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Delaware Bend on the Red River

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I wondered why Texomans call the bend on the south-easternmost edge of Lake Texoma, Delaware Bend. I assumed that people named the state of Delaware after the Delaware Tribe of Native Americans. In part, that assumption is correct. Delaware was the English sounding-name for the Lenape Tribe. The story of how the Lenape received their Delaware name is convoluted. The Dutch colonists purchased land from the Delawares in the 1620s. The English kicked the Dutch out in 1n 1664. The English colonists took most of the land from the Delaware Tribe by deceit. That region became the state of Delaware. (1, 2)

The forced, westward migration of the Lenape tribe lasted from before the 1740s in today’s state of Delaware until 1868 in Indian Territory. As early as the 1820s, Delaware Tribe families had drifted into Texas. The Mexican government, the provisional Texas government, and the Texas Republic promised them land, but no government ratified that promise. By the time Texans elected Sam Houston as President for a second term, the Delaware Tribe had spread throughout Texas from the Red River to the Brazos River. The Delaware played essential and far-reaching roles as scouts, diplomats, and interpreters for the U.S. Army and Indian Bureau. (3)

Cross Timbers

The Delaware Tribe made up the largest number of Native American settlers inhabiting the Delaware Bend area in 1836. Even though not recognized as a Civilized Tribe, the Delawares were peaceful. In 1842, the Republic of Texas negotiated a treaty that excluded Native Americans east of the Cross Timbers. * The Cross Timbers eastern boundary ran through the Delaware Bend area. Originally, Delaware Bend was part of Fannin County in the Republic of Texas. The town of Delaware Bend was located seven miles north of Dexter, Texas. A post office operated in the town from 1872 to 1876. By 1884, the community had established a school.

Cotton became the king crop in Delaware Bend. Lake Texoma swallowed three-fourths of its land including some of the richest farmland in Texomaland. The town of Orlena, Texas, was located in the Delaware Bend area and is synonymous with Delaware Bend. In the late 1800s, Delaware Bend, Texas, Leadville, Colorado, and Tombstone, Arizona, were branded as the three most dangerous and deadly regions in North America. (5)

The Bourland Bridge and Delaware Bend Ferry

In the 1850s, the Bourland Bridge was located on James G. Bourland’s property along the main road from Whitesboro to Dexter and ended at the Delaware Bend Ferry on the Red River. James forged “The Whiskey Trail” from his home south of Delaware Bend to Fort Arbuckle. James sold corn to the fort. The Whiskey Trail is its own story. The cattle dipping vats were just north of the bridge. Buffalo used the low water crossing at Delaware Bend. Later, ranchers drove their cattle to that crossing for water daily between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m until they built hand-dug wells. The Bourland Bridge eventually washed out, but its remains still exist in Cooke County, Texas SH 901 is named Delaware Bend Road when it turns north after crossing west on SH 377. In my research, I found the names of three ferrymen of the Delaware Bend Ferry. J.H. Brown established the Delaware Bend Ferry in 1874. Millard Ragsdale probably operated the ferry in the 1880s. Walter Swadlenak operated this ferry in the 1930s. (6, 7)

Famous Outlaws with Delaware Bend Hideouts

The Delaware Bend area became a part of Texomaland dubbed “Thief Neck”.

The Lee Gang and Ed Stein

In the mid-1880s, James Lee headed his gang with brothers Tom and Pink. They rustled horses and cattle. James married a Chickasaw lady which allowed him to ranch in Chickasaw Nation. James owned a ranch on the Red River east of Thackerville, Indian Territory, and operated out of a property near Ed Stein’s trading post in Delaware Bend. The Lee Gang did not ranch. They brazenly stole large herds of cattle from the Roff brother’s ranch in the Arbuckle Mountains near Berwyn, Indian Territory (today’s Gene Autry, Oklahoma). They stole cattle from other neighbors on both sides of the Red River. The Lee ranch and their Delaware Bend property became a hideout for murderous outlaws and thieves operating between Indian Territory and Texas.

Ed Stein, brother-in-law to the Lee Gang, sold liquor illegally in Chickasaw Nation. Before the Lee Gang was disbanded and killed or captured by the law and posses, 40 murders were attributed, but not substantiated, to the Lee Gang and its associates. (8)

William Quantrill and Frank and Jesse James

In 2014, The Gainesville Register published an interview with former Delaware Bend resident, Hal Dick, who was 90 years old at the time. Hal reported that Frank and Jesse James kept a hideout in Delaware Bend and gave local boys fifty cents to watch out for posses. We know that Frank James was with Quantrill during the massacre of Lawrence, Kansas. Jesse James was 15 years old at that time. Union soldiers found Jesse on Dr. Samuel’s farm and horsewhipped him for not revealing Quantrill’s location. In 1863, Frank followed Quantrill to Texas to winter in Cedar Mills. Dexter and Delaware Bend residents witnessed Frank and Quantrill’s presence. These outlaws traded for goods and services in gold which was rare in Thief Neck. Hal may have substituted fifty cents for gold pieces. (9, 10, 11, 12)

Belle Starr

Belle Starr was born Myra Maebelle Shirley in Carthage, Missouri, in 1848. Belle sang in the saloon her father, John Shirley, owned. While Missouri and Kansas broke into a hotbed of bloody Civil War clashes between southern bushwhackers and northern jayhawkers, John Shirley moved his family to Texas. Belle married outlaw Jim Reed who ran with the James Gang. Jim killed a gambler while trying to collect a debt. Bounty hunter John Morris found and killed him on a farm on the banks of the Red River.

