The Indian Territory in the Civil War Message Board

More on Site of Poteau River Iron Bridge


I have previously estimated the location of the Beale Wagon Road’s Iron Bridge across the Poteau near Fort Smith, given below, based on several references available on September 12, 2018. Since then I have found two additional references which support, but do not verify, this location. One states that the bridge was built by 1860, as Lt. W. W. Averell’s ride across Indian Territory from Fort Smith in April 1861 requires. The next reference describes the political difficulties experienced in locating this bridge near Fort Smith, slowing its completion into 1860.

1860 Bowstring Location

1. Poteau River, 7.4 miles south of Fort Smith, just below the mouth of Cedar Creek (two-100 ft. spans), [ 35 17.00 N, 94 27.90 W ],

Political Difficulties

Dr. Grant Foreman, writing summary notes on the Beale Wagon Road for the Oklahoma Historical Society about 1930, noted on pages 92-93 in the book at:,+Poteau+River&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi7houUx8XeAhUUmoMKHTsjDKUQ6AEINDAC#v=onepage&q=Bridge%20Edwards%2C%20Poteau%20River&f=false

“After the completion of the Survey in 1859, E. F. Beale directed H. B. Edwards to contract for the erection of six iron bridges. A new location of the iron bridge across the Poteau was 10 miles up the river (south) from Fort Smith at McLeans Ferry. {Beale originally proposed to locate the bridge (at Carnall Avenue) near the fort where the Overland mail ferried the Poteau in October 1858, but for unknown reason, another site was proposed at McLeans Ferry.} However, the people of Fort Smith and officials of the Butterfield Overland Mail vigorously protested the {McLean} location as they desired the river be crossed at the edge of the village and near the fort. The work on the iron bridge was suspended {for a while} and all available information does not disclose whether it was renewed before the breaking out of the Civil War.”

Choctaw Legislation

We see in the following document that the “Poteau River Iron Bridge” was completed by 1860:

CONSTITUTION AND LAWS OF THE CHOCTAW NATION. Law School Library, University of Michigan, p. 324-325.

“An Act entitled; granting to Tandy Walker and Joseph R. Hall, the privilege to construct a Turnpike Road across the Poteau Swamps, and to establish a tollgate thereon.

Sec. 1--Be it enacted by the General Council of the Choctaw Nation, That the exclusive privilege be, and the same is hereby granted to Tandy Walker and Joseph R. Hall, to establish a tollgate upon a certain road, upon the conditions and terms to wit:

That if the said Tandy Walker and Joseph R. Hall shall well and truly construct, or cause to be constructed, a road known as a turnpike road, to be covered with stone or plank, commencing at the western end of the Iron bridge, lately erected by the Government of the United States across the Poteau River in Skullyville County, known as “Bridge Edwards,” and extending westwardly to the base of the hill in the lane at the Ring Place. …”

(Sec. 2, 3, & 4 follow, but provide little else relevant.)

Approved, October 31st, 1860.

Lt. A. W. Whipple (for his railroad survey) made his first camp in 1853 at Ring’s Plantation, reportedly “10 miles SSW of Ft. Smith and 6 miles east of Skullyville,” now near Braden, OK. See PART I. ITINERARY, page 5, of the Diary of Lt. A. W. Whipple's 1853 railroad survey at:

Fort Smith Newspaper Articles of 1870

Gene McCluney of Van Buren provided me with several historic newspaper articles and also several maps of Fort Smith, as I have noted in earlier posts. The two newspaper clippings given below and other sources make it clear that the old Iron Bridge (two-span Whipple bowstring) was built across the Poteau totally in Indian Territory (Choctaw Nation), almost certainly along the old Federal Mail Route to Fort Gibson (1855). This route would go from downtown Fort Smith south down Towson Avenue and Texas Road {to the Choctaw’s Pocola Casino} and then southwest (now) along US 271 & OK 9 for nearly two miles. The actual wagon road curved around west side of the hill now occupied by the Tri-State Speedway. The wagon road then crossed the Poteau just below (north of) the mouth of Cedar Creek in Le Flore County, OK about 1.5 miles west of the Arkansas state line. This site is where the USGS 1890 land survey of the area shows a crossing to have been located. This iron bridge site is consistent with the descriptions given in the two 1870 Fort Smith newspaper articles Gene McCluney sent me. Relevant extractions from these articles and {my comments} are given below:

Fort Smith New Era, October 10, 1870

The Bridge Across Poteau

“Just before the breaking out of the rebellion the Government built a fine iron bridge across Poteau some seven miles above {in this case south of} this place. This bridge was badly injured during the war, so as to have been out of use ever since. Our enterprising fellow citizen, Mr. J. H. Haymaker, has recently obtained from the Secretary of War all the interest of the Federal Government in the bridge, right of way, etc., and is about to rebuild the bridge, so important to the interests of this city.
He proposes, however, instead of rebuilding it at the former crossing, to do so on the reserve near this city {Fort Smith} at some advantageous point …
The Council, in accordance with a petition on the subject, has ordered that the sense of the people on the proposition should be taken at the general election next month. …”

Fort Smith, Ark., Nov. 3rd, 1870 {published by the Fort Smith Herald on Nov. 5th}

Editors Herald:

“Gents: -- This city, with commendable liberality, has voted a generous aid for railroad purposes, and we are now again called upon to vote a large amount {a bond of $10,000 @ 8% for 15 years} for the purposes of having an Iron Bridge across Poteau, at some point adjacent to the city. …

Mr. Haymaker has obtained from the {U.S.} government the right to place an Iron Bridge across Poteau at any point he may select within eight miles of the city: either near the city or at the old {1860} place. …

… my {Tax Payer’s} analysis is sufficient to convince any person that he {Mr. Haymaker} is mistaken {his proposed new Iron Bridge site at Bower Ferry near downtown Fort Smith is actually not very good}; as in this case, the {approaching land} travel {across a new Iron Bridge at Mr. Bower’s ferry connecting at Carnall Avenue} would have to be though the bottom all the way, and {but} by the old Iron bridge route—there are only three miles of bottom; and that over a ridge or elevation in the bottom. From the old {1860} Iron Bridge to Fort Smith, is six and three-quarter miles, all a good ridge road {along the Fort Towson military road}, and all travel going north or to Fort Smith, would, as a matter of necessity, be compelled to pass through the city, as both roads terminate at the same place, enter Garrison Avenue at the alley by General Czarnikow’s or lower on the Avenue, if any opening could be had. …

Mr. Bowers now {in 1870, but widow Bowers owns the Indian land and perhaps the Carnall Ave. ferry by the later 1888 US act authorizing the nearby E-Street bridge} has a good ferry at the mouth of Poteau, and crosses wagons for twenty-five cents, and there is not crossing enough {traffic} at his ferry {at Carnall Avenue} to pay one dollar per day, whilst by Mr. Ainsworth’s ferry, which is four miles further than by the old {1860} Iron Bridge route, and naturally a much worse route, all the travel passes …”

Tax Payer

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