Five years after the civil war ended, a
surveying crew from the Katy Railroad staked a marker 30 miles south of
the Kansas border and thereby made the first declaration of a town where
no town had existed before. The surveyors stopped long enough to locate
the railroad station site and then continued on their way to fulfilling
the bigger assignment: to establish the course for the Katy line from
Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico.
What follows is a fictional ac count of
that day In October 1869 when the party of surveyors gave the town of
Vinita its first tentative wedge into existence. The story is told in a
young surveyor’s letter home to his family. The letter and the character
are fiction. The historical references serve only as at backdrop to this
October 6, 1869
Dear Father and Mother,
Greetings to you and my sisters.
especially little Hannah. Please know that my longing for home is softened
somewhat by the beauty of the land before me. When the Katy Railroad
Survey Department assigned me to "Indian Territory’ I envisioned
dry red dirt and blaz trig hot sun. I am glad that I did not grouse, for I
would have been ashamed of my ignorant speaking. In truth, we are working
amidst gently rolling terrain covered by tall prairie grasses. Breezes and
sometimes strong winds cause the grass to ripple like the wake of passing
steamboats on my beloved Mississippi. I must content myself with smaller
rivers and creeks for now. Most recently we are camped along a tributary
known as Cabin Creek. There are many full canopied trees with autumn
foliage. Although the weather is pleasant and the sky is deeply blue, the
shade provides welcome refreshment from the midday sun.
Today we located, and tomorrow we will
officially mark, the future Katy station. Our orders were to designate a
position approximately 30 miles south of the Kansas border, and as
Providence would have it, the locale is a fine one indeed. Although I hear
some of the men lamenting the desolation left by the two Battles here. I
see no evidence of that at this moment. As far as my eye can see, there
are boundless unoccupied, unspoiled lands.
We are only a few miles away from where
the Union lost 300 hundred supply wagons to Con federate ambush. Even so,
it is easy for me to imagine that the War was long ago and in distant
lands. The War, which once dominated most of our thoughts and all of our
conversations, no longer defines the course of our everyday lives. Oh my
Dearest Parents, we should be ever grateful for the approaching dominance
of the Rail road empire. Not only will the cattlemen have almost
unbelievable speed of transport for their herds, but opportunities for ac
companying mercantile will abound.
It is no secret that wherever we
designate a railway station, shanty towns inevitably spring up. Tents of
varying sturdiness surround the more substantial railroad freight
buildings and within weeks a town is born. Some become centers of commerce
and homes to Christian families while others fade away when competing
railroads build intersecting tracks and create that
magnet of commerce, the Cross roads. It
is too soon to say what will happen here but I can say that if only I were
a year or two beyond this stage of tenuous finances, I would gladly assume
some risk to be one of the early settlers here.
There are men of means who are
speculating on the work we are doing right now. They buy the land near the
Katy’s stations and then offer it for sale to those eager men who will
follow. One man in particular. a Mr. Elias Boudinot has been keen on our
movements of late. He rode up again today and we are obliged to provide
him with the details of our survey because he is a counselor of the Katy.
I. along with other men on the crew, have predicted that this gentle man
is clever and well positioned to be the first to benefit financially from
our surveying efforts. He is an impressive figure, well dressed and
mounted on one of the best looking horses I have ever seen.
I have decided to make acquaintance with
Mr. Boudinot and perhaps learn of opportunities that may not be readily
available to others. I pray to have wisdom In this and hope that I will
not be struck dumb by a fit of stuttering or boyish prattle. The results
of this endeavor I will include in my next letter to you. Please be
assured of my continued good health, the food is plentiful and somehow
tastes especially good when served in this great dining hail with the sky
as our ceiling. I long for the sight of you and our home. so do not be
dismayed when I say that I am unaccountably en chanted by this land.
Your devoted son and brother,