Saturday, May 22, 2021

Table of Contents

 

1.  Crater Loops, Little Gore Canyon, Flaming Aspen and Other Vanishing Splendor http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/11/colorado.html


2.  Curtis Hill -- Cimarron River Valley
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/11/curtis-hill-cimarron-river-valley.html

3.   Pecos River Bridge -- Fort Sumner, New Mexico
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/11/pecos-river-bridge-fort-sumner-new.html 

4.   Crozier Canyon and Truxton Canyon -- Where the Waters Flow
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/11/crozier-canyon-and-truxton-canyon-where.html

5.  Crookton Cutoff -- Eagle Nest,Doublea, Crookton and Seligman
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/11/crookton-cutoff-eagle-nest-doublea-and.html

6.  Loma Alta, Lucy and the New Mexico High Plains
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/12/loma-alta-lucy-and-new-mexico-high.html 

7.  Tehachapi Loop Saved My Marriage
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/12/railroad-photography-at-tehachapi-loop.html 

8.   Travels with Mighty Dog in Search Of the Kansas City Southern;  Austin, Todd and Ladd; Arkansas and Oklahoma; Kansas and Oklahoma; Avard Subdivision and Other Oddities
http://www.waltersrail.com/2015/12/trains-travels-with-mighty-dog-in.html 

9.  BNSF Transcon in the Texas Panhandle
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/01/railroad-photography-bnsf-transcon-in.html 

10.  Abo Canyon:  Then and (S)now

http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/01/abo-canyon-then-and-snow.html 

11.  Lombard Canyon and the Three Rivers
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/02/lombard-canyon-and-three-rivers.html 

12.  Mountains May Begin With Montana, but Fugichrome Ends With Me

http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/02/mountains-may-begin-with-montana-but_24.html  

13.  Mullan Pass:  Mullan on my Mind
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/03/blog-post.html 

14.  Kingman Canyon:  What am I Doing up Here? 
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/03/kingman-canyon-what-am-i-doing-up-here.html  


15.  BNSF Transcon:  Not Every Meeting is a Waste of Time
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/03/bnsf-transcon-not-every-meeting-is.html 


16.  The Arbuckles are Worn Down, and I'm Headed There:  AT&SF and BNSF Railroad Photography From an Oklahoma Sinkhole

http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/04/the-arbuckles-are-worn-down-and-im.html  

17.  BNSF, UP and MRL in the Idaho Panhandle
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/04/bnsf-up-and-mrl-in-idaho-panhandle.html 

18.  Burlington Northern:  Trinidad to Walsenburg (Someone Built a Railroad Through Here?)
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/06/burlington-northern-trinidad-to.html

19.  Santa Fe on Curtis Hill (Things Ain't What They Used to Be)
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/05/santa-fe-on-curtis-hill-things-aint.html 

20.  BNSF West of Belen:  MP 27.8 to 31.9
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/07/bnsf-west-of-belen-mp-278-to-319.html 

21.  BNSF at Flagstaff (and a little AT&SF)
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/08/bnsf-at-flagstaff-and-little-at.html


22.  I Feel Like the Rock Island (Memories of a Stricken Railroad)
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/08/i-feel-like-rock-island-memories-of.html

23.  Kansas City Southern:  Requiem for White Knights and Telephone Poles
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/09/kansas-city-southern-requiem-for-white.html

24.  BNSF at Curtis Hill:  Where the West Begins
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/09/bnsf-at-curtis-hill-where-west-begins.html

25.  Tennessee Pass:  Alas
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/09/tennessee-pass-alas.html

26.  BNSF West of Wellington
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/10/bnsf-west-of-wellington.html

27.  Cajon 2016:  Before the Fire
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/11/cajon-2016-before-fire.html 


28.  Union Pacific:  Aspen Mountain Through Echo Canyon
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/12/union-pacific-aspen-mountain-through.html

29.  Burlington Northern at Crawford Hill  
http://www.waltersrail.com/2016/12/burlington-northern-at-crawford-hill_13.html

30.  St. Louis Railroads -- as I Remember Them 
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/01/st-louis-railroads-as-i-remember-them.html

31.  BNSF Across the Sacramento Valley:  Wild Burros and Cold Bears
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/01/bnsf-across-sacramento-valley-wild.html

32. She Caught the Katy and Left me a Mule to Ride
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/02/she-caught-katy-and-left-me-mule-to-ride.html

33.  Santa Fe in the Unassigned Lands
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/03/i-live-in-what-once-was-called.html

34.  BNSF:  Another Look at Crozier Canyon
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/04/bnsf-another-look-at-crozier-canyon.html

35.  BNSF:  Colorado River to Goffs Hill
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/05/bnsf-transcon-needles-to-goffs-hill.html

36.  Cajon Pass:  After the Fire
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/06/cajon-pass-after-fire_29.html

37.  BNSF in Oklahoma:  Avard Subdivision
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/08/bnsf-in-oklahoma-avard-subdivision.html

38.  Back East!  Lost in the Trees
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/11/back-east-lost-in-trees.html

39.  Union Pacific:  The Craig Branch in its Prime
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/12/union-pacific-craig-branch-in-its-prime.html

40.  Union Pacific from Point of Rocks to Granger:  Wherein Mighty Dog Clashes with the Serpent
http://www.waltersrail.com/2017/12/union-pacific-from-point-of-rocks-to.html


41.  Trials and Tribulations of Train Photography
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/01/trials-and-tribulations-of-train_3.html

42.  The Frisco of my Youth:  Both Gone
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/01/the-frisco-of-my-youth-both-gone.html

43.  When That Evening Sun Goes Down:  Ellinor After Hours
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/02/when-that-evening-sun-goes-down-ellinor.html

44.  Nebraska's Sandhills in Transition
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/03/nebraskas-sandhills-in-transition.html

45.  BNSF:  Highway 47 to Mountainair
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/04/bnsf-highway-47-to-mountainair.html

46.  Rock Island and Union Pacific on the Chisholm Trail
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/05/rock-island-and-union-pacific-on.html

47.  Union Pacific, Southern Pacific and Western Pacific Potpourri:  Arnold Loop, Echo Canyon, Aiken Hill, Sherman Hill and Donner Summit
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/08/union-pacific-southern-pacific-and.html

48.  Lake Pend Oreille! or The Importance of the Angle of Incidence
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/08/lake-pend-oreille-or-importance-of.html

49.  Sunset on the Missouri Pacific
http://www.waltersrail.com/2018/10/sunset-on-missouri-pacific.html

50.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part One:  Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas)
https://www.waltersrail.com/2018/12/bnsf-transcon-kansas-city-to-cajon-part.html

51.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Two:  Clovis to Belen) https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/01/bnsf-transcon-kansas-city-to-cajon-part.html

52.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Three:  Belen to Seligman) https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/02/bnsf-transcon-kansas-city-to-cajon-part.html


53.  BNSF Transcon:  Kansas City to Cajon (Part Four:  Crozier Canyon to Cajon)
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/03/bnsf-transcon-kansas-city-to-cajon-part.html

54.  Burlington Northern Blues (and Greens)
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/04/burlington-northern-blues-and-greens.html

