Choctaw Towns of Old

November 1992, BISHINIK, page 5

Doaksville – ghost town was former capitol

Shortly after the treaty called Doak’s Stand between the Choctaw Indians and the United States was signed in Mississippi in 1820, Josiah S. Doak and his brother moved westward, for they believed the Choctaws would soon migrate. Thus, they loaded their goods on boats and navigated the Mississippi and Red Rivers to a point near the mouth of the Kiamichi River. From that point the goods were moved inland to a place near Witches Hole.

Soon after the establishment of the Doak store, other settlers began to move into the area for mutual protection. Raids from Plains Indians, but more especially raids from Indians living in Texas, caused Fort Towson to be established some few miles to the northwest. Shortly after the Fort was, garrisoned in 1824, the store and many of those living in the vicinity moved to a location on the bluffs above Gates Creek about one mile west of Fort Towson. After that move, Doaksville began to grow and gave every indication of becoming a permanent town.

Large numbers of Choctaw Indians who did not move to Indian Territory until after 1830 settled in or near Doaksville, making it one of the three important towns of the Choctaw area. By 1840 Doaksville had five large merchandising establishments, two owned by Choctaw Indians and the others by licensed white traders. There was also a harness and saddle shop, wagon yard, blacksmith shop, gristmill, hotel, council house, and church. The Choctaw Intelligencer, printed in both English and Choctaw, was available to all – “terms only $2 per year, invariably in advance.” Trade was brisk. In the 1830s and 1840s Red River boats, coming upstream to the mouth of the Kiamichi River, brought firearms, ammunition, and other necessities and luxuries for the Doaksville merchants and returned with tallow, peltries, bear grease, and cotton grown by the Indian farmers and Indian plantation owners. Traders dealing with the Plains Tribes frequently acquired their supplies in Doaksville, and it was not uncommon to see a trader and his train of pack animals following a trail westward to be gone two or three months.

Doaksville was one of the centers where the Indians collected their annuities. Alvin Goode, a missionary, described the scene (Indian Archives, Oklahoma Historical Society):

“The trading establishment of Josiah Doak and Vinson Brown Timms, an Irishman, had the contract to supply the Indians their rations, figured at 13 cents a ration. A motley crowd always assembled at Doaksville on annuity days to receive them. Some thousands of Indians were scattered over a tract of nearly a square mile around the pay house. There were cabins, tents, booths, stores, shanties, wagons, carts, campfires; white, red, black and mixed in every imaginable shade and proportion and dressed in every conceivable variety of style, from tasty American clothes to the wild costumes of the Indians; buying, selling, swapping, betting, shooting, strutting, talking, laughing, fiddling, eating, drinking, smoking, sleeping, seeing and being seen, all bundled together.”

Doaksville was also an important political center. In 1837 the Choctaw and Chickasaw leaders met at Doaksville and entered into an agreement with each other and a joint agreement with the United States whereby the Chickasaws acquired land in Choctaw territory. From 1850 to 1863 Doaksville was the capitol of the Choctaw Nation. The Choctaw Convention of 1860, meeting in Doaksville, drafted the Doaksville Constitution, under which the nation operated thereafter. And the Civil War in Indian Territory actually ended in Doaksville on June 23, 1865, when Brigadier General Stand Watie rode into town and laid down his arms, the last of the Confederate generals to surrender.

The coming of the Civil War was the start of the decline of Doaksville. In 1863 the Choctaw capitol was moved to Chahta Tamaha (Academy). Following the war, plantation and farming operations either ceased or were greatly curtailed by the lack of labor, thereby decreasing the amount of goods to be marketed. (The Choctaws had large numbers of slaves.) More western forts and towns were started in the area of the Plains Tribes; thus, the western trade disappeared.

No part of the old town now remains. The area where it stood has been designated a National Historic Site. Many of the important people of the area for that period arc buried in the cemetery just west of the townsite. The old townsite and cemetery are both interesting places to visit.

From Ghost Towns of Oklahoma by John W. Morris, pages 67-69, Copyright © 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Bishinik April 1993

The Saga of Skullyville

by W. B. Morrison, from the Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume XVI, 1938

Hidden away in the lofty fastnesses of the Rockies and Sierras may yet be found the remains of mining towns once the scene of feverish life and activity, but today the picture of decay and death. It was not unusual for these places to bear names suggestive of the hopes and dreams of their founders – Silver City, Gold Center or Eldorado. Yet in spite of the ambitious names most of them have perished from the earth like the fabled “ideas,” leaving little but the name to be remembered.

