Monday, November 3, 2014

To Lake Elmer

We drove south on Rt. 81, which closely follows the old Chisholm Trail, and throughout many miles was laid right over the old wagon and cattle tracks. A town south of Enid called Bison was then known as Buffalo Springs. Buffalo Springs was a watering spot on the Chisholm Trail where Pat Hennessey, an Irish teamster or freighter, and three co-workers had stopped their supply wagons and camped the previous night. They were carrying supplies south from Wichita. At the same time, a band of about a hundred Comanche, Cheyenne, Osage, and Kiowa braves camped to the southwest at present-day Watonga. On the morning of the Fourth of July, 1874, the war party moved northeast and the supply wagons followed the trail south from Buffalo Springs. Their paths would cross, and the war party would be the first to detect the other’s movement. The braves concealed themselves in some canyons along shale beds. Hennessey moved the wagons along the same shale beds to avoid soft ground where the wagons could get stuck. They rolled straight into the ambush. Hennessey walked alongside the lead wagon when the raid commenced. All were killed. Hennessey was found with a cartridge jammed in the breech of his rifle, but with them so overwhelmed, it is doubtful that the jammed rifle would have made a difference. There are two reports of how Hennessey met his death---the wagon rolled over onto him and he, his cargo of oats, and wagon were set afire, or he was tied to a wheel of the wagon and it was set afire. In his memory, the place of Pat Hennessey’s death and of his fellow teamsters would become the town of Hennessey following the land run of April 22, 1889. Hennessey’s body was moved at least once, but it is believed his body now rests under the concrete of Highway 81.

While having lunch at Red Fork Station Park on the north side
of Dover, we were impressed with two beautiful trees there.  I
called the town hall and was lucky enough to get the man who
cares for the park and bought two of the trees.  He identified the
tree behind Ibi's bow as an Arizona Cypress, unique for
being able to endure severe and frequent droughts here.  The
perfectly rounded tree to the right is an Umbrella Willow.
Indian Agent John. D. Miles, the same man that originally reported the Hennessey massacre, would the following day, July 5th, discover the Baker Ranch had been attacked and abandoned. The Baker Ranch, established by J. W. Baker in 1872, was another Chisholm Trail watering hole just south of the Hennessey incident. Baker made his money from any place it presented itself. His ranch was a trading post for cattle drovers, a rest stop for stage coaches, a hangout for horse thieves that stole Indian ponies, and a place where outlaws were known to congregate. Miles asked for U.S. Cavalry to guard this section of the trail. In 1890, Baker City was laid out on the site of the Baker Ranch, but it has become one of Oklahoma’s many ghost towns.

The town of Dover grew out of the Red Fork Ranch, also called Red Fork Station, another trail or “whiskey” ranch along the Cimarron Trail. It was on the north side of where the trail crossed the Cimarron River, which was then known as the Red Fork of the Arkansas River. The ranch served as a supply depot or trading post, a horse-changing station for the stagecoach line, the post office when it became a town, and where cavalry troops from Fort Sill were stationed following the Hennessey massacre.

I had to chuckle when I read several accounts of an accident that occurred at Dover in September, 1906. I wasn’t amused by the tragedy, obviously, but by how much news reporting, not unlike weather forecasting, has, or has not, changed in the last century. The accident involved the collapse of the Rock Island Railroad bridge over the Cimarron, which sent a train into the flood-swollen river. Reading the various reports of the incident showed that as many as 100 people were killed, or perhaps as few as 4 actually, but then only one was known to have perished, Hank Littlefield, a circus employee who drowned, while Kate Sells’ 3-yr. old child was in poor condition.

We would soon have to turn west from Rt. 81, just north of Kingfisher, to find Lake Elmer, so we stopped at a town park on the north side of Dover to have lunch. We found some information there on Red Fork Station, and also enjoyed two very beautiful trees that had been planted there surely decades before.


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