Earlier cattle drivers out of Texas did not have the benefits of a settlement at the Red River Station crossing. The Confederate Frontier Regiment was stationed in the general area as a border patrol in the first years of the Civil War. Later, a trading post was established. An actual rudimentary settlement of two or three hundred people did not exist until the early 1870s. It then served for a time as the last place for the cowboys to obtain supplies before their herds left Texas.
Information obtained from the internet site, www.texasescapes.com, indicates that there is a Red River Station marker located one-quarter mile from the Red River, and the presence of a cemetery on Red River Station Road. I was unable to find either. After asking several persons in the area, who seemed unaware of the former settlement, and an hour or more of gravel and dirt road exploration, I gave up the search.
A July 2011 entry on the same Internet page (see above), written by Philip Abel of Fort Worth, notes that he located the site of the historical town, but that there was nothing left to see, and the cemetery was obscured from sight on a heavily-vegetated private property.
The value of crossing the Red River here came from a long bend in the river. The bend caused the current to slow, forming large sand bars and less deep water to cross. Still, during Spring flooding, the cattle herds were often delayed for several days prior to crossing to avoid the dangers of high water and floating debris.
My own crossing on the highway bridge was uneventful. I did not even draw a glance from nearby bridge workers when I pulled into their closed working lane to snap a picture.
On March 30, 2016, I saddled up my 2002 Toyota Tacoma pickup, a trustworthy mount that had already carried me some 160,000 miles around the country, and lit out for the Red River Crossing in Texas. I planned on intercepting the Chisholm Trail at Ringgold, Texas, some thirty miles east of Wichita Falls. It was a two-day drive.
Ringgold isn’t much by Texas standards, but it marks the intersection of Highways 82 and 81. The intersection is four miles south of what used to be the Red River Crossing Station. From here, the Chisholm Trail heads north, paralleling what is now Highway 81. In 1867, the river crossing marked the exit from The Republic of Texas into “Indian Country.” The Red River is now the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma as far west as the Texas Panhandle.
The town of Ringgold is situated in Montague County. A historical marker— located a few yards east of the highway intersection— provides some fascinating facts about the County’s place in Texas history.
According to the marker, the area was crossed by many early prairie trails. One of the earliest was the Chihuahua Traders’ Trail blazed in 1840 by merchants who wanted to open trade between St. Louis, Missouri, and Mexico. Another was the Santa Fe Expedition route. That trail later helped to reinforce the Republic of Texas’ claims to territories farther west. In 1858 the Butterfield Stage Mail route crossed Montague County.
By 1870, many of the Chisholm Trail’s feeder trails converged here as smaller cattle herds were consolidated for the drive North. During high water delays, thousands of Longhorn cattle would be grazing the grassy meadows above the Red River Crossing.
Growing up during the late 1940s and 1950s, in a large family with a low income, there were few purchased toys. My childhood play was relatively unstructured, and imagination was essential.
Much of my free time was spent outdoors, exploring. Whole days were whiled away in the woods at the edges of small towns in which I grew up. Creeks provided routes to follow, just as rivers did for early explorers of the American West.
With the arrival of television and a splurge of western movies, my natural boyhood heroes were characters like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Wyatt Earp. John Wayne, who starred in such movies as “The Chisholm Trail” and “Red River Crossing” was my true grit model. I grew up in the glory decades of imagination about the westward expansion of our country, albeit with a largely movie-version view of a western life.
I still remember my first pistol and holster set of cheap plastic and “leather” covered cardboard. As a child, I surely must have built more makeshift forts than the United States Army did while the country’s tsunami wave of settlers swarmed west in the 1800s. I thought of myself as a cowboy, a mountain man, and an explorer all rolled up into one persona.
In adulthood, I continued physically moving from location to location, genetics-inspired perhaps, by alleged Cherokee ancestors. Reading about western migratory trails such as the Trail of Tears, the Santa Fe Trail, the California and Oregon Trails, the Mormon Trail, and the Old Spanish Trail, continued to fire my imagination. The great western cattle routes like the Shawnee Trail, the Chisholm Trail, and the Western Trail, added to the lure of adventure as I read both nonfiction literature and fictional western novels.
Still, these trails were not personally familiar to me as a writer. I knew of them through a childhood imagination; through much falsely presented school and movie information; and through books. But, I figured it was never too late.
I was born in Missouri, the “Show-Me” State. I wanted to experience The Chisholm Trail myself, to see it as it exists today.