taken on to Jacksboro where they were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Upon hearing the sentence
Satanta pronounced to the court, “You hang us, it be like spark in prairie grass. Cause heap big fire.” I guess the Government saw some
truth to his statement because their sentences were soon commuted to life imprisonment. And after spending two years in Huntsville
prison they were paroled by Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis.
A condition of parole was that they would stay put on the reservation and never take part in any hostilities again. But in 1874 Satanta joined
in a raid against buffalo hunters at the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas. He was later captured and sent back to Huntsville prison for violating
his parole. In 1878 he jumped from a second story window in the prison hospital to his death.
The Kiowa and Comanche continued on the warpath and were among the last of the nation’s Indians to be placed on reservations. They
had ruled the Plains from Kansas to Texas for over 150 years because of two things – the buffalo and the horse. By 1875 the buffalo were
gone and after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon their horses were gone (the U.S. Cavalry captured and slaughtered over 1100 of their
horses). So in June of 1875 they acknowledged defeat, were stripped of their weapons, and were brought to Ft. Sill as prisoners of war.
In 1887 (the year my Grandmother was born) the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Severalty Act. It called for the dissolution of Indian tribes
as legal entities and divided tribal lands among the individual members, granting 160 acres to each family head and 80 acres to each single
adult. Big Tree was given 160 acres on the Washita River about 5 miles east of what would become the Ward family farm.
I may have gotten a little carried away with the above history lesson, but I wanted to give some background about the times that preceded
the Stubblefield’s arrival in Texas. And, as you can tell, I’m fascinated with Indians, especially the Kiowa and Comanche who were among
the fiercest, proudest, and hardest to subdue. When I discovered that the Big Tree I’d heard Grandmother and my dad talk about so many
times was an actual historic figure - well it just really impressed me.
|Oklahoma Territory, Part II
by Dustin Ward