55.  Kansas City Southern:  Ouachita Mountains Revival
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/05/kansas-city-southern-ouachita-mountains.html

56.  BNSF:  Trinchera Pass  
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/06/bnsf-trinchera-pass.html

57.  BNSF at the Millennium in the Cherokee Strip
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/08/bnsf-at-millennium-in-cherokee-strip.html

58.  O, Canada!  https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/09/o-canada.html

59.  Bridges, Trestles and Causeways
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/10/bridges-trestles-and-causeways.html

60.  I Feel Like the Rock Island, but I Dream of the Santa Fe 
https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/11/i-feel-like-rock-island-but-i-dream-of.html

61.  A Brief Tour of Tehachapi https://www.waltersrail.com/2019/12/a-brief-tour-of-tehachapi.html

62.  The Flint Hills! https://www.waltersrail.com/2020/01/the-flint-hills.html

63.  The Only Place I Ever Felt at Home     https://www.waltersrail.com/2020/02/the-only-place-i-ever-felt-at-home.html

64.  Rio Grande on the Moffat Route
https://www.waltersrail.com/2020/03/rio-grande-on-moffat-route.html

65.  Six Days in the Desert (BNSF Transcon: Danby to Ash Hill) 
https://www.waltersrail.com/2020/03/six-days-in-desert-bnsf-transcon-danby.html 

66.  Walking Backward to go Forward   https://www.waltersrail.com/2020/04/walking-backward-to-go-forward_15.html











 


 


The Land That Swallows Trains: Part One

 





This is the first of a multi-part series about the United States' survey of a potential railroad route along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Pacific.  As history unfolded, no railroad was constructed along the route as far west as New Mexico.  Thereafter, significant portions were used by the Santa Fe's transcontinental line to California, operated today by BNSF.

Part One discusses that segment of the route never used for a railroad.  Because this is a train blog, such a discussion may seem odd, even pointless.  Your author nonetheless finds it interesting.  The reader may as well.  Even if you don't, it doesn't matter.  It's my blog.  I like the story, so I'm going to tell it. 

*

In June 1853, a steamboat headed south along the Mississippi River, bound for Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Among the passengers was a surveying party, headed by Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, with instructions from Congress to survey a railroad route to the Pacific Ocean along the 35th parallel.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Mississippi River south of St. Louis was wild, almost aboriginal, populated by poisonous snakes, black bears and alligators in its southern reaches.  Yet the territory to the west was wilder still -- mostly unmapped, unknown and uninviting.  

North and South were represented in the survey team, plus two foreign countries and the sciences of geology, biology, astronomy and meteorology.  Two railroad construction engineers were also included, as well as a naturalist, artist and surveyor.

Exploration of what became the American West was brought about by the Mexican-American War in the late 1840's, the result of which was the annexation by the United States of a vast territory from what is now New Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.  Where before, American dreams had stopped at the Rocky Mountains, businessmen, politicians, adventurers, homesteaders and the merely curious all turned their sights on the vast ocean that would connect the young country to the Orient. 

*

One of the foreign countries represented was Prussia -- in the person of Balduin Möllhausen.  The son of an artillery officer, he had travelled to the United States in search of adventure and quickly found it.  He liked to dress in what he thought was typical American frontier garb, but he must have gained his fashion sense from reading James Fenimore Cooper.  When fully costumed, with dark beard, moccasins, musket and Bowie knife, he did look a bit like Natty Bumpo.      

Balduin Möllhausen 


In 1852, he joined the Duke of Wurtenberg in a trip to the Rocky Mountains, where the pair became lost and lived for months with the Otoes.  Now, less than a year later, he was headed west again, and at the beginning of his journey, he wrote in his diary, which he later published and was thereafter translated into English:

It is a doctrine pretty often reduced to practice in American commercial life:  all things resolve round the common axis of money making, and the true man of business, whatever he does, never loses sight of the question, what profit he can make by it.

*

Another member of the party who also kept a diary of his travels was John Sherburne, born in New Hampshire in 1831 to one of the state's oldest and most prominent families.  For generations, the Sherburnes had been landowners, shipowners, sea captains, surveyors, merchants and government officials.  Among Sherburne's relatives were the governors of New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  His mother was the granddaughter of Captain John Blunt, who had guided George Washington across the Delaware River before the Battle of Trenton.

He wore the full beard that was the fashion of the times, with long flowing black hair and a nose as thin and pointed as an arrow.  Uniformed, he looked paternal and thoughtful, as though he had experienced far too much in life to be judgmental.

John Sherburne

Shortly before joining Lieutenant Whipple, the 21 year old Sherburne was living with his parents after having been dismissed from West Point on January 31, 1853, for failing chemistry.  His record until then had been respectable, but he had failed the subject twice.  In a poll of the faculty, only three voted to retain him.  He was permitted to resign, and West Point issued a certificate testifying to his skill in the subjects passed during his three and one-half years' stay. 

Like many of us who have failed at something, Sherburne did not give up.  After completing the Whipple survey, he joined the United States Army and attained the rank of Lieutenant in the First United States Regular Infantry when the Civil War began in April 1861. On October 24, 1861 he was promoted to Captain, and given a commission in the newly raised 19th United States Regular Infantry regiment. In July 1862 he was promoted to Major and detailed as an Assistant Adjutant General, serving in the District of Washington (which he commanded for a time). On March 1, 1864 he was commissioned as a Colonel of Volunteers, and was given command of the 11th New York Volunteer Cavalry.  Colonel Sherburne led the cavalry unit through 1864, additionally serving as Chief of Cavalry for the Department of the Gulf from June 25 to September 8. On March 15, 1865 he was honorably discharged from his field service in the Volunteers due to illness. Returning to his regular Army rank of Major and his duties as an Assistant Adjutant General, he served until he was honorably discharged on December 28, 1870.

Perhaps because at so young an age he already understood the many vicissitudes of life, Sherburne wrote at the beginning of the journey into Oklahoma:

I cannot leave Fort Smith without regret, for I've made many pleasant acquaintances who probably I shall never meet again.  Farewell, kind friends.  Your hospitality and kindness has bound me with a tie which years will not sever.  May prosperity attend you all.

*

A third diary was maintained by the leader of the survey party, Lieutenant Whipple, who already had acquired years of surveying experience.  Born in Massachusetts in 1817, he entered West Point in 1841 and upon graduation was assigned to the Corp of Topographical Engineers.  In the mid-nineteenth century, a member of this branch of the service was the rough equivalent of an astronaut in the mid-twentieth century.  Both went where no one had gone before.

Lieutenant Whipple was initially assigned to military reconnaissance in Louisiana.  Then from 1844 to 1849, he worked on the survey of the northeastern boundary with Canada.  Then he moved to the Mexico Boundary Commission.  He eventually took over as the Commission's chief surveyor.

He was tall for the era and slender, with black hair that, by 21st century standards, would seem long but was fashionable in the 1850's.  His thin black moustache was modest, barely noticeable.  In dress uniform, he looked the full part of a soldier.


