Indian Pioneer Papers - Index
Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: December 22,
Name: Mr. R. L.
Post Office: Pauls Valley,
Date of Birth: August 1, 1870
Birth: Canton, Missouri
Father: R.J. Nichols,
October 17, 1847 in Covington, Virginia
Mother: Mildred Louise
Information on Mother:
Field Worker: Maurice R.
Interview # 9585
My father, R. J. NICHOLS was born near Covington, Virginia, on
October 17, 1847, on a small farm. His father passed away when he was
eleven years old and left him and his younger brother to make a living for
their mother. On this farm they raised lots of fruit and some
corn. All the apples and peaches were made into brandies and the corn
into whiskey. After they got all their crop made up, a Government agent
came and gauged all the whiskey and brandy they had and then it was sold to
bonded warehouse companies. That was the only way they had of marketing
the farm products they raised.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he ran away from
home and enlisted in the company which acted as General Robert E. Lee's
bodyguard. He stayed with his regiment until the close of the war and
received only one wound. He was shot in the left shoulder and carried
three shots in that shoulder until his death.
After the close of the war, he with his mother and
brothers, moved to northeast Missouri and settled in Lewis County near Canton,
and he made several trips over Iowa and Missouri. In August 19, 1869, he
was married to Mildred Louise RAY of Canton, Missouri, where he continued to
reside until 1874 when he moved to Texas. The country was in an
unsettled condition, everyone had to undergo lots of hardships in those
I was born near Canton, Missouri, on August 1, 1870, the
son of R. J. Nichols. I stayed most of the time with my grandmother
Nichols. She lived on her farm in a two story house built on a hillside
and that made one side of the house almost three stories high. It was
lots of fun for me to take her old cat upstairs and throw him out the
window. Of course when my grandmother found it out it was not so
I was only four years old when my father left Missouri
for Texas but I can recall lots of things that happened before we left
there. I can remember seeing men hauling cord wood across the
Mississippi River on the ice. Also seeing the ice when it broke up in
the spring forming what they called an ice gorge and pushing ice up on the
banks that was three feet thick.
We lived near a creek and the ice from the river broke
up before the creek did and in the big jam pushed a big bridge off its
foundation that was on the creek. I also remember we had a German
neighbor named SCHULTS and he had a son, Louie. Mr. Schults always put
up ice in winter for his summer use. He also had a big grape vineyard
and one day my mother sent my sister and me across the road to Mr. Schults's
house after a bucket of ice and it had always been our custom to pull a bunch
of grapes to eat. On one day Louis Schults hid in the grape bushes and
when my sister pulled of a bunch of grapes he jumped out and gave us a big
The Schults family were well to do people and had plenty
of everything they needed. They also had a big brindle bulldog that
always looked bad to us children.
Mr. Schults was a good man and neighbor but he had a way
of taking things that did not belong to him. One fall he helped my
father kill his meat hogs and salt them away to cure. On a cold night my
father heard the rattle of the chain that fastened the smokehouse door and he
got out of bed and took his shotgun and went to a side door to see what was
going on out at the smokehouse. He could not see the man but did see a
big dog standing just behind where the man was standing so he just shot the
dog and he then heard a man running but made no effort to shoot him.
Next morning when he went out to see what kind of a dog he had shot what did
he find but Mr. Schults' big brindle bull dog, Bose. Of course, he hated
it that he had killed his neighbor's dog. He dragged the dog off.
After several days he met Mr. Schults and as it was such a habit for old Bose
to go with him everywhere he went my father remarked, "What has become of old
Bose? I don't see him with you lately". Mr. Schults told him that
old Bose followed Louis hunting one night and got lost and had never come home
yet. My father never told him about Louis trying to break in his
smokehouse and that he had killed the dog.
In November, 1874, about fifteen or twenty families
started from my father's home near Canton, Missouri, for Texas. As I
recall my father had two wagons. One wagon was drawn by a big span of
iron gray mares and the other had a big bay mare and a big black horse.
Everything was a jubilee as everybody was excited to be making such a
trip. Of course lots of our friends told us the wild Indians would kill
us all on the way to Texas, also told us thieves would steel all our stock.
Finally we got started. It was a hard trip as all roads were poor
in those days and we could only make a few miles each day and we never
traveled on Sunday.
We left Missouri at Neosho and headed for the Indian
Territory near what is now the town of Vinita. From there we came on to
Fort Gibson near the city of Muskogee. All through the trip at least two
men stood guard at night to see that everything went on well. We saw
lots of deer and turkey all along the way but for some reason our party never
tried to kill any. One Saturday evening after we had made camp by
standing the wagons in a circle and building a big log fire in the middle of
the enclosure to cook on and keep warm by it was agreed that my Uncle Walter
Ray who was driving one of my father's wagons and another man would kill a
deer the next morning so all would have fresh meat.
