The Indian Territory in the Civil War Message Board

Poteau River Beale Iron Bridge Location
In Response To: Poteau River ()

So where was the Beale Wagon Road’s Poteau River Bridge located?

The Beale Wagon Road (also known as the Butterfield Trail from 1858-1861, and sometimes simply known as the Old Military Road) ran on a west-by-southwest course about 15 miles from Fort Smith to Skullyville, Indian Territory. See details from E. F. Beale’s Oct. 28, 1858 survey log from Chronicles of Oklahoma Vol. 12, No. 1, page 76, at

W.L. Ormsby, the first stage passenger on the western ride of the Butterfield Overland Stage to California, wrote on Sept. 16, 1858: “we forded the Poteau at Ft. Smith… then went about 16 miles from the river to our first stop at Skullyvile (17 miles from Ft. Smith), the home of Gov. Tandy Walker. {Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 9, No. 3, pgs 305-306}. At the start of the Civil War as Lt. Averrill rode west out of Fort Smith on April 27, 1861 looking for Col. Emory (noted in a prior post), the first thing he reports after leaving Fort Smith was: ”The Poteau River was 100 yards wide, was bank full, and the bridge destroyed” as if the bridge were located just out of town.

A summary of these findings:
1. There was no bridge across the Poteau River on the Butterfield Trail road from Fort Smith to Skullyville in 1858.
2. The distance from Fort Smith (and the nearby Poteau river crossing) to Skullyville along the Butterfield Trail was about 15-17 miles.
3. The Poteau River crossing was located very close to (Ormsby wrote “at”) Fort Smith of 1858, probably not more than a mile from downtown Fort Smith.

A survey of all Oklahoma Highway maps back to 1907 was conducted. The 1916 Oklahoma highway map showed a main road from Braden going northeast toward Fort Smith then turning sharply east on a section line into Arkoma. This route is where the OK 9A new/old highway bridges across Poteau River are/were now located (see Gene McCluney, Bridgehunters, as posted). The old ODOT maps suggest that a direct connection from central LeFlore County, Oklahoma into Fort Smith had existed previously, as if following the “desire lines” of an older (important) wagon road. The later mapping of OK 9 from Arkoma west along the Beale Wagon Road to Central Oklahoma implies that ODOT historians knew they following the Old Military Road thru Stigler and on west to Eufaula.

Gene McCluney provides a map of E. F. Beale’s route and campsites in Choctaw Nation during late October, 1858. His map shows the survey road coming almost directly out of Fort Smith. Beale’s first campsite was 10 miles out from Fort Smith, about where OK 9A joins OK 9 / US 271. See the map at

An analysis of three known Oklahoma bridge crossing sites of Poteau River since 1898 was conducted using Google Earth. Airline distances and bearing from Skullyville (Walker’s Station) to these three bridge sites were noted and compared to the nominal Butterfield Trail distance of about 16 miles, which was expected to be longer than any direct airline distance, due going around local topography and rich Choctaw bottom land farms. The results of the Google Earth measurements are:

South to North / Bridge Site / Airline Distance (miles) / Bearing (degrees, NE from Skullyville)
1 / US 271 + OK 9 / 5.48 / 73. 47
2 / Zero Street, F.S. / 9.37 / 58.21
3 / OK 9A - Arkoma / 10.17 / 49.80
P / Carnall Ave. F.S. / 12.66 / 44.65

The results from the first three (1,2,3) potential 1860 Poteau iron bridge sites were all judged unlikely, but becoming more likely as the prospective bridge site moved northward toward Fort Smith. Thus, a fourth more attractive bridge site further north than Arkoma and closer to old Fort Smith was sought. Gene McCluney had noted that some oldtimers thought the Beale Bridge had been located near the last navigable point up the Poteau, suggesting a site near Navy Road and an 1900’s abandoned railroad crossing, just downstream of (north of) Mill Creek, about 1.5 miles south from downtown Fort Smith. My initial guess was a bridge crossing connecting to I Street, a little closer to Fort Smith. Airline distances from Skullyville to the latter prospective bridge sites were now in the range of 12 miles, being much closer to the reported wagon road distance of 15-16 miles.

Still feeling a bit of concern, but certain that the Beale Wagon Road iron bridge of 1860 was close at hand, one more attempt was made… search Google for “Old Fort Smith Maps.” Finding some, I enlarged the following 1880 map (land survey conducted in 1878) of Fort Smith and immediately saw “The Beale Wagon Road crossing the Poteau” and entering almost downtown Fort Smith at Carnall Avenue!!! Just where it should have been to fully satisfy Ormsby, Beale, Averell, and my calculations! Note that neither of the two middle bridges crossing the Poteau after 1895 is shown., eliminating two of the previous contenders. The US 271 site was not a feasible solution because the bridge crossing was too close to Skullyville for it to have been on the Beale Wagon Road in 1858. The northern two newer bridges (#2 & #3) undoubtedly came after Arkansas River floods finally cut off the northern part of the Old Military Road near Fort Smith. See the Carnall Avenue site at:

Blocked by subsequent expansions of the Fort Smith National Cemetery, the coming of several railroads along the eastern bank of the Poteau and significant industrial development all along its eastern side together with flooding of its western floodplain by the nearby often raging Arkansas River and more recent US COE’s navigation development, the Carnall Avenue’s Beale Bridge site has remained hidden for over 100 years from the eyes of those who would understand what the 1880 USGS map shows!

Read about John Carnall at to see perhaps why Carnall Avenue connected the Beale Wagon Road around the National Cemetery and into downtown Fort Smith.

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