The reader may ask what this introduction has to do with Skullyville in the old Choctaw Nation. Well, “iskuli” was a Choctaw word that might be translated “money,” and therefore Skullyville was “Moneytown,” a name just as suggestive as Gold Center or Eldorado. But the traveler who drives out of Spiro today and views the few houses and the deserted cemetery where this early Indian town stood, sees very little suggestive of money.

The founding of Skullyville dates back to the year 1832 when the removal of the Choctaws to their new home was in full progress. By orders of Major F.W. Armstrong, who became the first Choctaw agent in the West, an Agency building was erected about fifteen miles west of Fort Smith and a few miles from a suitable landing on the Arkansas River.

The situation was healthful, the land being gravelly and easily drained, while a group of never failing springs furnished an abundance of excellent water. These springs still survive the cutting of surrounding trees and the general cultivation of adjoining land, and until a very recent date the water was bottled and sold in Spiro and Fort Smith.

The first Agency building, around which the town of Skullyville later grew, was very substantially constructed. It consisted of three hewn log rooms, with foundation of solid stone, about four feet high. The hewn logs were all at least one foot in diameter, and it is said, were cut out by shipsaws in the Cavanal mountains, fifteen miles away. The floors and doors were of puncheon style, the nails all handmade, and the roof covered with red cedar shingles, hand rived. The shingles were not replaced until sixty years later, when the building was remodeled by T.D. Ainsworth. Thus it is seen that the Agency building, around which grew up the town of Skullyville, for many years was the, center of Government activities in this section. Here for several years lived the Agent, Major F.W. Armstrong, and here he died. Here the annuity payments were made to the Choctaws who settled in the Arkansas country, and because they received their money at this place they called it “iskuliville” or Moneytown.”

In 1834 at Swallow Rock, a few miles up the Arkansas from the Skullyville landing, and only five miles from the Agency, Fort Coffee was built, named after Andrew Jackson’s trusted friend, General John Coffee. It was beautifully located, with a wide view of the Arkansas both up and down the river.

It is said that the chief purpose in erecting a military establishment at this particular place was to try to break up the whisky traffic on the river, which traffic was becoming quite a problem after the Indian removals.

The fort was maintained, however, for only four years, when the garrison was removed, and a short time later the buildings were turned over to the Methodist Church for a boy’s school – Fort Coffee Academy – which was operated until the Civil War. Some time during the War, the buildings were destroyed by fire.

Very shortly after the Indians arrived on the Arkansas in 1832, Skullyville began to be a place of great activity and importance. Many of the wealthier Choctaws, chiefly part-bloods, made their homes in or near the town, farming the adjoining lands with their slaves and pasturing their cattle on the well-watered prairies.

A number of licensed traders established stores at Skullyville, and the town became the center of a brisk trade, not only for the Choctaws but for other Indians to the north and west.

Skullyville became the capital of one of the three districts into which the Choctaw Nation was divided; this being named after Mushulatubbe, the last powerful full-blood chief of the group to which pushmataha belonged. He was a very able Indian, handsome in appearance and a facile orator. He became the first district chief, and lived at or near Skullyville until his death in 1838, when an epidemic of smallpox carried off not only the chief but nearly five hundred other residents of the community. He lies in an unmarked grave probably in the Skullyville cemetery. The artist, Catlin, painted a sketch of Mushulatubbe when he visited Skullyville in 1834. This old chief was a reactionary and was bitterly opposed to Christianity as well as to the progressive activity of the part-bloods.

Skullyville had many experiences in its early days, some of them as tragic as the small-pox epidemic referred to above. There was the great flood on the Arkansas in 1833 at a time when several thousand emigrant Choctaws were still camped about the Agency. This was followed by an outbreak of cholera, which carried off several hundred victims.

Not only was Skullyville an educational and social center for that portion of the Choctaw Nation, but it was also the political center.

