• Dennis McCaslin

Stop on the Butterfield Trail thought to be Choctaw Nation's first convenience store

Article and artwork courtesy of John Redwine

On Saturday, my wife and I visited the 171-year-old log home of Thomas Edwards and his Choctaw wife, Nancy Hardaway, on a knoll seven miles northeast of the present town of Red Oak.

This building is the only remaining structure in Oklahoma along the infamous 2,795-mile stretch of the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage route.

It was here the newlyweds constructed a two-room house in 1850, built with hand hewn logs from nearby pines. One room featured a kitchen and dining area with a breezeway (often referred to a dogtrot) separating the bedroom. Fireplaces, made of native stone, were in each room.

Additions to the structure were completed in 1870 and in 1889.

Soon after arriving the couple constructed the Edwards Store, selling goods to the Choctaws and travelers along the Fort Smith-Boggy Depot Road, running from Fort Smith southward to Boggy Depot in what is now Atoka County. It is one of the oldest roads in the state, dating to the early 1800s.

The business prospered in those early years, selling groceries, tobacco, supplies, and clothing to the Choctaws and travelers stopping by. The business flourished when the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage launched service in 1858, stopping at the store.

Hot meals were served for 45 cents to stagecoach passengers and hungry folks traveling the road. The business became one the most famous stores along the mail line in the Choctaw Nation.

In 1857 the U.S. Congress authorized John Butterfield an annual contract of $600,000 to deliver mail between St. Louis and San Francisco with twice a week service from the east and twice a week from the west. It was the first transcontinental link between the Atlantic states and the Pacific coast.

It took over a year to organize the company, with its 139 relay stations to change horses and drivers. The company employed more than 800 people, had 1,800 horses, and placed 250 Concord Stagecoaches in service.

The Butterfield Overland was a stagecoach service transporting mail and passengers from two eastern cities, St. Louis and Memphis, to San Francisco.

The routes from St. Louis and Memphis met in Fort Smith and then continued as one route through Indian Territory westward to California, with the first stop in Skullyville (two miles northeast of the present town of Spiro).

Walker’s Station at Skullyville served as the Choctaw Agency and stage stop for the Butterfield Overland Stage. It was the residence of Tandy Walker who later served as Governor of the Choctaw Nation.

There were 12 Butterfield stage stations in the Choctaw Nation, located 13 to 19 miles apart. The stagecoaches averaged a little over three miles an hour in Indian Territory.

A timetable published by the company indicated travel time from Fort Smith to Sherman, Texas, was a 45-hour trip, covering 205 miles. The stagecoaches operated 24/7, making the journey from St. Louis to San Francisco in 24 days.

Store locals left mail at the Edwards Store to be picked up by the stage line and mail carriers. In March, 1868, a post office was established at the store with Edwards being the postmaster.

The name Red Oak was chosen because of the surrounding giant red oak trees on the property. Thomas Edwards passed away in 1883, with his wife taking over operations until her death in 1888. Then a nephew, Jesse Hardaway, had the business after inheriting the property.

About the same time the railroad arrived a few miles south of the store, bringing in additional residents and businesses to form a new community.

The post office moved with the town and was relocated to the “new” Red Oak. In 1890 Jesse chose to give up running the store to focus on farming. Hardaway family members lived in the log house until the early 1980s.

Sixth generation Chrissy Dickmeyer now owns the property on what is now named Norris Road. She and a cousin, Nannette Dellinger, are part of a team of neighbors, family, interested individuals and history buffs attempting to save the historic place.

Over the past two years most of the debris on the property has been cleaned up and the overgrown brush that once hid the log structure has been cleared.

The nearby family cemetery has been cleared, new entrance gates and fencing installed and work recently got underway to stabilize the stone chimneys at each end of the old home place with a grant from the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Edwards Store is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Oklahoma Historical Society placed a plaque in front of the house along the roadway in 1959 noting that it was a stop on the Overland Mail Stage and the location of the first Red Oak Post Office.

This Eastern Oklahoma historic spot of days gone by, dating back 57 years before statehood, is another vital piece of our state’s heritage needing to be preserved.

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