MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 10, 2013

Three Forks area an early community

— There are plenty of locations and towns in Oklahoma that like to claim to be the “oldest” or “first,” and most have a legitimate reason for such boasting. Oklahoma’s history did not begin, as some say, “with the land run of 1889.” Our history stretches much further back and includes many ancient sites.

The Three Forks would certainly have to be considered an important location both for natural history and human history for many centuries. There are only scant records of the earliest people who called this area home, but having the rivers being both potable (the Grand) and navigable (the Arkansas) certainly would have atracted them.

The river valleys are dotted with old burial mounds attributed to the Mississippian Mound Builders, who are considered to be the ancestors of many of the Native American tribes in Oklahoma today. Notations on early maps indicate that the Tawakoni and Osage lived along the river banks when European exploration was reaching this area. Both Spanish and French explorers traveled along the rivers, either by canoes in the water or on horseback along the banks.

Largely through the research of Grant Foreman, it is known that a fur trading outpost called Three Forks was operating as early as 1806. That year, a French-American trader, Joseph Bogey, obtained permission to set up a post in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. He chose Three Forks, likely for the same reasons as earlier people. It was easily reached by the rivers and would have been a familiar landmark among the Indians he wanted to trade with.

Within 10 years a number of other trading posts were also setting up along the banks of the middle river, the Verdigris.  Traders such as Samuel Rutherford, Nathaniel Pryor, A.P. Chouteau and Hugh Glenn all received the abundance of furs, hides, honey and pecans that were harvested in the region. They shipped them to New Orleans and from there to the Eastern Seaboard.

Three Forks remained an active trading community for years. It was active in 1819 when the English botanist Thomas Nuttall visited. It was still bustling in 1824 when Fort Gibson was built and in 1829 when Sam Houston chose to build his “wigwam” between the Verdigris and the Grand. Washington Irving described his visit to the trade center in his 1832 book “A Tour on the Prairies.”

The fact that there is no town named Three Forks today can be attributed to the ravages that have destroyed other communities — flood and fire. Heavy rains caused serious flooding in 1844, destroying many of the structures on the west bank of the Verdigris. An archeological dig by Dub West and a group of Boy Scouts revealed that structures on the east bank had burned down.

When the Creek Agency that had been located at Three Forks was moved after the flood, that spelled the end of Three Forks. The agency moved about, finally settling near Fern Mountain, and a community grew around it called Creek Agency. Of course, there is no town of Creek Agency today, but that’s another story.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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