Amiel Weeks Whipple

Your author's favorite entry from Lieutenant Whipple's notebook is a terse comment dated July 3, 1853, while the party was still in Fort Smith:
Went to church and heard a miserable sermon.
John Sherburne's eldest sister by seven years, Eleanor, was married to Lieutenant Whipple.  Thus, the two surveyors knew each other well.  In his diary, Sherburne always refers to "Mr. W" or "Mr. Whipple," with never a hint of kinship.  In his own notebook, Whipple likewise mentions Sherburne in the same formal tones he used to describe the remainder of the party, only a few times calling Sherburne by his nickname "Pitts." 
*

The expedition was a topographical reconnaissance; the party was to report on the best route for construction of a railroad.  They were to provide elevations and grades of mountains passes, the availability of water and timber, and the nature and quantity of minerals, rocks and soil.  They were also to report on Native American tribes encountered and the existence, or lack thereof, of European settlement.  Since any possible railroad route must be passible generally by any wheeled vehicle, the team set out from Arkansas with mule-drawn wagons.

Fort Smith was on the very edge of the frontier.  Beyond it to the west lay Native Americans "removed" from their homes in the southeast and forcibly marched to what is now eastern Oklahoma -- along the Trail of Tears.  The five tribes involved were the Chickasaw (Mississippi), Choctaw (Mississippi), Cherokee (mostly Georgia), Creek (Alabama) and Seminole (Florida), and the death toll was horrendous.  Whipple's survey party knew nothing about this land.

All they really knew was that to reach Fort Smith, their steamboat left the Mississippi River in the middle of a cypress swamp and turned northwest (upstream) into the Arkansas River.  If the banks of the Mississippi seemed aboriginal, the Arkansas was otherworldly, original-growth forests that had never seen the axe, interspersed among bayous and swamps, infested with flying insects of every imaginable shape and size.  At the confluence, the Arkansas was as wide as the Mississippi, its current as fierce, and a man walking along the bank could have kept pace with the steamboat's labored progress against the stream, assuming that someone had cut down the trees.  Save for the lack of tropical vegetation, the scene was not much different than one encountered along the Amazon in interior Brazil.

At the end of the river journey sat Forth Smith, at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, on what is now the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Established as a military outpost in 1817 to patrol the neighboring Native Americans, named after General Thomas Smith, the fort was abandoned in 1824.  By then a town founded by John Rogers had formed alongside the fort, which was re-occupied and expanded in 1838. It was, as far as the surveying party knew, the end of civilization.

*

Part of the North American "Interior Highlands," eastern Oklahoma is composed of the Ozark and Boston Mountains in the north, the Arkansas River Valley in the center and the Ouachita Mountains in the south.




The Weeks' survey team intended to cross the Poteau River immediately upon leaving Fort Smith, then travel east in the valley of the Arkansas River for about 45 miles until the dark waters turned northwest and left the 35th parallel, then follow the Canadian River into what is now central and western Oklahoma and beyond to the Texas Panhandle, cross the Pecos River, reaching the Rio Grande at Albuquerque.  The route had been explored, but not surveyed, in 1849 by Captain Randolph Marcy and Lieutenant James Simpson.  Congress published their report, including Simpson's maps.

Marcy's route, along the south bank of the Canadian, had been followed by a handful of gold-seekers who then traveled north to follow the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles or south along the Gila Trail to San Diego.  A parallel route on the north bank of the Canadian, seeing virtually no use, had been pioneered in 1839 by Josiah Gregg, who in 1844 published his journal of the region.  Lieutenant Whipple traveled west with both Gregg's book and Marcy and Simpson's report.  He must have felt that he was traversing country that if not civilized was at least not completely unknown, although he must have also realized that when he reached the High Plains, his party would cross lands of the migratory Commanche and Kiowa, warrior raiding tribes feared by all who knew of them.
Eastern Oklahoma has changed little since the days of the Whipple survey.  The Arkansas River bottom is wide and flat, surrounded by forested hills that turn into mountains, inhabited by people of mixed ancestry who prefer to be left alone, as well as black bears and the occasional panther (mountain lion).  

Möllhausen's notebook described the terrain:
The Sugar Loaf, the Kavaneau [Cavanal Mountain, near Poteau, Oklahoma] and the Sans-Bois mountains bound really paradisiacal valleys, over which Nature has poured out every kind of liveliness with inexhaustible profusion.  The meadows, which are perfect beds of splendid flowers, tempt the traveller almost irresistibly to linger, or even take up his abode in them. . . . The numerous little streams, which constantly refresh the soil, dispel the fear of the excessive heats of summer, and promise a joyful harvest; while the neighboring woods offer the settler hard hickory trunks for the beams of his log-house, and slender stems enough for his fences.

A southbound KCS local beneath Cavanal Mountain in the 20th century.

This part of the world is resplendent in foliage because it averages around 50 inches of rain per year, which falls throughout the 12 months, with no perceptible rainy or dry seasons.  When it rains, paradise can change character rapidly -- the river bottoms turn to a thick deep paste that easily snares any animal or vehicle foolish enough to venture forth.

The survey team departed Fort Smith on July 15 -- the hottest time of the year, when the high temperature averages in the mid-90's (Fahrenheit), and the relative humidity in the river bottoms is generally north of 80 percent.  In such weather, a minute can feel like an hour, an hour like a day.

Whipple's journal gives an understated idea of just how taxing the journey ahead would be:
Crossing the ferry of the Poteau occupied several hours.  Got over at about 12 1/2 midday. . . . Finding survey tediously slow I sent word to wagon master ahead to stop at the first house.  At 4 or 5 P.M. we broke off survey to follow to camp.  Having taken two of the surveying party into the already too heavily laden carretela [Spanish -- small four-wheeled carriage] going up a hill we ran against a stump and broke the cross piece of the tongue.  Leaving two men with the carretela we then went on foot but found no camp at 1st house.  Rain commenced, darkness reigned between the flashes of lightning and we waded actually knee deep in pools 2 1/2 miles further.  Discharged the wagon master for disobedience to orders. 

Sherburne's diary records the first day as follows:

The scenery is magnificent.  Immense cotton-wood and undergrowth of cane-brake.  Country [Arkansas River bottom] is remarkably level.  Started for Camp 5 p.m., but got caught in a severe thunder shower.  Wet & muddy; arrived at Camp after dark.  No tents pitched.  Went back to Ringg's House & slept all night on floor, with wet clothes.  A rattlesnake killed by one of the party today -- measured 4 ft. 9 in. in length, with 7 rattles & button.  Mr. Whipple's Caretella got "mired" & broke down, obliged to leave it till morning & walk.  Made 3 1/2 miles today. 

 Möllhausen stated:

Roots of trees and decaying trunks every moment arrested the procession, and since the thick shade of the overhanging boughs had prevented the drying of the ground, the last of the twelve wagons (each drawn by six mules) had to be literally drawn out of the mud, as if from a morass.  Scarcely had we reached the higher ground on which the wagons could roll easily along, and the beasts of burden obtain a firmer footing, than the oppressive heat was varied by a tremendous storm, by which the whole cavalcade was thrown into disorder.

This was the very start of the journey, with civilization still visible in the rear-view mirror.  The trail would only grow more rugged, the trees taller, the mud deeper, the thunderstorms fiercer, the wind stronger.

Can you imagine taking all day to go 3 1/2 miles?   

