Cherokee Town

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Long before the white made his appearance in what is now Garvin County, the Indians living an traveling the area crossed the Washita River at a natural ford about three and one half miles north of Wynnewood. They crossed there because the river bed at that particular place was, and still is, one solid rock. This was the town called Cherokee Town. During times of low water the solid rock bed of the crossing is exposed to the eye. Today traces of the wagon road at the crossing remain.

After the Cherokee Indians were settled in this area, a trading post was established on the banks of a creek called Cherokee Sandy. The post office named Cherokee Town was located in what is now the northwest quarter of section twenty five, township three north, range on east.

A map made in 1871 shows the Washita River, Cherokee Sandy, and Cherokee Town, and shows roads leading to and from Cherokee Town to points southeast towards Boggy Depot southwest of Fort Arbuckle and west to other forts.

All roads roing southwest and west across the Washita crossed the river at Cherokee Crossing. Most of the traffic that came from the southeast going on up to the northwest around Fort Reno all came through this country around Cherokee Town and across Cherokee Crossing and on further northeast.

Cherokee Town originally had about one hundred people living there. It had a general store, cotton gin, and a doctor.

Cherokee Town died out about 1906 after the railroad came through.

L.L. Shirley

Cherokee Town
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Article By Mike Tower  

Cherokee Town, Cherokee Sandy Creek, and Cherokee Crossing. derive their name from a band

of Cherokee expelled from Texas in 1839, and then a second group in 1855, which settled along the

banks of the Washita. Other Cherokee joined their kin as refugees during the Civil War. Many were

still living in the area as late as 1869.


The ‘gone missing’ Cherokee were not the first settlers at Cherokee Crossing however. That honor

went to a small band of farmers, who were probably related to the Witchita or Caddo, who built

permanent houses here sometime near 1300 A. D. The crossing, and the broad plain of the Washita

River had been used by migrant bands of hunters as a highway to good hunting in the plains for

centuries. But the people who built houses and planted small fields of corn, were the first permanent

settlers. However, their reign ended when a severe drought struck the southwest near the end of the

14th century, and the crossing once again became good place to camp before crossing the Washita.


As I said earlier, the first Cherokee to live in the area probably came in 1839, but the Cherokee

knew of the crossing long before that. For in 1834, a Dr. Monroe thought it would be a dashing good

idea to take his new bride on a buffalo hunt. So, he hired Jacob Fowler, and the famous Cherokee

warrior, Captain Dutch, and eleven of his warriors, and set out from Fort Towson to pursue buffalo on

the Great Plains.


Along the way, however, Monroe became ill, and had to turn back. Fowler, though, along with

Dutch and his boys, continued on and crossed the Washita at Cherokee Crossing, before making a

bee line for the buffalo grounds. Fowler continued on the Rocky Mountains, trapped awhile, and

returned a couple of years later, crossing the Washita on the south side of the Arbuckle Mountains.


It was the advantages of the rock shelf which provided a hard bottom crossing of the river which

introduced Smith Paul to the broad, fertile valley which would become his home, for the crossing

allowed a savings of several miles on Paul’s wagon trips from Fort Arbuckle to Fort Gibson. And, it

was the early settlement of Paul which tempted the actual founder of Cherokee Town to come there in

the first place.


Dr. John Shirley was a Irishman with a knack for landing government contracts for goods and

services. Shirley was a practicing physician who hired on with the government to treat the Indians

confined at the Brazos Indian Reserves in North Texas. When those tribes were moved to the Wichita

Reserve in Western Oklahoma in 1859, Shirley and his family moved with them. Then during the Civil

War, the Wichita Agency and Shirley’s trading store were attacked and burned. Out of work, and

with an ever growing family, Shirley decided to try the Chickasaw Nation, and by 1864 had secured a

permit to operate a trading store and ranch at the Cherokee Crossing.


There wasn’t much at Cherokee, or at Pauls Valley for that matter, for several years after the Civil

War. Then, in 1870, the Army decided to build a new fort in the Wichita Mountains, calling it Fort Sill.

Shirley, wily business man that he was, got the contract to build a government road from the railroad

town of Caddo, a depot of the M, K, & T Railroad, in eastern Indian Territory, to the new army post,

Fort Sill. Well, naturally, the new road was wound around to cross the Washita River at the best hard

bottom crossing on the whole river. And, it was just coincidence that the road passed right in front of

his store, new hotel, and blacksmith shop. But, it was not coincidence that the big freight wagons,

drawn by 20 yoke of oxen, began passing his house of business day and night for the next several

years. The new fort was going up.


The following year, the El Paseo Stage Company got the mail contract and began running concord

coaches. One of the major stage stands was Cherokee Town, and it got it’s own post office, with the

post master being--give up--Dr. John Shirley, of course. For months, Smith Paul’s Valley did not have

a stage stand. Then one day, a vagrant wind brought the smell of cooking ham to the nose of a hungry

stage driver, and from that point on, the government road had a permanent crook in it leading straight

to Smith Paul’s house.