Gradually there developed jealousy between the people of the Arkansas country and those of the Red River section. When the national capital was moved to Doaksville in 1850, it caused such dissatisfaction in the northern section of the nation that for several years a separation was threatened.

The old cemetery at Skullyville has all the interest usually attached to these ancient places. Untold hundreds if not thousands of people lie here in unmarked graves, while the engraved stones date back into the eighteen thirties. It is a peaceful spot; from one point in it the Arkansas River can be seen, while numerous trees cast their shade over the last resting place of the dead. Two chiefs of the Choctaw Nation, Colonel Tandy Walker and Edmund McCurtain, rest here. Perhaps the most elaborate monument in the cemetery marks the grave of Edmund McCurtain.

Among other sentiments in the long epitaph inscribed on the stone are these: “He was kind and generous as the brave only be. When the years have come and gone and the Choctaws be few, this stone shall mark the place of one of the purest, bravest and most patriotic sons of that nation.”

The decline of Skullyville was rapid after the Civil War. One by one stores and residences were burned or otherwise destroyed never to be rebuilt.

As usual with the old towns, the railroads passed it by, and Spiro a mile to the west, came to be the place of importance. The descendants of its first families are scattered.

But as one who lived there years ago well said: “Let Old Skullyville be remembered long as the principal town of the Choctaw Nation before the coming of the railroads, for here were some of the flower of the tribe; a set of people who always stood for honesty, education and the general welfare, whose men were always noted for their hospitality and generosity, the women for their charity and purity of character.

Most of the site of Skullyville was underlaid with sand and gravel. During the past years untold tons of the very dirt upon which those early people trod have been scattered over the roads from the Winding Stair to the Arkansas border – a fitting reminder of the way in which the original settlers scattered their own culture and refinement throughout their tribe and section.

(Picture Caption)

This is a picture of part of the old Choctaw cemetery at Skullyville, just north of Spiro. This is one of the oldest Choctaw cemeteries and has many tombstones with old, important Choctaw family names and dates on them. It is well worth your time to visit this place when you have time. The important town in the Choctaw nation located here was called Skulleyville because the government paid the Choctaws money, or sculi, here. So, it was the sculi town.

Ghost Towns of Oklahoma

EAGLETOWN

Eagletown was one of the earliest Choctaw settlements in the new Indian Territory, George Shirk, in his book Oklahoma Place Names, attributes the community’s name to the many eagles that nested in the nearby swamps along Mountain Fork River. However, some elderly Choctaws stated that the place got its name from a Choctaw joke. When a Choctaw needed to consult the U.S. Army or the Indian Agent, he jokingly said he was going to the “eagle,” referring to the newly adopted U.S. Symbol. The Choctaw name for the place was 0si Tamaha.

HOCHATOWN

Hochatown history is summarized by Len Green in his article “Rise and Fall of Hochatown: Interesting Community Saga”: (Idabel Gazette, June 19, 1972): “Over a span of more than 60 years, Hochatown grew from a brawling lumber camp to become the Moonshine Capital of Oklahoma and later a quiet farming and ranching community before disappearing forever beneath the waters of Broken Bow Lake.

When the Choctaw Indians first came to Oklahoma, about twelve families followed the trail northward from the old Eagle to the valley in which Hochatown was later located. These early inhabitants planted a few crops and spent a great deal of time hunting and trapping. About 1900 the Choctaw Lumber and Coal Company (later Dierks) established a lumber camp where the village developed. To get the logs out they built a spur railroad into the area from Eagletown. The lumber camp had a commissary that sold largely personal items plus whiskey on Saturdays only, a cook shack, and a bunkhouse. After the prime timber had been cut, the tracks were removed and the lumberjacks shifted to new camps, but the old buildings remained standing.

Toward the end of the operation by the Choctaw Lumber and Coal company a small private sawmill and a stave mill were started. Farmers moved into the area, making use of the partly cleared land by planting cotton, corn sorghums, hay, and truck crops. As a result of the, population increase, a general store and a school were started, and a post office was established. No state highways were ever extended through the area, and no bus line ever served the village. During the 1920′s and 1930′s, the area became noted for its “moonshine whiskey.”  Green writes, “Since the clear waters of Mountain Fork River were ideal for distilling mountain dew, and because the creek canyons furnished concealment from federal revenuers, Hochatown became the center for a thriving illegal whiskey operation.” During a trial in federal court in Muskogee, one federal agent referred to the village as the “moonshine capital of Oklahoma.”

