A Letter from Indian Territory

Five years after the civil war ended, a surveying crew from the Katy Railroad staked a marker 30 miles south of the Kansas border and thereby made the first declaration of a town where no town had existed before. The surveyors stopped long enough to locate the railroad station site and then continued on their way to fulfilling the bigger assignment: to establish the course for the Katy line from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico.

What follows is a fictional ac count of that day In October 1869 when the party of surveyors gave the town of Vinita its first tentative wedge into existence. The story is told in a young surveyor’s letter home to his family. The letter and the character are fiction. The historical references serve only as at backdrop to this imaginary account.

October 6, 1869
Indian Territory

Dear Father and Mother,

Greetings to you and my sisters. especially little Hannah. Please know that my longing for home is softened somewhat by the beauty of the land before me. When the Katy Railroad Survey Department assigned me to "Indian Territory’ I envisioned dry red dirt and blaz trig hot sun. I am glad that I did not grouse, for I would have been ashamed of my ignorant speaking. In truth, we are working amidst gently rolling terrain covered by tall prairie grasses. Breezes and sometimes strong winds cause the grass to ripple like the wake of passing steamboats on my beloved Mississippi. I must content myself with smaller rivers and creeks for now. Most recently we are camped along a tributary known as Cabin Creek. There are many full canopied trees with autumn foliage. Although the weather is pleasant and the sky is deeply blue, the shade provides welcome refreshment from the midday sun.

Today we located, and tomorrow we will officially mark, the future Katy station. Our orders were to designate a position approximately 30 miles south of the Kansas border, and as Providence would have it, the locale is a fine one indeed. Although I hear some of the men lamenting the desolation left by the two Battles here. I see no evidence of that at this moment. As far as my eye can see, there are boundless unoccupied, unspoiled lands.

We are only a few miles away from where the Union lost 300 hundred supply wagons to Con federate ambush. Even so, it is easy for me to imagine that the War was long ago and in distant lands. The War, which once dominated most of our thoughts and all of our conversations, no longer defines the course of our everyday lives. Oh my Dearest Parents, we should be ever grateful for the approaching dominance of the Rail road empire. Not only will the cattlemen have almost unbelievable speed of transport for their herds, but opportunities for ac companying mercantile will abound.

It is no secret that wherever we designate a railway station, shanty towns inevitably spring up. Tents of varying sturdiness surround the more substantial railroad freight buildings and within weeks a town is born. Some become centers of commerce and homes to Christian families while others fade away when competing railroads build intersecting tracks and create that

magnet of commerce, the Cross roads. It is too soon to say what will happen here but I can say that if only I were a year or two beyond this stage of tenuous finances, I would gladly assume some risk to be one of the early settlers here.

There are men of means who are speculating on the work we are doing right now. They buy the land near the Katy’s stations and then offer it for sale to those eager men who will follow. One man in particular. a Mr. Elias Boudinot has been keen on our movements of late. He rode up again today and we are obliged to provide him with the details of our survey because he is a counselor of the Katy. I. along with other men on the crew, have predicted that this gentle man is clever and well positioned to be the first to benefit financially from our surveying efforts. He is an impressive figure, well dressed and mounted on one of the best looking horses I have ever seen.

I have decided to make acquaintance with Mr. Boudinot and perhaps learn of opportunities that may not be readily available to others. I pray to have wisdom In this and hope that I will not be struck dumb by a fit of stuttering or boyish prattle. The results of this endeavor I will include in my next letter to you. Please be assured of my continued good health, the food is plentiful and somehow tastes especially good when served in this great dining hail with the sky as our ceiling. I long for the sight of you and our home. so do not be dismayed when I say that I am unaccountably en chanted by this land.

Your devoted son and brother, James Leonard


By Kathleen Duchamp, Vinita Daily Journal, Oct 30, 2002

dat 2003

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