THE ORIGIN OF OLD SULPHUR SPRINGS, I. T.
Much has been written about the subject of the origin of the town of Sulphur Springs. It is unclear as to the exact date that white settlement began in the townsite that became Sulphur Springs, I.T. This is what is known.
Noah Lael built a ranch house near the old Leeper House (old Park Headquarters Building) in 1878. He later sold the improvements to Perry Froman. Remember now, you could not sell the land because it belonged to the Chickasaw Nation. You could only sell the improvements such as barns, houses, corrals and fences, orchards & crops, and livestock.
Some say that there were stores at the old Gum Springs in 1885,or about then, but this could not be so. One pilgrim stopped to camp at the springs in 1886 and noted there was only one house on the hill above the springs, most likely Perry Froman's ranch house.
In 1887, a cowboy who drove a herd of cattle from Texas stopped at the Gum Springs to water and graze the critters for a few days. He also reported that there were no buildings, only the single ranch house, on the hill, above the springs. In 1888, a cowboy reported moving a herd to the area of what is now Antelope Springs and reported that no town existed.
We know that Sulphur Springs was granted a post office in 1895. So, whatever happened to create a town did so between 1890 and 1895.
One story says that an old man named Mullenbrook had the first store in the area of the springs in the mid 1880's. Some say that C. J. Webster was the first merchant who established a store in 1885 but we have already eliminated that date as a possible starting date of the town. It was probably closer to 1890 when the first commercial building was erected. Webster did not migrate from Missouri until the early 1890's.
This is where it gets a little murky. About 1891 or 1892, several people began businesses in the area of the old Gum Springs (Seven Sisters or Pavilion Springs). As with any frontier town, you need to have certain amenities. You need a general store, a blacksmith shop, livery stable, gristmill, hotel and café, and some place for a dusty trial-hand to wet his whistle.
You add a post office; a school and a cemetery and you pretty much got yourself a town. You can get really civilized if you throw in a newspaper and add a church or two.
Another good indicator of when a town came into existence is the date of the cemetery. Superintendent Swords wanted to include the old Sulphur Springs Cemetery into the original reservation. According to a letter written by Swords, the cemetery had been in use from 1894 to 1903 and had 115 graves. With all the disease and pestilence, such as smallpox, cholera and typhoid, that was prevalent in Indian Territory in the late 19th century, one can rest assured that someone died pretty soon after the town was founded.
In about 1892 Col. R. A. Sneed of Pauls Valley along with Sam Paul and 48 other investors established the White Sulphur Springs Improvement Company under the laws of Texas. This in itself is a little odd since the Indian Territory had always been under the jurisdiction of Arkansas law and courts. Maybe they just liked the fine print of the Texas laws a little better than the Arkansas laws. They bought 640 acres from Perry Froman for about $2,500.
The Company built a fishing lodge and other amenities in the area of the Gum Springs. Tourist began to come in on the Santa Fe R.R. and traveled by hack from the depot at Davis.
Col. Sneed applied to the Chickasaws for a town site charter. Governor Mosley and the Chickasaw Council did not like the idea of closing off the springs to the public at all and rejected the idea.
A June 14, 1895 issue of the Davis (I.T.) Advertiser newspaper reported that Governor Mosley refused to issue the townsite permit.
Governor Mosley insisted that the springs were public property. If the springs were fenced off and only property owners could use them this would eliminate the poor from visiting the springs.
But, this did not seem to bother these townsite developers at all. They just keep on platting town lots and selling real estate they didn't own. Now, here is where the real problems came in to play. We have all these lots sold to individuals that they don't actually own.
The new residents numbered 1198 in the 1900 census. There were new homes and businesses built in the town. Orchards and crops were planted in the area. Several hotels were built including the Harper Hotel and the White Sulphur Inn (later known as the Park Hotel).
In 1897, the Chickasaws and Choctaws and the Government signed the Atoka Agreement. In 1898, the Curtis Act was enacted by Congress to prepare Indian Territory for statehood. This act abolished tribal governments and courts among other things. It also sets into effect the rules for the allotments and provisions for town sites among other things.
Since there was an earlier effort by Col. Sneed and the White Sulphur Springs Company to start a town, this act created many problems for the new citizens of Sulphur Springs.
Sulphur Springs continued to grow as a thriving frontier community. By 1900, the town now had a newspaper, telephone company, a post office and an electric plant (at the White Sulphur Springs Hotel).
There were enough hotels and boarding houses to accommodate 1,000 guests. Also in 1900 former Governor William Guy established the National School for Indians on West Tishomingo Street. In 1902 a nine-mile spur was built to the Frisco R.R. connecting at Scullin.
According to the provisions of the Curtis Act, a Special Indian Inspector named Joseph Swords was sent to Sulphur Springs to survey the town and get an official plat of the town in order to withhold the townsite land from allotment.
Swords job was to closely supervise the government surveyors and make sure that no more land than was absolutely necessary be set aside for the townsite. This would assure that the Chickasaws were not deprived of any land that should rightly be subject to allotment for tribal members.
Swords fell in love with the springs and creeks of the area and began to visit with local businessmen such as W. D. Covington, publisher of the first newspaper the Sulphur Headlight, J. M. Bayless, C. J. Webster and attorney E. E. White.
These men and others decided that the area of the Seven Sisters and Sulphur Creek (Travertine Creek) should be preserved from further commercial development and preserved in their natural condition. These men began an all-out effort to get the government to set aside the springs from the allotments and the sale of town lots to individuals.
The system set forth in the Curtis Act was that each person on a platted town lot with a home or business would pay 50% of the appraised value for the land to the Chickasaws. The home still belonged to the owner. If the individual owned more than one home or business, they would then pay 62 ˝% of the land value to the Chickasaws.
With over seven hundred lots in the area, this would make it impossible, after allotments, for the springs to ever be returned to its original condition. A push was made to get the old town site set aside as a federal reservation before the appraisals of the town site and the allotments.
The new government plat of Sulphur Springs indicated that major development was already severely encroaching on the spring's areas. Citizens who wanted to preserve the area went on a mission to save the springs. They wrote letters to Congressmen, Senators, the Commission for the Five Civilized Tribes, the Secretary of the Interior and the Chickasaw Governor and Council.
Finally, an act is passed in 1902 to preserve the springs and creeks of the area. This act was known as The Supplemental Agreement to the Atoka Agreement of 1897. And so, the Sulphur Springs Reservation came into existence and the town of Sulphur had to move.
© Contributed by Dennis Muncrief, October 2006.