The road ahead had disappeared into the trees like a wraith.  Marcy and Simpson had blazed their trail, but most of the markings had disappeared.  Vegetation in that country grows so fast that new saplings, tall enough to snare wagons, had already grown to take the place of trees previously cut.  Insects were as thick as cotton.  Poisonous water moccasins lined the river banks, snakes more dangerous than rattlers, whose instinct is to hide when humans approach and strike only as a last resort.  The rattling is to warn humans to stay away.  Water moccasins, on the other hand, are warriors, fearless.  If a human approaches, they charge forward and strike, with no thought of safety or refuge.

*

On July 19, the party reached Skullyville -- about 11 miles in four days.  "Iskuli" is Choctaw for "money," so the survey team had landed in Moneytown.  Originally established as the first Choctaw Agency west of Fort Smith, the village in 1853 was prosperous and growing.  Many of the wealthiest Choctaws were mixed-bloods who owned slaves and farmed the fertile bottom-land soil south of the Agency. 

The town consisted of about 30 buildings, most of which were both houses and stores where the Choctaw could purchase food, garden implements and other necessities.  The population was evenly divided between Europeans, Africans and Choctaw.  Cows, chickens and dogs roamed freely through the main street, packed clay that nonetheless turned to paste during rains.

Loaded southbound KCS coal (with BNSF power) crossing the Arkansas River.  Skullyville (long abandoned) once stood just north of this location.

Lieutenant Whipple's diary noted that he dined with Mr. Cooper, the local Choctaw agent, and reviewed the printed laws of the Choctaw and Chickasaw, written in both English and their native tongues.  That these tribes had produced their own written languages gave rise to the phrase "Civilized Tribes."

Möllhausen noted the presence of Africans:

These new disciples of civilization have learned from the whites to keep negro slaves for house and field labor; but these slaves receive from their Indian masters more Christian treatment than among the Christian whites. . . . [T]he negro is regarded as a companion and helper to whom thanks and kindness are due. 

*

The survey team had now left the valley of the Arkansas and would hereafter proceed west along the south bluffs of the Canadian, avoiding the mud and cane forests of the river bottom.  Now another obstacle would be illness, which spread rapidly.  On July 24, they were still in Skullyville because several of the party were sick.

Finally, on July 26, the survey team moved west again, making much better time now that they were out of the river valley.  They covered about eight miles, and five more the next.  Two of the party turned back for Fort Smith because of continued illness.

All the diarists noted the complete peacefulness of the Choctaw.  Not once was the party stopped or interrupted.  No robbery was attempted.  On Sundays, the team would attend church services, often in the open air.  Many Choctaw had converted to Christianity in their native Southeast.  Whipple stated:  "Everywhere in the wildest forest we rode singly and unarmed as fearless of violence from natives as we would be in New England."

*

The survey party may not, at first, have realized that a route west from Fort Smith was not necessarily conducive to railroad construction.  A climb out of the Arkansas River valley would have required an extended grade of at least one percent, probably more.  Plus, further west stood a range of hills that only fell slightly short of mountainous.  The mules strained up one hill, then down into a deep gully, then up another, then down again.  The grade was so steep on one incline that each wagon was fastened with ropes on each side, pulled by multiple mule teams, while four to six men pushed behind.  At the top, the ropes were attached to trees and the wagons lowered slowly to the valley below.

Whipple estimated that cuts a hundred feet deep and about 1500 feet long would be required for a railroad to pass.  He referred to this portion of the journey as "those terrible hills." 

Although it is not possible from Whipple's journal to pinpoint the exact location in question, the party may have passed north of the current town of McAlester, Oklahoma, where there are indeed  rows of north-south, steep hills separated by water in what is now Lake Eufaula, a reservoir created by the Army Corps of Engineers after the Second World War by damming the Canadian River.  The first railroad constructed through eastern Oklahoma was the Missouri, Kansas and Texas, which ran northeast to southwest between these rows.  Below is an image of a northbound Katy manifest beside one arm of the huge lake.  The photographer is standing atop one hill, looking east across the valley to a parallel grade.  The lake here is about 80 feet deep, giving some idea of the terrain that may have been crossed by the survey party.  Note also that the valley would have been heavily forested, not cleared as in the photograph.

Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma.

Or it is possible that the team passed south of McAlester through an area known as Limestone Gap, shown below where the Katy mainline runs through a valley that today is still free of water.


Limestone Gap, Oklahoma.

The difficulty of constructing an east-west railroad through this land is obvious.

Thus, it is not surprising that no railroad was ever built west of Fort Smith along Whipple's route through eastern Oklahoma.  The Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf was eventually constructed and became part of the Rock Island system, connecting Memphis with Little Rock and Oklahoma City, but the line ran well south of Fort Smith.

As the aerial image below shows, the forests of eastern Oklahoma stop on the east side of Oklahoma City.  To the west is open prairie, with timber along the water courses.  The farther west one travels, the less the annual rainfall, which is only about 20 inches per year at the border of the Texas panhandle.

   



The survey team traveled south of present Oklahoma City on the south side of the Canadian River near what became Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma.  Once they had cleared the last of the forest of central Oklahoma, called the Cross Timbers, traveling improved noticeably.  Nonetheless, no railroad was built along the river through Oklahoma.  The Rock Island line west out of Oklahoma City ran northwest to Geary, crossed the Canadian at Bridgeport but quickly turned southwest while the river ran northwest. 


The old Rock Island Line west of Oklahoma City, now a branch of the Union Pacific.

*

On the trek westward, near the present border of Texas and Oklahoma, the party caught its first glimpse of a common 19th century sight -- the burning of the tall grass prairie by Native Americans, an annual occurrence to keep seedling trees from sprouting and impeding the path of wild game, including bison.  If you have not seen a prairie fire at night, your first glimpse will overwhelm you.  It looks as though the evening sun has been shot from the sky and bathed the ground with its golden blood.  Sherburne wrote:

It was then about dark.  In half an hour the prairie was on fire for miles & for the first time I saw for myself that which I've long desired to see -- a prairie on fire.  I can truly say I was not disappointed.  The flames rolled up for 6 or 8 ft., perhaps more -- 10 ft., & the heavy columns of smoke for 50 ft.  It was a magnificent sight.

The beauty of the blaze blinded the men to the approaching danger.  Sherburne noted that some of the men ran toward the fire like moths to a candle flame.  Common sense, however, eventually took hold.  They soon realized that the fire was burning directly toward their camp.  They lit their own back fire -- a common tactic of 20th century fire fighting -- to burn toward the conflagration.  But the fire was advancing rapidly, and if the back fire did not burn quickly enough, the blaze would overtake them, so the men scrambled first left, then right, then left again, frantically setting fires as though bailing water from a sinking ship.

The back fire leaped forward.  When it met the prairie blaze, the fuel was gone.  The flames cancelled each other like automobiles crashing head-on.  The fire continued burning around the survey team, then past them, leaving the camp an oasis in a desert of prairie ash.  Lieutenant Whipple, truly a master of understatement, matter-of-factly described the event:  

The fire they kindled was in the way of Camp & we were obliged to build another fire & fight it.  We think thus after infinite labor we are comparatively safe for the night.  