My uncle and the other man started out real early after
the deer meat for Sunday dinner. They had not gone far until they saw
what they took to be two full grown deer. They very promptly did the big
creeping act to get in gun shot range. After crawling for several
hundred yards they finally decided they were close enough to kill the deer and
its was agreed that one would shoot the deer on the right and the other shoot
to the left. After lots of slow getting along they raised up and the
first glimpse of the deer they both fired at the same time. They saw
each animal fall at the crack of their gun and both ran to where the deer
fell. When they reached the spot to their great surprise and
disappointment they discovered they had killed two wild Spanish burros or wild
jackasses. Of course, every one in camp heard the gun shots and when
they got into camp they told everyone the deer got away and it was a long time
before they ever told the folks the truth.
That finished the hunting on the trip except for quail,
squirrel and prairie chickens. There were thousands of prairie chickens
everywhere you went and wild turkey were to be found in great
One night we camped near a wild pigeon roost and there
is no way of counting how many thousand there were at the roost. In the
morning when someone shot in a flock of them there was so many flew up that
the sky was literally black with them.
After leaving Fort Gibson we moved on to what is now
McAlester. It was a very rough road one had to travel; in fact, it could
hardly be called a road. There were no bridges on small creeks and
rivers. Some places there were improvised toll bridges on creeks where
the water was too deep to ford.
We were all getting tired and so were the horses, but we
had our minds set on Texas. The next place we made was Stringtown.
In the evening of the day we arrived at Stringtown my father and others saw
two men walking in the same direction they were traveling. At one time
some of the men saw a rope hanging down from under one of the men's overcoat
so that put them all to thinking about horse thieves.
As was the custom there was a guard of two men stationed
near the wagons and also two other men heavily armed were sent out quite a way
from the camp where they concealed themselves in some bushes where they could
see anyone coming near the camp. About 9 p.m. after everything in camp
had gotten still, these two men who were the farthest from the camp, heard a
man cough and it was not long until they heard him cough again. They
intently watched for the strangers to come on closer to them. They did
not have to wait long until they could, from their place of hiding, see the
bulk of the men. They let them come on until the two men were only about
twenty yards away when they both raised up with drawn shotguns and told the
men to surrender, which they did without firing a shot.
The two guards marched the men up to the campfire and
called other men to come out and search the two men they had arrested.
On them was found an old Cap and Ball Army pistol and each one had a bridle
with a rope tied to it under their coats. By that time everyone in the
camp was up to see what was going on. After holding a council of war the
men were marched off quite a distance from the camp and no one ever told what
was done to the two horse thieves.
There were no courts in the Indian Territory in those
days and most horse thieves were taken to a necktie party and had to furnish
the neck on such occasions.
After leaving Stringtown we moved on to where Durant is
now and after several days finally reached Red River which was up at that time
and this caused several days delay. We crossed the Red River on a ferry
boat and landed in Texas, near the town of Denison. From there we turned
west and presently came to Gainesville, the town we had set out to stop
at. We were met at Gainesville by an uncle of mine, my mother's brother,
Alex RAY, who had come to Texas the year before. Everyone was very
tired as was also the work stock and no one tried to do anything except rest
and recount the long trip just finished.
Gainesville at that time (1874) was a very small
town. It's chief support being the trade of a few scattered settlers who
did their trading there. It also had some trade (in fact all there was)
from a distance of a hundred miles in the Indian Territory. It was no
uncommon sight to see twenty-five or maybe thirty wagons of people from as far
north as where Purcell is now coming to Gainesville in the fall of the year
loaded with deer hides, venison hams, cow hides and other small animal hides
that they would bring to market for sale. In those days almost all
grocery stores kept maybe from three to five barrels of whiskey in a back room
fitted up for that purpose.
When the traders would get to town if it was late in the
day they would put their wagons and team in what they called a 'wagon yard'
for the night. Every wagon yard had a camp house for their customers to
stay in at night. In the camp house each bunch of men would cook their
meals and then make down the beds on the floor or on 'bunks' that were built
in the corners of the camp house.
