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Early Highway Laws / Washington Irving

October 11, 2000

Historian's Notes

Washington Irving's "tour on the prairies" is interesting for more reasons than one. His accounts of the journey through what is now Oklahoma provides us with a clear picture of this area in the early 1800s and it is always a bit exhilarating when a celebrity pays a visit to your area.

Resources for "Early Highway Laws":

The Angie Debo Papers are held at OSU's Special Collections & University Archives.

Resources for "Washington Irving":

Chronicles of Oklahoma (Sum. 1996). 74 (2).

Irving, W. (1835) Tour on the Prairies. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories from our state's past.

It was on October 8, 1836 that what was arguably the first highway law ever passed in Indian Territory or Oklahoma took effect. The Choctaws, the first of the southeastern tribes to relocate to Indian Territory, established early on elaborate codes and laws pertaining to the upkeep and construction of the roads in their region. The first law passed by the Choctaws ruled that anyone blocking a road or putting a field through a road would either be fined a fee of not more than one dollar or be required to build a road of equal quality around the blockage.

The Choctaws took the lead in road development in the territory establishing well maintained and regulated routes through their land. All male members of the tribe between the ages of eighteen and fifty were required to perform at least six days of road work a year. Those not reporting for duty were fined not less than fifty cents a day. Choctaw citizens could obtain a franchise for constructing and maintaining toll bridges and turnpikes, charging five cents for pedestrians and up to fifty cents for a four-horse carriage; livestock crossed toll roads at one cent a head. Road construction making life a bit easier in early day Indian Territory.

It is well known that noted author Washington Irving crossed through what is now Oklahoma on a tour of the region. He accurately described the countryside and his journey in the book, A Tour on the Prairies. It was in this week of 1832 that Washington and a group of army rangers he rode with left Fort Gibson for their tour of Indian Territory. Actually the first official U.S. expedition into that region. From the journals that Irving and others kept, it is fairly easy to retrace the route of the expedition. The most identifiable campsite used by the party, and for a long time a favorite spot to visit for Irving aficionados, was at Bears Glen, now covered up by the waters of Lake Keystone.

The group passed through what is now Payne County on the return leg of their journey and seemed to enjoy the countryside they visited. Within Payne County, three specific campsites, as well as the famous landmark known as "Irving's Castle," have been identified an located by historians. The noted author was impressed with the area around Stillwater and seemed to truly enjoy his "tour of the prairies" beginning this week in 1832.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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