*

Having survived the prairie fire did not, however, guarantee the survey team's safe passage further west.  They were now entering the Llano Estacado, the "staked plains" of the Texas panhandle, land as flat and treeless as the ocean and home to the Comanche and Kiowa, perhaps the fiercest of the Native American tribes, who controlled a huge empire -- vast parts of present day Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas.  As Sherburne said, "The Indians begin to trouble us soon.  We anticipate much trouble from them before getting through." 

The Comanche were not always fierce warriors.  They were migratory, moving south to north and back each year with the bison herds.  Before the Spanish introduced horses into the Americas, the Comanche traveled on foot.  Wherever they stopped for the season was their home.  And when it was time to move, they packed and left nothing behind.

The Kiowa originated in Montana in the northern basin of the Missouri River, migrating south to the Black Hills around 1650, living there peacefully with the Crow.  Pushed southward by the invading Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux, who were themselves being pushed out of their lands near the Great Lakes by the Objiwe, the Kiowa moved to eastern Colorado, the Texas panhandle and northeastern New Mexico.

Like the Comanche, the Kiowa knew nothing of the horse.  But the Spaniards changed everything, bringing with them animals that were the 18th and 19th century equivalents of tanks.  The Comanche and Kiowa quickly learned to use them for military conquest, perhaps the first purveyors of "lightning war," conquering virtually all of their neighboring tribes.

They attacked and defeated everything and everyone they saw --including the Spaniards from whom they had learned horsemanship.  They stopped the northward advance of the Empire of the King of Spain dead in its tracks, an empire that had previously killed millions in Mexico and moved at will through the continent like a surgeon's scalpel, or perhaps more appropriately, a guillotine.    Their tactics were -- to reference Hobbes out of context -- nasty, brutish and short.  They raided wherever and whenever they pleased and left the High Plains a smoldering ruin of farm houses and human corpses.    

They appeared out of nowhere, suddenly and without the slightest warning like thunderstorms, as violent as anything nature ever created.  Male enemies were generally killed on the spot, even those who surrendered.  Same for older children.  Women were first sexually assaulted, then some slaughtered.  Young women were taken captive as concubines, bearing "half-breeds," such as Quanah Parker, who even today is looked upon by full-blood Comanche in southwestern Oklahoma as a "collaborator."

Eventually, inevitably, like two trains racing toward each other on the same track,  the Kiowa and Comanche fought, a struggle as bitter, protracted and brutal as anything seen in North American.  The Spanish, who by then wanted nothing to do with either tribe, brokered a treaty in 1807; the two groups made an alliance and agreed to share the southern High Plains.

*

Making peace with each other did not, however, stop the Comanche and Kiowa from their continuing terrorization of European settlers -- raiding, killing, kidnapping, burning, torturing.  Colonel Randolph Marcy, who originally blazed the trail that the Whipple Party later followed, wrote:  "If the Indian marauders are not punished, the whole country seems in a fair way of becoming totally depopulated."  

In response, the United States constructed several forts in what is now eastern Oklahoma to protect the "civilized tribes" from the Kiowa and Comanche -- Fort Towson, near the Red River, and Fort Washita, about 12 miles north of the present town of Durant, are examples.

But the Whipple Party had no one to protect them, save themselves.  They had moved beyond the LLano Estacdo and were once again following the valleys and mesas along the Canadian River.  Thus, they were more than a little agitated when on September the 9th those in the head of the wagon train, upon reaching the summit of a hill, began to cry, "Comanches!  Comanches!"

Below in a small cottonwood grove, near the present town of Canadian, Texas, sat the teepees and horses of what appeared to be a large band.  The party halted at the top of the hill.  Sherburne wrote, "Everyone examined his revolver and rifle."  One man was sent ahead with a white handkerchief.  How that man was chosen and his reaction are unknown.


Canadian, Texas, where the Santa Fe's Belen Cut-off, constructed in the early 20th century, crossed at right angles the route of the Whipple party.


The encampment turned out to be Kiowa rather than Comanche, which did nothing to soothe the survey party's agitated nerves.


Image from Möllhausen's book, showing his drawing of the Kiowa Camp.


The survey team waited, knowing as Sherburne put it, that "we would either be received as friends or be obliged to fight."  After many nervous minutes, the man with the white handkerchief returned.  Behind him walked a Kiowa, also holding a white piece of cloth, who turned out to be the Chief.

He embraced several men, shook the hands of the rest.  Behind him came six more Kiowa who also shook hands, then led the survey team to the camp, where Lieutenant Whipple made a speech, through the survey party's interpreter, to the Chief and other members of the tribe, transcribed in part by Möllhausen:

Our great grandfather in Washington has sent us.  We are to see whether the Kioways behave like friends and brothers of the Americans; if they murder no travelers and steal no horses, we are to make them presents.  But if the tribe of the Kioways are bad people, and ill-disposed, then the great grandfather in Washington will send as many soldiers as the Kioways have horses, and great thick guns (canon) besides, and will destroy the nation to the last man.

The chief replied that only a small part of his tribe was here encamped, the rest having gone to Mexico to steal horses -- no doubt to impress upon Lieutenant Whipple that the Kiowa were a large tribe, not  to be trifled with.  

The Kiowa in camp were holding two Mexican prisoners.  One was a woman named Maria, captured when she was twenty, now living with the Kiowa for seven years.  Beside her was a small boy, three years old, her son.  The father was the Chief.  According to Lieutenant Whipple's journal:  "She wishes to leave her hard masters and accompany us, in the hope of again reaching her home.  She was watched, and dared speak but little with us."

The other prisoner was Andres Nunares from Chihuahua, a captive for five years.  Two scalps hanging from a pole in the center of the camp were guarded by an old woman who, according to Whipple, "made much ado if anyone attempted to approach."

The survey party made camp on a small hill overlooking the Kiowa, who soon thereafter assembled for a meeting.  "Cunning, duplicity and treachery," wrote Whipple, "seemed stamped upon every lineament of their features."

When Lieutenant Whipple explained that the Mexican captives wished to travel with the survey team, the Chief exploded with anger, his expression dropping instantly from friendship to enmity.  He said that a friend would not separate a wife and husband.  Whipple replied that he would take only those who wished to go.  Eventually, after negotiation, Whipple gave the chief a cow.  The old man then smiled and said that the prisoners could depart.

It was night now.  The survey team went to bed.  The next morning, the chief appeared at dawn, leading by the hand the three year old boy, seeking more tribute in return for the child.  The mother followed on a horse.  The chief was angered and sent her away.  (According to Whipple's journal, she was the chief's third and favorite wife.)

One of the survey party announced that he had been robbed during the night.  Whipple instructed the chief to return the stolen goods, and the chief headed back to the Kiowa camp with the small boy.  Instead of restoring the items, however, the chief spoke with members of the tribe, who then packed their skins, tied their lodge poles to the sides of their horses and rode away -- all this while the survey party watched incredulously.  Thus, the Kiowa obtained a cow, plus the stolen goods, and retained possession of their captives -- and the child.  The survey party received nothing. 

