Long before it was the jumping off point of the Chisholm Trail, the area that became known as Red River Station had been well traveled for thousands of years. Near the junction of Salt Creek and the Red River, the mighty Red makes a distinct bend to the north. This natural detour pushes the current to the south bank creating a favorable crossing point. This crossing was used for centuries by huge herds of buffalos, Native Americans and much later by hundreds of thousands of Texas Longhorns.
Map courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum
In 1857, a few families tried to push the envelope of the frontier and settle in the area. They were pushed back by raiding Indians. But by 1860 they had managed to fend off the hostile attacks and put down roots and build a few structures. Some these adventurous souls were the Grayson, Cardwell, Boren and Quillan families.
In July and August of 1861 the Texas authorities sent a company of State Troopers or Rangers under the command of Captain Brunson to help defend against the continuing advances of the disgruntled Indians. The camp or station was first known as Camp Brunson. By December of 1862, the company had undergone a reorganization placing Captain John Rowland in charge. It is estimated that approximately fifty families sought refuge within the confines of the stockade.
Shortly before being reassigned to south Texas in 1864, Rowland compiled a roster of his company. The following men were listed:
Captain John T Rowland; 1st Lt S J Chapman; 2nd Lts WD Hevard and JR Giddens; 1st Sgt TD Pollard; Sgts GW Campbell, JH Christal, TJ Gregory; 1st Corp Freeland Collins; Corps WH Burns and JB Heyner; Buglers WR Campbell and Solomon Collins; Farrier CA Wolldridge; Privates JO Alexander, David Argo, JF Barlow, AL Brunson, JN Branham, Miles Bond, JWH Bailey, BA Brown, Thomas Crawford, Josheph Campbell, Rolin Christal, JT Cates, WC Crow, William Colvin, Isaiah Cook, WR Chapman, TB Christal, John Campbell, R Davidson, JW Emerson, JA Edward, TB Emerson, William Fanning, EP Freeman, JM Gibson, L Grayson, Joseph Gregory, Wm Grundy, HW Houston, JM Hamilton, RP Hutson, JR Hudson, John Higgin, Wm Harper, Wm S Hutson, JM Hoard, Hugh Ivey, JJ Jones, EM Kelly, Wm Lackey, Henry Lackey, Wm Lewis, GW Lemons, Mr Marquis, SGS McGarroh, EW McCampbell, TA Morgan, WB Martin, WT Martin, WH Merents, Jese Porter, RC Porter, Geo Westly Pearce, Geo Washington Pearce, JH Patterson, JT Peak, WM Priest, Wm Pearce, JW Redman, CT Riley, WR Strong, BN Strohan, Daniel Stennett, R Sullivant, Cyrus Strong, LI Varden, AH Wheeler, JM White, Felix Walker, David White, Johnson Wadil, ML Webster, AJ White, JM Witten, Wm Wilbern; Discharged JM Redman, HF Myers and William Harvey; Died GW Eakin
Not too long after Rowland’s exodus, the Chisholm Trail was in full swing. The trail lead to Kansas from all points in Texas, herding longhorn cattle to market. The feeder trails in Texas converged along the way creating a funnel effect by the time it reached the Red River in Montague County. The first herds crossed at Red River Station in 1867. By 1870, it was the prominent crossing.
It is difficult to imagine what the area must have been like during the heyday of the Chisholm Trails. The dust, not to mention the odor, caused by thousands of milling cattle must have been intense at times. The Red River has always been a temperamental beast, sometimes smooth as silk and a furious raging swell at others.
Mark Withers was a cowboy that traveled the Trail on more than one occasion. In his later years, he wrote down some of his memories of the time. He described one exceptional incident that occurred at Red River Station in 1871.
