Tag Archives: Red River Station

Captain J T Rowland, Indian Fighter, Dead at 79 – In the News

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran the obituary of J T Rowland on 26 July 1914.  Captain Rowland was a Montague County legend.

Indian Fighter, 79, Dies at Nocona; 56 Years in Texas”

“Capt J T Rowland Once Mayor of Gainesville and Nocona.”

“Capt J T Rowland, venerable pioneer, soldier, statesman, patriot and citizen of this county, who died Saturday, was buried in Gainesville.

Captain Rowland was 79 years old, had lived in Texas for fifty six years and for more than fifty years actively identified with Montague and Cooke counties.  During the Civil War he commanded a company of Texas rangers in his county, stationed at Old Red River Station.  He fought many hard fights with Indians.

After the war was over he settled in Gainesville, served as mayor of that place many years, later again moved to Montague county ad was sent to the state legislature for three terms.

Retiring from the legislature, he made his home in Nocona and was mayor for six years.  He has lived in quiet retirement th past three years and was ill several weeks before death claimed him.

His first wife died about four years ago; he married the second time two years ago.  He is survived by his widow and four sons:  W D Rowland of Gainesville, R L Rowland of Denton, J M Rowland of SPur and J W Rowland of Pomona, Cal.”

The Mighty Red River

Early photograph of the Red River.  Photo courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum

Early photograph of the Red River. Photo courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum

Today, as one drives over the “New Bridge” outside of Illinois Bend into Oklahoma, it is hard to imagine the Red River on a raging, out of control rise.  But over the years, she has flooded the country side causing damage life, limb and property.

There have been several recorded accounts of the Mighty Red restricting the crossing of cattle at Red River Station on the Chisholm Trail.  Causing herds of Longhorns to be backed up for days while the river settled back down into its natural flow.

In June of 1891 torrential rains caused the Red River to rise higher than ever previously recorded.  The Dallas Morning News accounted how it effected communities along the river bottom on the Indian Territory side as well as the communities in Cooke and Montague Counties:

“Gainesville, Tex. Red River, which so suddenly started on a rampage yesterday, as reported in this dispatches last night, continued to rise till noon today, having in the meantime risen forty fee, being ten feet higher than ever known.  great destruction to crops and live stock has resulted and several persons have been drown.”

The article gives first hand accounts from some of those fortunate to escape with their lives.  They describe the severe damage and loss caused by the flooding.

“Capt. William Bourland of the Chickasaw nation came in today and reports several families resident in the river bottom fifty miles west of Gainesville on the Indian Territory side as having been swept away together with their horses and drowned.  The loss of stock is very great. Capt J P Harris, a prominent ranchman had 400 head of cattle drowned and 60 head of horses.  Many others who had stock in the river bottoms have lost largely and from what is already known the number destroyed will amount to several thousand, all being on the territory side and within a scope of country about eight miles long.”

The rise of the water happened so quickly that most were unable to take any precautions.

“All crops in the bottoms have been washed away and the water today covers the fields several feet deep where yesterday was as fine wheat, corn and cotton as ever grew.   A large number of dwellings and other houses were washed away.  The rise was so sudden that people living in the bottoms near the river in many instances had not time to escape.  The first intimation that many had of the terrible waters was when they were swooped down upon by a wave or avalanche of water coming upon them during the latter part of Friday night.  Early Saturday morning word was telephone from Burlington, fifty miles west of there, of the coming flood and people down the river were notified, which enabled them to escape and drive their stock to the hills.”

The flood waters took out a railroad bridge.  And as with most disasters, people were fascinated by the fall out of the tragedy.

“The approach to the Santa Fe bridge on territory side seven miles north of Gainesville, eighty feet in length, yielded to the current and passed down the stream.  It will be several days before repairs will be made so trains can pass.  A special train has been running from Gainesville on the Santa Fe to the Red river bridge and return all day and thousands of people have gone out to view the treacherous river in its mad flight and which covers a scope of country nearly a mile wide, and is by far much larger and more destructive in its course than known at any time in its past history.”

The article also described how included Saint Jo’s reaction to the flood waters.

St Jo, Tex.  Red river is higher than for many years. It commenced raining Friday and has been raining very rapidly ever since.  Saturday night the water rose so fast that it surrounded a number of houses before the inhabitants could get away and daylight found many persons on housetops calling for help.  So far as learned no one has been drowned, but terrible damage is being done to the growing crops and stock.  Hundreds and thousands of acres of the finest corn, wheat, oats and cotton are entirely covered by the wild and foaming waters.  The water is so rapid that is tearing the banks of the river away.  The great cottonwood and elm trees that line the banks are washed out by the roots and carried off by whirlpools of water.”

The article also reported from Belcherville:

“Belcherville, Montague Co, Tex.  The rise in Red river is the greatest ever known.  It rose by six to ten feet in great rolls with a noise almost deafening.  Houses, cattle, horses, hogs, sheep and all kinds of animals and grain are among the debris.  Hundreds of pieces of bridge timbers and logs of all kinds are going down.  This is evidence of great destruction up the river.  Thousands of acres of crops of all kinds are covered by from four to fourteen feet with water,  All kinds of wild animals are being washed down.  Hundreds of the curious town people are going and coming from the scene,  They tell woeful tales of drowning cattle and frantic horses.  One farmer, Joe Harris, has 300 acres of corn under water, and believes he has lost fifty head of horses which were in a bottom pasture.”

The situation was very similar at Red River Station.

“Henry Heaton, living at Red River Station, has 100 acres of cotton under water and believes he has lost all of his work horses which were on the territory side in a pasture.  Houses in the bottoms are nearly covered, and some being washed away.  No lives lost.”

These accounts show that Red River is a living and breathing thing, with a temperament that could calm and soothing or violently raging.  The Mighty Red must be handled with the utmost respect at all times.

4 March 2013 Addition:  Thank you Max Brown for these photos of the Red River on the rise in the not so distant past.

Red River flooding (2) Red River flooding

Red River Station

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.