 *

The reader may wonder why the survey party did not chase after the Kiowa and free the captives.  A member of the party asked that very question of Lieutenant Whipple.  Möllhausen's book records Whipple's answer:

"We could, certainly, as the power was on our side, but we should certainly then have been prevented from carrying out our government instructions.  Our journey as far as the Rio Grande would have been one continued fight; the Indians would have swarmed about us like bees, and hindered our work, and the whole object of our journey would have been frustrated.  We are instructed . . . not to make war on Indians, and we are pretty sure to be obliged, some time or other, to use our weapons against them in self-defense, without manufacturing a causus belli for ourselves."

*

When the Whipple party crossed into New Mexico, it followed what over 100 years later became the route of Interstate 40 from Tucumcari to Santa Rosa -- about 60 miles.  Rock Island's Golden State Route, coming southwest from Kansas City, followed this same path about 50 years after the survey team.  Southern Pacific built northeast from El Paso, and the two roads met at Santa Rosa.  Though this route was not constructed east-west along the 35th parallel, it did for this short stretch follow the path of the survey team.  Today it is operated by Union Pacific.  

Westbound Union Pacific  grainer between Tucumcari and Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Past Santa Rosa, Lieutenant Whipple divided the survey party to explore two possible routes for a railroad.  One group traveled directly west to Albuquerque, roughly following the route of present Interstate 40, leaving the valley of the Canadian where the river turned north.  The second group traveled northwest toward Galisteo, about 20 miles south of Santa Fe, and onward to the Santo Domingo Pueblo on the banks of the Rio Grande, then south to Albuquerque, where the two groups reunited.

The direct route to Albuquerque crossed rugged and rocky hills, plus the very southern end of the Santa Fe Mountains that even today provide significant impediments to large trucks on Interstate 40.  In addition, the route crossed the border between the Sandia and Monzano Mountains at Tejera Pass, a route far too steep for railroads.  

The more northerly route included the La Cuesta Valley, six hundred feet deep and approachable only over rugged hills.  The trail was too steep for wagons, which the party left behind and walked downgrade into the valley to explore a small settlement.  The group then navigated through the Santa Fe Mountains until reaching a canyon described by Sherburne as "five miles in length.  Ridge on both sides rising perpendicularly about 2500 or 3000 ft. & covered with rocks of volcanic description."  

None of the journals specifically identifies this canyon.  It is undoubtedly one of the several leading down off a huge mountainous plateau into the valley where Galisteo, New Mexico, is located.  Slightly west of Galisteo the survey team would have picked up the route where the railroad line from Trinidad, Colorado, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, was constructed about 40 years later, following the Santa Fe Trail, the line that crossed both Raton and Glorieta passes, the line that was the first transcontinental route of the Santa Fe Railway and was eventually bypassed by the Belen Cut-off far to the south -- to avoid the steep grades. 

Westbound AT&SF manifest has come down from Glorieta Pass at roughly the location where the tracks join the route of the Whipple party.  Today (May 2021) this line sees no freight traffic and is used only by Amtrak.

From this location forward, the Whipple survey party blazed the trail for future railroad construction.  (Continued in Part Two.)

    

To see my other posts, go to waltersrail.com.

To see my photographs on Flickr, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpwalters/.




Thursday, May 6, 2021

R.I.P. Carlita



Carlita Walters, my mother of 91 years, passed recently.  I am trying to write an appropriate memorial, but my words are inadequate, mostly because everything I know about my mother also involves me.  So when I write about my mother, it sounds as though I'm writing about myself.  That is true, I suppose, but intensely frustrating.  The failure of words is discouraging to one who has made his living with them, but there it is.  I am helpless before my mother's death.

So what follows is a series of anecdotes, things I remember.  She was kind and sweet but also stern and relentless.  Mother did not suffer fools lightly, especially when the foolishness was displayed by her eldest son.  Like many children, I constantly strove to please my parents, but Mother's Germanic temperament rarely allowed her to display satisfaction.

At my 50th birthday party --an event I neither desired nor requested -- my wife told me that I did not look particularly happy.

"I'm showing as much emotion as I'm capable of showing," I replied.

My mother was sitting beside me.  "Yes," she said, "we don't show emotion easily."

She was a small woman, and as she aged, she grew smaller.  One of the smartest people I have ever known, she took for granted concepts, like the elliptical orbits of planets, that most are totally unaware of.

At her funeral, everyone agreed that she was wonderful, loving, considerate and the newest, most important adjective -- inclusive.  She was certainly all those, but during the eulogy, I thought I heard her behind me somewhere, saying in that stern Germanic tone that I know so well, "Paul, BEHAVE!"

Her older sister Arlene, who predeceased Mother by many years, told me once that when Carlita was about five, Arlene found her one afternoon standing in front of the bedroom mirror, saying, "Now aren't we just the cutest thing!"

Arlene also told me that about three years after your author was born, she and her husband visited for an afternoon.  I apparently was running around the house, shouting and laughing, and Mother was having trouble keeping up with me.  Toward sundown she disappeared.  Arlene went looking for her in the bedroom, where Mother was sitting on the bed with head in hands.

"I can't take it anymore!" Mother moaned.  "He's driving me crazy!" 

For years, my hair was cut by a local barber named Slim, who could only give flat-tops, a style long out of fashion.  Slim would stand in front of me, holding the electric clippers in both hands, sighting down the line of my hair like a carpenter preparing to plane a piece of oak.  Then very carefully, with both hands still on the clippers, Slim would slowly push the blades across the top of my head until my hair was as flat as a plate.  He did not bother much with the sides, so when he was finished, my head looked like a newly mowed lawn between two yards that had not been trimmed in months.

Mother did not like this style, so when I turned 14, she began cutting my hair at home.  She had never before cut a man's hair, but she did a remarkable job, making me look almost presentable.

The most important thing in the world to my mother was doing her duty.  Everyone has duties, she often said, and everyone should do them.  If you did not do your duty, you were less than a whole person, perhaps the worst fate to befall any individual.

When I was a boy, she took me to see a movie in the small theater in our town -- population about 8,000.  I no longer remember anything about the movie.  All I remember is walking outside into the dark evening and hearing my mother say, "Well, she did her duty.  Someone had to do it."

I was born in the four-bed hospital in the walk-up above that theater.  So was my brother.  Both my parents were born at home.  In Edmond, Oklahoma, I suppose that no one has been born at home in a long time.

I was delivered by Dr. Payne, who before he went to medical school was my father's high school basketball coach.  The good doctor once sewed up my knee in his living room.  Also, when I was in high school, I developed a painful in-grown toenail during the basketball season -- the result of shoes that did not fit properly.  My mother sent me to Dr. Payne's office one afternoon.  He looked at my foot and said, "Well, I've seen worse.  When I was coach, I taught boys how to put on their shoes properly."

He then reached into his pocket, produced a bottle of something and poured a dark liquid onto my purple toe.

"Does that sting?" he said.

"No," I said.

"Good."

Then, before I knew what was happening, he reached into his pocket again, pulled out what looked like a Swiss Army Knife, opened a blade and dug the toenail out of my flesh like a gardener harvesting potatoes.

"Now does it sting?"

I nodded through my involuntary tears.

When I told my mother about it, she said, "Well, he did his duty."