If they had brought dressed turkeys, tallow or any other
stuff for sale it was always disposed of the next day after their arrival and
then they would buy such things as were really needed to live on such as
clothing, groceries, and almost always a man would take a jug of whiskey home
In 1874 Gainesville had only one small brick store
building, and it belonged to George F. BIRD who ran a little dry goods store
in it. His stock consisted mostly of such articles as ranchers and
cowhands would need and, of course, a few things for the women of the
country. There was no courthouse there and court was held in an old
board house. One other business that helped to keep Gainesville going
was the 'hide trains' that passed through there on their way to Jefferson,
Texas, then the nearest railroad shipping point. It was a great sight to
see from twenty-five to fifty ox teams of ten yoke hitched to a big wagon to
which would be two trail wagons attached and all loaded with buffalo
hides. The hides had been skinned from buffaloes that were being killed
on the west Texas plains by hunters who killed for the hides only. It
was a great slaughter as thousands upon thousands of buffaloes were
slain. These 'hide trains' traveled slowly only making possibly ten
miles per day. They would always stop outside of town so the oxen could
be turned loose to graze on the fine grass that grew everywhere. There
was always one or two horses with these hide trains to herd the oxen with at
night and to drive them up in the morning when they were ready to move on to
When these hide trains came to town business was sure to
pick up with eating places and saloons and gambling houses. These were
always a very tough bunch of men and after spending weeks on the trail from
west Texas plains and eating such food as sour dough bread and sow bosom they
were ready to take on a 'big feed' and, of course, it was the custom of some
to tank up on the first whiskey they found. Gainesville was always glad
to see the hide trains and most people were glad to see them pull out of sight
as the bull whackers were a very tough unruly bunch of men.
In those days and until in the 80's it was no uncommon
thing for a bunch of from ten to twenty cowboys from the WASHINGTON or MCLISH
ranches in Indian Territory to come to Gainesville on horseback and have a big
time such as riding in saloons and ordering drinks, sitting on their horses,
and sometimes throwing a rope on any policeman who happened to show up and
maybe leading him around the square with possibly ten or fifteen cowboys
shooting in the ground near his feet to see him jump. They would do
these tricks just before they were ready to leave town and generally a posse
was gotten together to arrest the cowboys but the Indian Territory cow hands
would always out run the officers as the south bank of the river is the state
line between Texas and Oklahoma.
My father and family rented a farm for the next year
(1875) on the south or Texas side of the Red River and in the river
bottom. In July of that year (1875) there came a great rise in the river
that not only washed away his crop but also washed away the farm it was
growing on, and today most of that farm is on the Oklahoma side of Red River,
covered with a heavy growth of big cottonwood timber.
Not withstanding good smooth prairie land could be
bought for 50 cents to $1.00 per acre close to Gainesville, my father felt it
was no use to try to farm out on the prairie as there was a very light
rainfall in those days and, too, there was no timber to make rails to fence a
farm with nearer than ten to twenty miles away. So in the fall of 1875
my father contracted to put in a farm (clear it up) in the Red River bottom on
the Indian Territory side of the river. He took the lease from Edmond
LOVE (my wife's uncle) for a term of ten years. That was a big job as
the land was covered with timber, brush and green briars. He also had to
make rails to fence the land, had to cut logs and hew them to build a house
and make clapboards to cover the house with. In fact everything needed
on the place had to be put there by my father. On account of the washout in
the summer of 1875 he sold one span of mares to furnish money to meet the
needs of the family. The first year on the lease (1876) he rented
some land that was in cultivation from Mrs. STORY (my wife's grandmother) to
make a crop on as he could not get in enough land on the lease to make him a
In the spring of 76 one of his horses died so that just
left him one horse. He managed to get the use of another horse until he
got his crop finished. In the fall of 76 he traded his one horse for a
big yoke of work oxen to plow the new ground on the lease with. Winter
came on and he had only $15.00 or $20.00 to buy clothes for the family.
In early days he had learned to do carpenter work and he made a little money
helping other people build their homes. It was his custom, too, to make
all coffins for neighbors who died in the surrounding country but he never
charged anything for such work.
During the winter of 76 he got about twenty acres
cleared and plowed up and as it was very fertile land it made good
crops. He continued to clear the land until he got 40 acres in
In working oxen it was common to just feed them at night
and then feed them only about a peck of corn and some hay. we always
turned them out at night to graze on the grass that grew everywhere but almost
always hobbled them by using a heavy strip of rawhide twisted together between
their front feet. The hobbles would prevent them from running off with
wild cattle that were very plentiful in all parts of the country. If a
work steer should slip his hobbles off, it might take all day to get him back
In the early days when we settled here there was lots of
game such as deer, turkey, prairie chicken, to say nothing of quail, duck,
geese and squirrel. One could go out and kill a deer or turkey most any
time or more than one if they wanted to.