It had been raining for days when “We came up west of Gainesville and had just crossed into Montague County when we began to hear cattle bellering. It was far off, but it never stopped. It was like a wall of sound, two or three miles wide. It continued through the night and grew louder as we drove on north the next day. By landmarks I recognized, I knew that with conditions normal we were still two days from Red River Station. In the afternoon, we saw cattle ahead of us, two or three big herds, and by the way they were spread out we knew they were being held. We stopped where we were and I rode on alone to find out how bad the situation was. I knew it must be the river that was holding things up, but wasn’t prepared for what i saw and was told. Some wild estimates put the number of cattle concentrated there at 75,000. I believe 60,000 would be more accurate.”
He goes on to describe the scene when he reached the Red River.”The litter of heavy brush and broken trees sweeping by gave you the feeling that, for hundreds of miles, everything that grew or lay along both the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Town Fork had been plucked out by the roots and sent swirling and bobbing down river, leaving both branches of the Upper Red scoured clean.”
The next day the rain stopped. Several anxious cattlemen attempted to cross the swollen river. At least two human lives were lost as were several dozen head of cattle. So, the wait continued.
Mr Withers described the chaos that ensued, “Two nights later, with the weather continuing fine, a herd got up and started to run. It carried another herd with it. It was only the beginning. In no time at all they were all running and milling. It was after daylight before we got them held, and we had a tangle of cattle and brands on our hands that would be hard to describe. In my person experience, I never knew a man on the ground being ran over by a longhorn, but when a steer went down in a jam like that he seldom got up. We all had losses that night, some of them pretty heavy. The only way we could unsnarl that mass of cattle was to go to work as though we were on a roundup, everyone cutting out his own stuff and holding his cut at a safe distance. It took us ten days to get them straightened out. When it was our turn to cross the river, it was mill pond.”
1870 townsite map courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum
As with any new enterprize, the law of supply and demand soon became apparent. Several business were established to aid the influx of cattle men that traveled up the Chisholm Trail. Between 1870 and 1871 at least twelve blocks containing over 100 lots were sold. A post office was established under the name of Salt Creek. The first post master was LN Perkins. Among the first registered voters were Montague county pioneers, Henry Heaton, Alexander Boren, Isaac Boren, J M Grayson, and Tom Cardwell. The name was changed to Red River Station in 1884.About a half a mile west of town, Henry Heaton ran a chain ferry. Heaton was described as “a veteran freighter without any previous knowledge of the river. He was further handicapped by a wooden leg. He was a cantankerous individual who ran his ferry to suit himself, the tolls he charged rising and falling with the various stages of the river.” Others who were said to run the ferry after Heaton included Miles Yates, Rev WP Fitts and John Gilbreath.JS Love and his wife Mollie purchased lots 10 and 11 in block one of the new town. They built a two-story hotel. It is said that Mollie was known my every cowboy on the trail. Her kindness was documented in several letters home. She was known to feed the hungry regardless of their ability to pay. She often nursed the sick back to health as well.Other businesses that were established included Tom Pollard’s Saloon and Trading Post, WS Thurston’s General Mercantile, several blacksmiths and leather repair shops.A school was formed in the basement of JM Grayson’s home. Even after a building for the school was erected, it was always known as the Grayson School. Circuit preachers traveled to Red River Station to spread the gospel, meeting in different homes in town.Red River Station’s demise can be attributed to three different, but equally devastating events. First, the end of the Chisholm Trail. As the railroads made further advances across the frontier, the need to drive them to market became obsolete. The seasonal influx of cattlemen through Red River Station dwindled. The second event was Mother Nature in full force. In the early 1880’s the small town was severely damaged by a tornado. It destroyed several of the businesses in town. With the decline of patrons already in effect, several businesses chose not to rebuild. The final event, that lead Red River Station to the ghost town category, was the decision by the rail road to bypass it as a stop, chosing Nocona instead.
Historical Marker placed by State of Texas in 1963. Photo courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum
Today there isn’t much left of old Red River Station. The cemetery, which had been neglected for decades, has been reclaimed and cleaned up. Over the years, two historical markers have been placed in vicinity Red River Station. One by the state of Texas the other by the Boy Scouts. In 2010, a Chisholm Trail marker was also placed, with the hope that the importance of Red River Station to Texas history will always be remembered.