Before the Broken Bow Dam was ever considered, people were leaving the Hochatown community. Because of the lack of economic and social opportunities, very few of the younger people remained, and many of the older people moved to nearby towns where medical and transportation facilities were available. With the building of the dam, the cemetery and church were moved and most other structures were either moved or destroyed.

The last family left the village in 1966. Hochatown is now covered by forty feet of water.

SKULLYVILLE

The site for Skullyville was selected in 1831 when Major Francis W. Armstrong, an Indian agent, was instructed to “establish an agency in the new country in the vicinity of fort Smith, Arkansas.” The site chosen was about fourteen miles southwest of Fort Smith and five miles from the Swallow Rock boat landing on the Arkansas River. The town was established in 1832 when the Choctaw Indians began arriving from Alabama and Mississippi. Skullyville was to serve as a center where annuities due the Choctaws were to be paid. The name is derived from the Choctaw word iskuli, meaning “money”.

The site selected was an attractive and healthful location with a number of perennial springs. The agency building was erected on a hill near one of the largest springs. It was built with a stone foundation and with hewn logs, none of which were less than twelve inches in diameter when cut. The main building had three large rooms, a wide hallway, and a full-length porch. The Choctaws built log houses chinked with small pieces of wood and plastered with mud. The roofs were made of river oak shingles. The houses were strong, warm in winter, and durable. (Several stood for more than a hundred years.)

The government activities attracted commercial interest to the town. Stores with extensive stock from eastern markets were established by licensed traders. Gold was the chief medium of exchange, but the traders bartered for Indian blankets, handicrafts, and pelts and furs. Frequently livestock was taken in exchange. Payments to the Indians were in gold coins shipped by boat in wooden kegs. It has been related that these kegs “were often left in the yard or on the front porch of the Agency, day and night without guard.”

Skullyville also became a political and educational center. About 1845 the Methodist church established two mission boarding schools. New hope School for Girls was located one mile east of the town, and the Fort Coffee Academy for boys was near the Arkansas River. Both schools progressed until the Civil War, when they were closed. New Hope School opened again in 1871 but closed permanently in 1896. In 1857 a convention for Choctaws was held in Skullyville. There the Skullyville Constitution was written and adopted; it united the different factions of the Choctaws and established a stable government for the Choctaw Nation.

Skullyville served as an early gateway to the west for both Indian and white migrants. In 1838 a large number of Chickasaw Indians passed through the town on their way to new western homes. About 1848 a few Seminole groups use the Fort Smith-Boggy Depot road which passed through Skullyville. Large numbers of forty-niners used the same road on their way to California. The Butterfield Overland Mail Route, established in 1858, made Skullyville the first stage stop out of Fort Smith.

The town grew in importance until the Civil War. During the last part of the conflict Skullyville was an outpost for the Confederates. The Union forces captured the town and destroyed many of the buildings and homes. The place never fully recovered from the ravages of war. It did, however, continue as a stage stop for a number of years. The post office at Skullyville was listed as Choctaw Agency when it was established in 1833, but changed to Skullyville in 1860 and was then renamed Oak Lodge in 1871. The Oak Lodge post office was closed in 1917. When the Kansas City Southern Railroad was built through the area, it passed to the west of Oak Lodge, and Skullyville-Oak Lodge became a ghost town.

About all that is left of Skullyville is its cemetery, but it is well worth a visit. The site of nearby Fort Coffee should also be of interest. Several new homes have recently been built in the area as the density of population in this part of Oklahoma increases.

An epitaph on one of the larger tombstones in the Skullyville cemetery reads in all capital letters:

A tribute to the natives of many tribes of this hemisphere. We knew God and knew He was the Creator of all creation. Our blessed Father sayeth the Lord. I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts. We knew God’s laws and kept God’s commandments. We never were savages, cruel, brutal, ferocious, barbarians. We knew The Truth. We lived “In order, decency, peace and freedom” until the foreigners invaded our country.

David McCurtain Hartshorne

From Ghost Towns of Oklahoma by John W. Morris, pages 71-72, 98-99, 177-178, Copyright © 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press.