Another oddity of this stage line was that there were stage stands on either side of the Washita river

at Cherokee. It seems the teams were changed out coming and going, at Cherokee Town, east of the

river, and at Tom Waite’s Trading Store, west of the river. This was done because mud would pile up

on the wagon spokes so thick that teams would tire themselves in just two miles, rather than the 10 to

15 miles distance normally measured between stage stands. Just to be sure he didn’t miss a nickel,

Shirley also put in a toll ferry to float people across when the river was too high. Doctor Shirley also

built one of the first toll bridges over the Washita River. The first bridge was a wooden affair and

washed out with the first big flood. Shirley, then, had his brother, who was an engineer come in and

build a better bridges with stone supports, but even this bridge could not withstand the raging waters of

the flooding Washita. It, too, fell in, an incident Sarah Ann Harlan recorded in her biography, recalling

she was on her way to White Bead Hill to attend her dying husband when the bridge fell in immediately

after her wagon pounded across.


At Cherokee Town there was Dr. Shirley’s store, a log house made into a hotel operated by

Charley Stewart, a stage barn Noel Lael’s blacksmith shop, and two or three houses. Two miles east,

Dr. Shirley built a big, rambling log house which served as head quarters for his farm and ranch, and

agriculture enterprise which employed 20 to 30 men year round. After Shirley’s death in 1875, his

home and store were sold to Doctor William Walner, an early day physician active in the Choctaw

Nation. Dr. Walner turned the whole operation over to his son, John Walner.


When the Santa Fe completed it’s construction in 1887, the new railroad bypassed Cherokee

Town as the tracks lay on the west side of the Washita River. This meant all the goods and mail

scheduled for Fort Sill and points west, would no longer be shipped to Caddo, and would instead go

to the new Paul’s Valley depot. With the driving of a single spike, the whole eastern half of the

Government road lost it’s usefulness. Cherokee Town literally moved south to the new depot of



The old Walner/Shirley home had burned, and a new home of planed lumber had replaced it. John

Walner had oxen hitched to each corner of the house and ‘walked’ the entire structure four miles

south, to the new town site. The rest of the homes and houses followed suit, dotting Wynnewood with

the old Cherokee Town structures. One government barn was hauled across the river to Pauls Valley,

and the stage stand, a small cabin, remained and was occupied by the Harmon family when they

arrived in the valley.


John Walner, thinking he was facing the home south, actually lined it up facing what would become

the alley. Rather than go to the trouble of turning the house, Walner built a porch and facade on the

rear of the home so it would appear to be the front door. Ever after, folks enter the Walner home

through the kitchen. I think it’s kind of homey myself, but then I’m just a man. The women of the

Walner household were embarrassed to death to receive guests at the kitchen door. (Source: Mike

Tower, Traders along the Washita, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Spring, 1987)


(For more on Cherokee Town, see the Indian and Pioneer Files at this Web Site. Search for Dixie

Smith, Glochester Allen, Mattie and Everett Peer Baker, Lem Blevins, and H. W. Gay among others.)


One of the many oddities at Cherokee Crossing are the huge stones and blocks of concrete which

remain on the Washita River at the mouth of Cherokee Sandy Creek. It was here that Zack Gardner, a

Choctaw Indian who traces his entry to the county all the way back to the founding of Fort Arbuckle,

and who moved into the Pauls Valley region at nearly the same time as Smith Paul, built the dam to run

his grist mill. For the uninitiated, a grist mill is a water powered grinder of corn and wheat. A paddle

wheel is turned by water, which in turn, through a series of gears, causes a huge round grinding stone

to turn. Corn or wheat are poured beneath this wheel and it pulverizes the seed into a powder, or flour.


Prior to Gardner building this machine, the closest grist mill was at Mill Creek, some 50 miles east.

A two day trip by wagon from Pauls Valley, and nearly a week from Fort Sill. Gardner’s installation of

the mill was, to the early pioneers of the region, was greeted with the same enthusiasm as rural

electricity in a later generation. It was a great labor and time saver.


Though not generally known, the original mill stone was sort of ‘appropriated’ by Smith Paul and

Zack Gardner. It seems that after the Civil War, many of the Indians who refuged at Pauls Valley and

Cherokee Town, were afraid to go home and lingered. Others, who had refuged in Kansas, didn’t

even try to return until 1868, and along they way they contracted cholera and small pox and were

dieing like flies along the trail. So instead of going to their reserve, they stopped in the Washita Valley.

Smith Paul, Dr. Shirley, and Gardner tried to help these poor folks, but there were so many of them

they were about to eat them out of house and home. Smith Paul, therefore, petitioned the government

for help and suddenly found himself ‘temporary Special Indian Agent’.


Among the other supplies that got sent to Special Agent Paul was a set of grind stones ordered by

the military for the new army post at Fort Sill. Somehow, these stones never made it to the fort, at least

for about four years. But, by golly, Zack Gardner, with the blessings of Smith Paul and just about

every person living in a hundred mile radius, got into the grist mill business.


(Source: Indian and Pioneer Files; Carbine and Lance, by W. S. Nye,)
(University of Oklahoma Press, 3rd ed. 1969. Various
articles in the Chronicles of Oklahoma.)


(The Indian and Pioneer files have numerous mentions of Gardner’s Mill. Take a peek. Some are quite humorous, in a tongue and cheek way.)



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