Mother was always hesitant to loan me her vehicle because, I think, she believed I was reckless.  If she believed that, I probably was.  Anyway, one night in December, while I was home from college, she allowed me to drive downtown and take my brother to see the movie Fiddler on the Roof at the same theater above which both of us were born.  It was very cold, there was almost no one watching the movie, and I don't remember if my brother enjoyed it or not.  I was 19; he was six.  Honestly, I don't even remember if I enjoyed it, although in subsequent years I saw a live performance and enjoyed it very much.

Parking downtown was at 45 degree angles, and I deposited the car directly across from the theater.  When the movie was completed, my brother and I walked out into the December cold.  I noticed immediately that my mother's car across the street, the only one parked on the block, was no longer at a 45 degree angle.  Instead, it was perpendicular to the curb.  Then I saw glass and plastic strewn upon the pavement.

Someone, some idiot, had run into the side of Mother's car near the back, slamming it parallel to the curb and up onto the sidewalk where it had knocked over a parking meter.  The vehicle appeared to still be drivable, but that did not immediately concern me.  My immediate concern was what Mother would say when she found out her car had been hit.  

I was already imagining Germanic shouting when I noticed, on the front windshield under a wiper, a white piece of paper.  I pulled it out and in the dim street light saw that I had been issued a parking ticket.  The local police had cited me for improper parking.  Really!  Apparently, someone thought I drove onto the curb, knocked over a parking meter, then casually walked across the street to watch a movie!  Really!  Really!!

The old police station, torn down years ago, was around the block, and I drove there in the sort of rage that only a teenager can generate.  My brother kept asking, "What are we doing?  What are we doing?"  I kept telling him to be quiet.

I raced inside in a rage and, in a tone slightly below a shout, demanded that the ticket be torn up.  Now!  Right now!

The ticket was not literally torn up, but it was annulled.  When I arrived home and told my mother what had happened, she said, "Some of those people [policemen] aren't too smart."

She said that because years before a police car had run into her while attempting to pursue a speeding motorist.

"Mother," I said, unable to contain myself, "they're just doing their duty!"

That same Christmas break, my brother spent the night with my father's parents.  My mother asked me to drive across town and pick him up the next morning.  When I arrived, my brother was racing around the front yard like a punctured balloon.  With some effort, I grabbed him, deposited him in the car (this was before the incident in front of the theater) and drove back home.

He was jumping, laughing, shouting, grabbing, as though someone had plugged him into an electrical outlet.

"Did you eat breakfast?" I said.

He nodded.

"What did Grandma feed you."

He smiled broadly.  "M&M's and coffee!" he said.

Some of these anecdotes may give the impression that life in my family was mostly humorous, and perhaps it was.  Or perhaps I only remember the lighter moments.  When I feel strong emotions, I try, as a defense mechanism, to make light of them.  It comes as naturally to me as breathing.  There were serious times, however, when I could not make jokes.

Every Memorial Day, Mother decorated her family's graves in and around Perry, Oklahoma, her birthplace.  The practice was started in the Confederacy, called Decoration Day, as a tribute to soldiers fallen in the War Between the States.  Subsequently, the Union picked up the practice, and it was declared a federal holiday and renamed Memorial Day.  My limited experience has been that graves are decorated mostly in Southern states, and Mother was one of the biggest decorators.

In the old days, people would cut flowers from the garden to place on tombstones.  By the time I was old enough to tag along, Mother was using artificial roses purchased from a craft store.  She was always concerned that the color of the blossoms match the color of the headstone.  Since I am color blind, I was not much help.  My strong suit was anchoring the artificial bouquets into the hard red clay soil.  If it had not rained in a week or two, the task sometimes required a trowel.

Perry, Oklahoma's cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the town, and beyond the town to the cotton and wheat fields stretching to the western horizon.  The tallest structure for miles was the grain elevator that stood directly across the street from the tiny house where my mother's father and his two brothers and three sisters were raised.  

The wind often howled on Cemetery Hill, and Mother was always concerned that the flowers should be fastened securely to avoid blowing away.  We left the artificial flowers on the graves for two weeks.  If any were gone when we returned, Mother would look at me sternly, as though she had been foolish to trust the son who wrecked her car in front of the local theater.  

Her mother, father, brother and sister were all buried in Perry.  All had died relatively young:  mother in her early 70's, father in his 50's; brother in his 40's and sister in her early 70's.  Both brother and sister had died from cancer caused by tobacco, father from a congenital heart defect and mother from a stroke.  Carlita soldiered far beyond the rest of her family, in part I think because of her steely resolve to stay active and engaged.  She was like a storm that produces neither thunder nor lightning but rains continuously, steadily, relentlessly.

Her grandparents were buried in two rural cemeteries west of Perry, where one gets the first inkling that not too far beyond the horizon might lie the High Plains.  The land is rolling, timbered in the bottoms.  An Eastern Red Cedar forest had once covered the higher ground, so thick and impenetrable that not even Native Americans, masters of seasonal burning, could get rid of it.  But European settlers in the late 19th century had cut down the cedars to make way for the wheat and cotton fields that turned golden in the spring (wheat) and white in the fall (cotton).  The settlers had tried burning the cedars to warm their cabins in winter, but the timber contains a thick sap that explodes when heated, not exactly what one expects on a cold January night, so the wood was used either for construction or else for huge combustible piles of waste.  

But Eastern Red Cedars are resilient -- like my mother.  If fields are left uncultivated just a few years, small evergreens sprout like vegetables.  In a few more years, the trees are as tall as children.  A few more, taller than adults.  Even today, when fields are plowed regularly, Red Cedars will show up in the oddest places, as though someone comes through at night with a hole in his seed sack.

One of the rural cemeteries (where Mother's paternal grandparents were buried) was outside the small settlement of Lucien and was easy to find because it sat next to the railroad tracks.  Pronounced Lew-Seen by the locals, once a whistle stop on the Frisco branch line connecting Tulsa with Santa Fe's Belen Cut-off at Avard, Oklahoma, the "town," by the time I was old enough to decorate graves, was a few old houses near the tracks, nothing more.  No commercial establishments, not one.  The settlement's only gas station had been deserted many years.  The windows in the old grocery store were all broken, and the roof was falling in.  Lucien was like a stunted calf that lives a few months, then dies.  

The railroad was originally called the Arkansas Valley and Western, and the tracks reached what became Lucien in 1903.  The small settlement was then called Woolsey.  When a post office was established, it was discovered that another Oklahoma town had already taken that name, so the settlement quickly became Lucien, after Lucien Emerson, wife of the owner of the local dry-goods store. 

Mother and I would drive to Lucien once we were finished at Cemetery Hill.  Then we would try to find the even more remote graveyard where her maternal grandparents were buried.  I have now been to that cemetery at least 30 times, but I cannot remember its name.  Nor can I find it easily.  It is hidden somewhere between wheat fields in southern Noble County.  On Memorial Day, the end of May, the wheat surrounding the graves is so high that you cannot see the tombstones until you have driven through the open gate.  When Mother's Aunt Hilda was alive, we would follow her dust cloud as she raced across the red dirt country roads to the burial site of her parents.  Hilda died many years ago at 100.  I think she continued driving into her mid-90's, continued raising huge red clouds across the Oklahoma countryside.