There was a man named Sam HARPER who lived close to my
father and he was a great hunter. He would kill a deer and always bring
us a hind quarter or if he hunted turkey he would always bring part of the
game he killed.
In those days there were lots of really wild hogs in the
upland timber as well as in the river bottoms. In the early spring my
father would get some of our neighbors to help him catch and mark a lot of
young hogs as well as old ones and then turn them loose to get fat for meat in
the fall and winter. The hogs would get fat on acorns, pecans, and wild
peas that grew in the bottoms. The only way a regular wild hog would eat
corn was for him to get into a corn field. You could put one of them in
a pen and he would actually starve to death before he would eat corn you would
put in his pen.
Wild hogs were very dangerous when cornered. The
old boars often had tusks four or five inches long and would kill a dog at one
stroke with his tusks. A dog had to be well trained to catch wild
hogs. The only way a dog could handle an old boar or an old sow was to
make a lunge and catch the hog by the ear and then lay right back by the side
of the hog, or he could catch it by the lower part of the ham and then stay
behind the hog. If an old sow had a bunch of pigs she was just about as
dangerous as the old boar.
I think it was in September, 1876, there was a total
eclipse of the sun that happened about 3 p.m.. It got dark as night and
everybody was really scared as they were not expecting such a thing to
happen. The chickens all went to roost as though it was night. No
one took papers in those days to see what was going on or what was going to
happen and if they did take newspapers there was no mail delivery. We
had to go eight miles to Gainesville after our mail and never made many trips
to town during the year and then only when it was really
There was lots of sickness such as chills and malaria in
the Indian Territory in the early days on account of heavy rank
vegetation. Lots of land being put in cultivation naturally caused more
or less sickness also in the country. It was no uncommon thing to see
the whole family in bed with chills and fever. Doctors were
scarce and medicine very high. Most people resorted to some old Indian
remedy to stop the chills such as tea made from boiling horsemint or button
willow roots or some other herb that some one thought was the best for
stopping the chills. Of course, in serious sickness someone was sent to
Gainesville for a doctor and the expense was plenty high.
About 1878, my father with other men in the settlement
decided there should be a school for the children who had moved into the
Territory and settled near our farm. There was not much lumber in
Gainesville and it had to be freighted from Jefferson, Texas, and was very
high in price so they decided to build a log schoolhouse.
It was quite a job to build the house but every man and
boy in the community turned out to do all he could in getting the house ready
for school. My father had me take a yoke of his work steers and drag the
logs out of a nearby forest to the site where the building was to be
located. They then got permission from Mrs. STACY, an Indian woman (My
wife's grandmother), who owned the land they had selected on which to build
the house to use it for school and church purposes. The house was
finally built and covered with clapboards but there was no floor except the
dirt. For seats they cut straight logs and split them open and dressed
the split side to make it smooth, then each end of this split log was laid on
a block of wood and that made a good strong seat. Our first teacher was
a Dr. GREEN and he taught us as best he could under the
A spring of water was nearby for use of the school and
it was great fun to have the teacher allow two of us boys to go after a bucket
of water. Some of the neighbor women furnished a gourd that would hold
about a quart of water and had a handle possibly twenty inches long.
There also was a drinking gourd kept hanging up near the spring for anyone
passing to use in getting a drink.
These were great days as school was something new in the
country. We would go to school about three or four months in the winter
after cotton was all picked and about two or three months in the summer after
crops were all laid by or finished for the spring.
In the fall on Sundays and other days when we had
nothing to do, my brother, Frank, and I and other boys who played with us
would go into bottoms and pick up pecans, also get wild grapes that grew in
abundance in all the timber. These were called 'post oak' grapes and
were just as good as our Concord grapes of today and people from forty or
fifty miles in Texas would come over in the Indian Country and gather those
wild post oak grapes for jelly and wine.
In the fall and winter the leaves would fall off the
trees and as the wind would blow them, they would lodge in deep hollows or
ravines and sometimes would get two or three feet deep. One Sunday
morning we boys started out to get some pecans and were going along on top of
the hills just out of the river bottom when we saw an immense pile of leaves
down in a deep ravine and, of course, we were bent on doing something we
should not do. so we ran down the steep bank and jumped right out in the
middle of the big pile of leaves and to our surprise there were about fifteen
or twenty wild hogs denned up in this pile of leaves.
[Submitter's comment: I have not been able to find the rest of this interview
as yet as it was continued on another microfiche - but I will keep looking -
Mr. Nichols had a lot to say!]
Transcribed and submitted
by Brenda Choate, November 2000.