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American Explorations

The formal transfer of the Province of Louisiana from France to the United States took place in May, 1804. By this act the greater part of Oklahoma became a part of the dominions of the United States. It was not immediately occupied, for, as yet, there were but few settlements in the Louisiana country, and those were all in the states immediately bordering on the Mississippi River.

As soon as possible after the transfer of Louisiana Province from France to the United States, arrangements were made to explore the newly acquired territory. The first expediation sent out was that of Captains Lewis and Clark, leaving St. Louis in 1804 which ascended the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Two years later, two other expeditions were sent to explore other portions of the Louisiana country. One of these was commanded by Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike, who went westward, across Kansas, to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson, with five soldiers, was sent down the Arkansas River from the central part of Kansas. Lieutenant Wilkinson wrote a description of his journey down the Arkansas river across Oklahoma. The other expedition, under the command of Captain Richard Sparks, was to explore the Red River to its source. It was met, near the southeastern corner of Oklahoma, by a superior force of Spanish troops and was compelled to turn back. The French traders from Louisiana and from the lower Arkansas still continued to visit the Oklahoma country and to trade with the Indians but very few of the English speaking Americans penetrated this remote interior until after the close of the War of 1812.

In 1817, a military post, which was called Fort Smith, was established at the mouth of the Poteau River, on the eastern border of Oklahoma. Most of the soldiers in its first garrison had served under General Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans, only a little more than two years before. A few white people had already settled along the Arkansas and Red rivers in Eastern Oklahoma a year or two before that, but these were afterward compelled to remove. The same year that Fort Smith was established, two Americans, Robert M. French and Samuel M. Rutherford (see Biographies of Men Prominent in Oklahoma History), established a trading post on the Verdigris River, a few miles north of Muskogee. Other American traders began to visit Oklahoma within a year or two after that. In 1819, Thomas Nuttall, an English naturalist, visited eastern Oklahoma and wrote an interesting account of his journey. The next year Major Stephen H. Long, of the Army, who had selected the site of Fort Smith, entered the state from the west while on his return from an expedition to the Rocky mountains and he, too, wrote an entertaining description of his journey across Oklahoma.

In 1820, the first mission in Oklahoma, for the purpose of educating the Indians and converting them to the Christian religion, was established near the mouth of Chouteau Creek, in Mayes County. In 1824, two military posts were established in Oklahoma, Fort Gibson, on the east bank of the Grand River, several miles above its mouth, and Fort Towson, which was located a few miles from the mouth of th Kiamitia River, in the southeastern part of the state. These military posts were located for the purpose of maintaining forces of troops to preserve order among the Indians and the restless, unruly white element which sought refuge in the wilderness beyond the frontier settlements.

For several years before the establishment of Forts Gibson and Towson, there had been much discussion of the question of setting apart a great tract of land for the settlement of Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi River. It was proposed to call it the Indian Territory. A great reservation, embracing all the part of Oklahoma lying between the Red River on the south, and the Arkansas and Canadian rivers, on the north, had already been assigned to the Choctaw tribe of Indians, the people of which then lived in Mississippi and Alabama. Then a reservation was assigned to the Creek tribe between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers. The Creek people (so called because the dwelled near creeks) were then living in Georgia and Alabama, but some of them begain to move to this new reservation within a year after the establishment of Fort Gibson.

Throughout this period travel and trade with the rest of the world was still conducted by means of boats on the rivers. Larger boats than the canoes had come into use, however. The keel-boat, which was made of lumber and which could readily carry a cargo of several tons, had come into use among the traders. On the up-stream voyage it was dragged by men who walked on the bank of the river and pulled a long rope. One trader, Thomas James, of Illinois tried to navigate the Cimarron River with a keel-boat in 1821, but it was too shallow. In 1823, with another keel-boat, he ascended the North Canadian as far as Keokuk Falls, in the northern part of Pottawatomie County. Above that he had to transport his stock of goods by means of canoes made of tree trunks to a point in the western part of the state, where he traded with the Comanches and Kiowas. The first steamboat ascended the Arkansas River to Fort Smith, in 1820.

Return to Oklahoma Prehistory Index Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright & copy; 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.