The Little River Bridge was one of six bridges built on the Beale Wagon Road west of Fort Smith during an 1859 contract awarded to A. & P. Roberts and Company by the U.S. Government. The chief bridge engineer on the contract was Robert P. Murphy, who was initially a protégé and later briefly a partner with Squire Whipple. Whipple, from Albany, New York, designed and built many of his famous “Whipple bowstring arch bridges” across the Erie Canal. Other engineers devised slight variations of Whipple’s patented bridge design, and they were widely deployed after the Civil War, even in Arkansas and Texas. Murphy and Whipple teamed up on several advanced designs by 1860. However, it is clear that the Beal Road bridges of 1859-60 were all “Whipple’s patented Cast and Wrought Iron Bowstrings (with Cast Iron Arches)” with the major span length (usually 100 feet) determining the scale of the bridge design. A critical reference on the Beale Road bridge contract and Murphy’s role therein is found in the Journal of the Franklin Institute (of Philadelphia), Proceedings during January-June, 1874, p. 305, at:
Whipple’s 1847 bowstrings were designed to carry horse-drawn wagons (say up to 10,000 lbs.) across small streams and the widened Erie Canal. They were very cost-effective, but they were not strong enough to carry heavy railroad steam locomotives pulling freight trains. Murphy and Whipple soon teamed up to build much stronger (and costlier) Murphy-Whipple truss bridges for railroads; and so did many other companies, including one prominent in the West, King Iron and Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, who even built bridge fabrication plants out West by the 1870’s. There are several examples of King Bowstrings having been built in Texas. A recently refurbished one can be seen in Pecan Creek Park, in Hamilton, Texas.
Civil War era examples of Whipple’s patented Cast and Wrought Iron Bowstring (Arch) Bridges are mostly found along the Erie Canal in upstate New York where Whipple lived and worked. See these at:
The Beale Wagon Road’s Whipple Bridges, built way out west in Indian Territory just prior to the Civil War, were an unusual and rare case of governmental expediency, whose examples are apparently lost to history. I have no doubt that “two historical pyramids” still show the location of the Whipple bridge built across Little River, Creek Nation, for the Beale Wagon Road in early 1860.
Perhaps “Little River Town” was the name given by the Kansan Col. Phillips to the growing settlement that had formed up almost immediately after Whipple’s Little River Bridge was completed in early 1860. Edwards Trading Post, Aird’s Store, and the remains of Old Fort Holmes were all nearby and now connected by a good bridge to many roads of the time. Note the Little River Bridge was located in the extreme southwestern corner of the Creek Nation near the mouth of Little River with the South Canadian. After going south across the bridge, the Beale Wagon Road proceeded west into the Seminole Nation. Another road forked from the Beale Road just south of the bridge and ran south to a low-water ford of the South Canadian into the Choctaw Nation. Once across, it ran south to connect with the Marcy-California-Dragoon trails that served large parts of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.
On February 16, 1864, Col. William A. Phillips, USV, wrote that his Indian Brigade had camped at Little River Town in the Creek Nation following its crossing of the Canadian on its way back to Fort Gibson a few days after the Battle of Middle Boggy, on 2-13-64, and following Phillips march on south 21 miles to Camp Kagi at Clear Boggy and Cochran’s Store on 2-14/15-64. See this event in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion at Series I-Vol. 34-Part I, page 106. Phillips’ Indian Brigade had camped nearby previously on the 11th and 12th of February, 1864, during his push into the Creek and Seminole Nations.
We should consider the two pyramids (the two stone bridge foundations used for Whipple’s bridge on Little River) as historical monuments and known reference points for locating Phillips Expedition for at least three days: Feb. 11,12 & 16 of 1864. More likely than not, Phillips Federal Army burned the flooring of Little River Bridge and the surrounding town as he left, and for which he named for one day — Little River Town. Like the old Pontotoc Court House town of Cochran, it too is gone up!