I am a reliable grave decorator, because it is a solitary pursuit.  All my life I have enjoyed doing things alone, and this always concerned my mother, one of the most social people I have known.  She belonged to various clubs, was active in her church, ran for and was elected to the local school board and was friends with literally hundreds of people.  I do not belong to a single club, am not active in the church, have never run for public office in my life and can count my friends on the fingers of one hand.  If it were not for social gatherings organized by my wife, I would fit the definition of a hermit.

At my high school graduation, the commencement speaker listed life skills that we graduates should cultivate.  The only one I now remember was sociability, and I remember it only because my mother gave me a lecture after the ceremony.  I had not paid attention to the speech, nor to any of the other festivities.  I thought commencement was a waste of time.  I still do.  Thus, I did not attend the graduation ceremonies for my three college degrees (B.A., M.A. and J.D.).

"Paul," Mother said that evening when we had returned home from commencement, "your social skills are weak.  You are good at the others," referring to the positive attributes listed by the speaker, "and if you can learn social skills, it will help you later in life."

She was correct, of course.  It would have helped me.  But I never learned any social skills, and I have suffered for it.

Here is the problem.  I am moderately autistic.  Following are characteristics of autism, taken from the Mayo Clinic website at  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928, followed by my estimation whether the category applies to me:

Social communication and interaction

A child or adult with autism spectrum disorder may have problems with social interaction and communication skills, including any of these signs:

Fails to respond to his or her name or appears not to hear you at times -- Yes.

Resists cuddling and holding, and seems to prefer playing alone, retreating into his or her own world -- Yes.

Has poor eye contact and lacks facial expression -- Yes.

Doesn't speak or has delayed speech, or loses previous ability to say words or sentences -- No.

Can't start a conversation or keep one going, or only starts one to make requests or label items -- Yes.

Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech -- No.

Repeats words or phrases verbatim, but doesn't understand how to use them -- No.

Doesn't appear to understand simple questions or directions -- No.

Doesn't express emotions or feelings and appears unaware of others' feelings -- Yes.

Doesn't point at or bring objects to share interest -- Yes.

Inappropriately approaches a social interaction by being passive, aggressive or disruptive -- No.

Has difficulty recognizing nonverbal cues, such as interpreting other people's facial expressions, body postures or tone of voice -- Yes.

Patterns of behavior

A child or adult with autism spectrum disorder may have limited, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities, including any of these signs:

Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand flapping -- Yes.

Performs activities that could cause self-harm, such as biting or head-banging -- No.

Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change -- Yes.

Has problems with coordination or has odd movement patterns, such as clumsiness or walking on toes, and has odd, stiff or exaggerated body language -- Yes.

Is fascinated by details of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car, but doesn't understand the overall purpose or function of the object -- No.

Is unusually sensitive to light, sound or touch, yet may be indifferent to pain or temperature -- No.

Doesn't engage in imitative or make-believe play -- No.

Fixates on an object or activity with abnormal intensity or focus -- Yes.

Has specific food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or refusing foods with a certain texture -- Yes.

As they mature, some children with autism spectrum disorder become more engaged with others and show fewer disturbances in behavior. Some, usually those with the least severe problems, eventually may lead normal or near-normal lives. Others, however, continue to have difficulty with language or social skills, and the teen years can bring worse behavioral and emotional problems.

When I was in high school, I told mother that I thought I was moderately autistic, not so severely that I could not function in the normal world, but enough so that I would never develop her level of social expertise.  

She frowned at me and said, "Don't be silly.  You can do anything you put your mind to.  You just aren't trying hard enough."  

Well, I knew that wasn't true.  No matter how hard I tried, I could never enjoy being in a group of strangers.  No matter how hard I tried, I could never stop my many habitual routines without extreme distress.  I could never sit still while eating.  And on and on.  So I never mentioned it again. 

I wish she could have understood me.  Perhaps she could have, had I raised the issue again.  Perhaps not.  Now I will never know, because the opportunity is lost.

So at the end I leave only images -- 91 images to commemorate her 91 years, 91 images as transitory as our short lives, 91 images that remind me of my mother.  I don't know why they remind me of my mother; they just do.

She never understood my desire to photograph trains, either.  It seemed pointless to her.  I did not have the heart to tell her that I enjoy it very very much.

And I hope to still be enjoying it if I live to be 91.


Ibis, California.


Wilcox, Arizona.


Ash Hill, California.



Benson, Arizona.


Little Canyon, Oklahoma.





Cotopaxi, Colorado.


Cimarron River, Oklahoma.





Curtis Hill, Oklahoma.


Guthrie, Oklahoma.


Angell, Arizona.



Sunshine, Arizona.





Bolo Hill, California.

Bagdad, California.


Norman, Oklahoma.


San Gorgonio Pass, California.


Belen, New Mexico


Tierra Grande, New Mexico


Eagle Nest, Arizona


Goffs, California

Flagstaff, Arizona

Abo Canyon, New Mexico

Dallas, Texas

Ludlow, Colorado.


Cedarwood, Colorado.


Cajon Pass, California.


Kingfisher, Oklahoma.


Kremmling, Colorado


Inspiration Point, Colorado.


Oregon Trunk Bridge, Wishram, Washington.

Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia.

Crater Loops, Colorado.

Crawford Hill, Nebraska.


Dalies, New Mexico.

Echo Canyon, Utah.

Ellinor, Kansas.



Ellinor, Kansas.

Vail, Arizona.

Manzano Mountains, New Mexico.

Matfield Green, Kansas.

Luther, Oklahoma.

Haviland, Arizona.

Bonner's Ferry, Idaho.

Page, Oklahoma.

Page, Oklahoma.

Page, Oklahoma.



Page, Oklahoma.


Kingman, Arizona.

Hanna, Wyoming.

Laramie, Wyoming.


Ashville, North Carolina.



Bear Mountain, New York.


Holdenville, Oklahoma.


Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma.

Crescent, Colorado.



Big Ten Loop, Colorado.

Lombard Canyon, Montana.


Helena, Montana.

Tierra Grande, New Mexico.


Calvin, Oklahoma.


Heman, Oklahoma.


Wellington, Kansas.

Canadian, Texas.

Green River, Wyoming.


Point of Rocks, Wyoming.

Okarche, Oklahoma.

Sand Hills, Nebraska.


San Francisco Volcano Field, Arizona.


Gilluly, Utah.

St. Louis, Missouri.

Louisiana, Missouri.

East St. Louis, Illinois.


Hannibal, Missouri.

Sandpoint, Idaho.

Tehachapi, California.

Tehachapi, California.


Tehachapi, California.


Tennessee Pass, Colorado.

Amarillo, Texas.


Sand Hills, Nebraska.

Kansas City, Missouri.

Ridgeton, Kansas.

Aikman, Kansas.


Codman, Texas.



Fort Sumner, New Mexico.



Vaughan, New Mexico.


Loma Alta, New Mexico.



Scholle, New Mexico.




Wishram, Washington.



Fort Cady, California.


Folsom, New Mexico.



Trinidad, Colorado.





I miss you.



To see my other posts, go to waltersrail.com.

To see my photographs on Flickr, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpwalters/.