By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History
For several years Indian Territory was served by only two railroads as stipulated by the treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes in 1866. One north-south line — the Missouri, Kansas & Texas — ran from Parsons, Kan., to Denison, Texas. The east-west railroad was the Atlantic and Pacific that came out of Missouri and met the MKT at Vinita. For several years, these two lines were the only railroads in Indian Territory.
In the 1880s other lines began to cross the Indian Nations, most notably the Santa Fe Railroad. But there was little railroad development in the Three Forks area, in part because the Native Americans opposed it.
This changed after the Curtis Act of 1898 and was spurred even more in Muskogee by the arrival of railroad developer Charles Haskell. Within just a few years of Haskell’s arrival, Muskogee went from having just one rail line — the Katy — to having six lines circling the community. Haskell was a master at selling bonds to raise funds for these rail lines.
Most of the railroads Haskell developed were short lines, connecting two communities that saw the benefit of the railroad for commerce. Usually these lines were bought up by the larger railroads and made a part of their system. This happened with the Ozark and Cherokee Central Railroad which connected Muskogee to Tahlequah and eastern Arkansas. The St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad “absorbed” the Cherokee line and it became a part of the Frisco system.
Despite its name, the Frisco never actually reached San Francisco, but it became a fairly significant line between Missouri and Texas. The railroad built a passenger depot at Second and Elgin streets in Muskogee, and its freight depot was a block west at Third and Elgin streets. This building remains standing and houses the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
The investors in Haskell’s railroads must have been pleased with the return on their investment for they voted to all contribute funds to give Haskell a bonus. It was reportedly a $70,000 bonus. Haskell used his wealth to build a number of fine structures in Muskogee and to continue developing more railroads and the electric trolley line.
The Frisco had an agreement with the Santa Fe Railroad, and they shared track throughout Indian and Oklahoma Territories. The Frisco even got some of the famous Harvey House Restaurants which Fred Harvey built along the Santa Fe line.
It has been said that the Harvey House Restaurants were a part of the first restaurant chain in America. Harvey standardized his restaurant design, décor and menu and raised the quality of service for the railroad passenger. For several years, the Frisco Passenger Depot in Muskogee had a Fred Harvey News Stand which was not a full-service restaurant, but offered passengers coffee and snacks and the current newspapers and magazines.
With Haskell’s influence, by statehood most of the small communities in the Three Forks area had rail service and most experienced the same boom that Muskogee did in growth, development and commerce.
Reach Jonita Mullins at email@example.com.