Jim had made friends with Cherokee leader Sam Starr before his demise. Belle moved to Indian Territory and married Sam Starr. Belle, aware of the Indian’s plight and broken treaties, became an advocate for Indian rights. Native Americans held her in high esteem for her efforts with her lawyer in the hanging Judge Parker’s courtroom. **

Belle, a Confederate sympathizer, and Jim knew and visited the outlaws who hid out in Delaware Bend, Texas, and Devil’s Den near Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Numerous rumors associate Belle and Jim Reed with Delaware Bend. (13. 14)

Bonnie and Clyde

Hal Dick remembered that Bonnie and Clyde traveled through Delaware Bend. I cannot document this story, but Hal said that Bonnie and Clyde took the Delaware Bend Ferry on their way to rob the Marietta, Oklahoma, bank. The infamous duo discovered that the bank security was heavier than expected. The ferryman, Walter Swadlenak, was afraid they would kill him, but he ferried them across the river. Residents later teased Walter for not capturing the pair. Bonnie and Clyde also took the Willis Ferry into Oklahoma. This pair never succeeded in stealing a profitable amount of money in Oklahoma or anywhere else according to John Dillinger. Dillinger claimed that Bonnie and Clyde gave bank robbing a bad name. (15, 16)

Innocents Among the Outlaws

This story is only one of numerous documented accounts of the murderous lawlessness that existed in Delaware Bend and Thief Neck. On February 7, 1875, W. John Whittington murdered John J. Turner in cold blood. John Turner’s son, William H. Turner, found his father lying dead near their home in Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. John Turner was heading three miles south for Delaware Bend when Whittington beat him with a club and cut his throat.

William arrived to find his father’s and the killer’s horses loose on the side of the road. He saw Whittington rise up from the ground about 15 steps away from the horses. Whittington bent down again, walked to his horse, and picked up something on the ground. Whittington rode his horse towards William but turned and ran when he saw William.

William saw blood on the killer’s hat and hands; he caught up to Whittington. He asked Whittington why he had blood on his hat and told him to look at his hands. Whittington broke into another run. William saw his father lying dead, took out after Whittington, and told Whittington to consider himself a prisoner of William’s. William shot at Whittington and missed.

William rode into Delaware Bend and found men to come back to his father’s body. They found Turner’s empty wallet with a club lying next to his body. Whittington was captured in Delaware Bend that evening. Whittington’s captors gave William a one-hundred dollar bill which he recognized as belonging to his father. The Turners had known Whittington as a resident of Delaware Bend for four years. When William left his home that day, Whittington was visiting with his father around noon.

Because Turner’s murder occurred in Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, Whittington was jailed in Tishomingo by B. F. Overton. Overton, a Chickasaw leader, felt that incarcerating a white man was too expensive for his jurisdiction. Overton wrote to the District Court of the U.S. for the western District of Arkansas, the hanging Judge Isaac Parker’s jurisdiction, and asked it to relieve his jail of Whittington.

On June 26, 1875, twenty-three-year-old William Turner testified against Whittington in Judge Parker’s court about the brutality of his father’s murder. Whittington, found guilty, received a sentence to be hung by the neck until dead. Judge Parker directed the Marshal of the District of Arkansas to execute Whittington on September 3, 1875. The district did indeed hang Whittington on that date. (17)



** Judge Parker presided over Indian Territory. “Of the eighty-six men executed here, seventy-nine were sentenced to death by Judge Parker. During Judge Parker's twenty-one year tenure, a total of 160 death sentences were handed down. Of that number, 43 were commuted to life in prison or lesser terms; 2 were pardoned by the President; 31 had appeals that resulted in acquittals or convictions overturned; 2 were granted new trials and discharged; 1 was shot and killed while attempting to escape; and 2 died in jail while awaiting execution.” (18)

*** No pictures this time. The outlaw's pictures, when available, have been plastered on worldwide media for over a century. 


16. John Dillinger: Public Enemy #1 | Great Crimes & Trials
17. Marshall County Historical - Genealogical Society and Museum of Southern Oklahoma. Lawmen and the Lawless 1875 - 1947 Indian Territory and Marshall County Oklahoma. Article Title: John J. Turner Killed by W. John Whittington

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Water Level on 9/15: 616.84 (-0.16)

Lake Texoma Fishing Report from TPWD (Sep. 12)

GOOD. Water stained; 82–86 degrees; 0.15’ high. Largemouth bass are good on topwaters. Crappie are fair on minnows and jigs. Striped bass are good on slabs. Catfish are fair on live bait trotlines.