John Russell Young=The Wanderer
Oklahoma is indebted to the youthful John Russell Young, writing in 1859 as the “Wanderer,” a special newspaper correspondent for Philadelphia’s “The Press,” for most of our knowledge about the six iron bridges built in Indian Territory during the Fall and Winter of 1859 for the Beale Wagon Road. Read about John Russell Young at:
“Wanderer” traveled from Fort Smith, Arkansas west along the Beale Wagon Road, then under construction, nearly 200 miles across the northern Choctaw Nation, southern Creek Nation and into the Seminole Nation (about to Konawa, OK) before returning back east to Fort Smith. Going west, he visited all of the iron bridge sites under construction, and he visited at least two of them on his southern ride back to Fort Smith. He crossed the (South) Canadian at North Fork Town (Eufaula, OK) going west, and crossed it again at the mouth of Little River (just north of Allen, OK) on his return. In only two of his eleven letters published in The Press did the Wanderer (John Russell Young) write about the iron bridges:
October 5, 1859 Sam’s Hill Shawnee Village, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory (near Allen, OK)
1. Six bridges are being constructed upon the eastern end of Lt. Edward F. Beale’s far-famed route to the Pacific Ocean. The bridges are of Iron. They were manufactured in Philadelphia upon Murphy’s improved Whipple Plan by the A. & P. Roberts & Co. of Philadelphia.
2. The iron bridges were fabricated by the Pencoyd Iron Works and are being constructed under the supervision of Henry B. Edwards, Lt. E. F. Beale’s brother-in-law. The bridges are being put up by J. R. Nevins, assisted by Messrs. Van Anden and Everett, also of Philadelphia.
3. The six bridges are located westward from Fort Smith at:
a. Poteau River near Fort Smith (first five bridges are in the Choctaw Nation),
b. Redbank Creek, near Skullyville,
c. Little Sans Bois,
d. Big Sans Bois,
e. Emachaya Creek, and
f. Little River, near its mouth with the Canadian in the Creek Nation.
4. The design features and construction of Little River’s Whipple iron bridge with masonry stone abutments are given in graphic detail with a literary flair, as the Wanderer visited the site twice.
October 15, 1859 Gum Springs, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory (near Pocola, OK)
The Wanderer provides a few updates to the overall progress on and proposed new work for the Beale Wagon Road in Eastern Indian Territory. In addition, he describes the progress Henry B. Edwards and his men are making on building the stone piers for the delayed Poteau River bridge, the largest and most complex one being built for the Beale Wagon Road. He writes: “It will be completed ere long.” (The two-span iron bridge across the Poteau was completed early in 1860.) The Wanderer notes:
1. The Choctaws have commenced to improve the wagon road over Winchester Mountain.
2. A project is a-foot to turnpike the road from the Poteau River bridge through the fearful boggy bottom of the Poteau and Arkansas to the village of Skullyville. (Choctaws pass an authorization act and start building the turnpike in late 1860.)
3. Thus, there will be a good wagon road, or a road from any kind of travel, from the East to California. (And it was completed by the time Abraham Lincoln was elected President.)
The Wanderer’s eleven letters may be found in two parts: Trip from Philadelphia to Fort Smith and Observation Circuit, at:
Location and Design Details on the Six Whipple Bowstring Arch Bridges for Beale Wagon Road are given at:
Legacy References on the Beale Wagon Road are given at: