Doaksville: Treaty Town

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Doaksville had three public wells. At this one, Stand Watie, a Cherokee general for the confederacy, surrendered in 1865.

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Along the a stone fence in the northeastern side of the cemetery in Fort Towson (Choctaw County, Oklahoma) stands a strange set of stairs. You go up the steps, then down them, and then you find yourself on a well-worn path that leads into the woods. And as you walk along the path, you walk right into historic territory.

The town of Doaksville - now an archaeological site - lies at the end of the trail. The few stone ruins of a cellar, hotel, tavern, and jail belie how busy this town once was, as during the 19th century, it was the main trading center in the early years of the Choctaw Nation after its rebirth in Indian Territory.

 

From Mississippi to Oklahoma
It was in the original homelands for the Choctaws that the Treaty of Doak's Stand in 1820 was signed, which negotiated the first wave of Choctaw removal into Indian Territory. Josiah Doak, a white trader from Mississippi, was considered a trustworthy ally of the Choctaws. It was at his store where the removal treaty was signed. Josiah and his brother moved to the new territory to set up shop and distribute the rations procured during negotiations between the Choctaws, people from southwestern Arkansas, and the U.S. government. Thus, when the first Choctaws arrived at nearby between the Choctaws, people from Fort Towson in 1824, they found a safe and good place to settle.

Doaksville was not the first settlement that the Choctaws encountered as they entered Indian Territory, but compared to Eagletown, it was well situated and much safer, as white settlers did not view the new town as a threat to their existence. Doaksville sat near the Kiamichi wheel traffic and shipments without worrying about the unpredictable Red River floods. It was also just a day's ride from the Wheelock Academy, the Choctaw Nation's first school in its new homelands; Armstrong Academy, the Nation's premier educational facility; and Jonesboro, a river port and ferry crossing into Texas. Fairly quickly, Doaksville became a trading center not just for the Choctaws, but for Texans, Shawnees, Caddos, and other people who lived along the Red River in the ante-bellum period. From 1850 to 1863, it even served as a the seat of the Choctaw Nation until the papers were moved to Armstrong Academy. David Folsom, the chief of the Choctaws in this new period, owned an inn at the town. Folsom negotiated more removal treaties with the U.S. government for his people at Doaksville.

 

Bypassed but not forgotten
After the Civil War, Doaksville kept on trucking until the fateful decision of the San Francisco and St. Louis Railway (Frisco), which placed its tracks a few miles to the south of the town site as it built its line in the early years of the 20th century. Doaksville-ians began to leave the town to set up shop along the tracks in the newly formed town of Fort Towson (named, of course, for the historic fort). By and by, the old town diminished until nothing was left but ruins, which then sediment and random trees covered up.

The town site, though abandoned, remained not just in the hearts, but in the minds of Oklahomans as well: it was acquired by the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1960. In the 1990s, the historical society - along with the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Anthropological Society field schools - began excavating the old town. They painstakingly uncovered the locations of several structures that had rested on solid limestone foundations, including the old jail, hotel, and tavern. Above ground cisterns helped to pinpoint where
they should dig, and what appeared was a good outline of what the town once featured.

Though many of the structures were simple clapboard constructions that left few traces, Doaksville's status as an archaeological site has made this former town a wonderful place to explore. The Oklahoma Historical Society has placed several interpretive signs all around the paths to guide the visitor and explain what they're seeing. Nearby, another archaeological site - the Wreck on the Red River - further places historic Doaksville into context.  

The Red River Wreck

The West was won not only by brave cattle drivers and fearless pioneers. It was also won (or lost - depending on how you view it) by the simple act of commerce. Before the railroads cut swaths through the landscape to bring goods to settlers, steamboats on the Red River supplied everything from coffee to ammunition. And one of the oldest of steamboats - a 140 foot long side wheeler - is now a notable wreck in the Red River.

Located in the middle of the stream a few miles down from Ft. Towson, the wreck was first discovered by local landowners in 1991, after flooding exposed it. But it was only in 1999 when someone decided to notify the Oklahoma Historical Society. The OHS realized right away what a significant find this was. Not only is the wreck the first recorded Oklahoma shipwreck, it is also the earliest known wreck in western rivers. Soon, OHS, along with the Texas A&M Nautical Archeology Department, conducted an extensive survey on the site. According to
Fort Towson records, the ship, built in the 1830s,  probably sunk in the 1840s. The researchers have learned that the ship was named Heroine, and its mission was to bring supplies to Fort Towson. It had also stopped at nearby Jonesboro, TX before it hit a tree stump obscured in the river and sank. No one died in the wreck, and much of the cargo was removed before the ship hit the sandy bottom.

The Red River Wreck is a well-known archaeological site and is protected as such.

 

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Most of the remnants of the former town consist of chimney foundations.

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Some wrecks are still visible in the Red River at low water, like here between Lamar County and Choctaw County near Arthur City, Texas.

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Visit Doaksville with me!