TAKE ON TOPICS
When this office provided to be inadequate a new agency was built at Skullyville. Soon trading posts appeared to handle supplies needed by the Choctaw settlers.
The Choctaws were farmers and ranchers. In the early years the Choctaws needed to have access to the Skullyville Agency where money, supplies, and provisions were provided in the Removal Treaties.
So they had access to goods such as food, tools, clothing, weapons, etc before they came to their new lands. After they were settled trading posts sprang up in centrally populated areas. These areas became small thriving towns.
From Fort Smith in the early days there were two military roads. These roads helped the Choctaws to spread out and settle into more isolated area with fertile valleys. It also made these roads commercial routes for merchandise.
The presence of a considerable number of Choctaws in the valley encouraged traders to set up a post. Then when wagons were taken to Fort Smith for supplies, it could also take out or bring mail back into the area.
Before 1850 a few U.S. Post Offices were established as major trading centers. After the Civil War many new post offices were created in general stores, especially along the major roads.
There were many white men who married Choctaw women in the Choctaw Nation. This led to the establishment of many trading posts and stores. As a rural people the Choctaws were not accustomed to operating commercial establishments and were willing for white licensed or adopted citizens to do so.
Occasionally a prosperous Choctaw would financially assist in the opening of a store, but have no part in the management, while sharing in the profits.
When non-citizens wanted to carry on any type of business they had to secure a permit from the Choctaw National Government. These stores or trading posts usually took on the names of the owners. When a post office was set up in the same store it would take on a different name than the store.
One of these stores began operation in 1850 about 8 miles northeast of Red Oak. The store was established by Thomas Edwards and became known as Edwards Store. Edwards was of English origin and had migrated from New Zealand to the United States.
Evidence of how he came to America is not real clear but it is suspected he ended up in New Orleans where he learned about the Choctaws’ move to Indian Territory. It is suspected he met and traveled with a trader ending up in Poteau.
It was here that he married Nancy Hardaway, who was the member of a prominent family and half Choctaw.
Edwards and his bride built in the Red Oak area. They built a two-room house with a breeze way between them. One room was the kitchen dining and the other was the bedroom. When the Butterfield Overland Mail Stages were in operation the Edwards store was a meal stop. A meal was 45 cents per meal.
Near the house is a bois d’arc hitching post that once stood in front of the store. You have to wonder who might have hitched their horse to that post especially since we had so many outlaws in our area.
Amazingly enough there was never any mention in books, ledgers, or in any newspapers of any robberies, thefts, or stage hold ups at this store. Many have said it hard to believe with all the bandits roaming this wild area form 1870s to the 1880s.
There were many in those days that would be willing to trade work for supplies or money. Edwards traded for products in the area such as pork, corn, molasses, livestock and hides. Edwards is believed to be one of the first that would send wagons to Fort Smith taking produce and bringing back merchandise for the store.
Edwards store became an important center for the community. The Choctaw people left mail at the store for a carrier to pick up, and also picked up their mail there.
In the spring of 1864 a group of Choctaws who claimed loyalty to the Union met at New Hope Academy near Skullyville and organized a new provisional government for the Choctaw Republic. Thomas Edwards was at that meeting and named as Governor of the Choctaws.
No official recognition was ever given to him. After the war he took no further part in Choctaw affairs and devoted himself to his business.
On March 11, 1869, Thomas Edwards was appointed the official postmaster to a U.S. Post Office in his store. Records indicate a high volume of mail and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. The Choctaw people of Old Red Oak community were interested in keeping up with the news outside their world. These included the New York Sun, Illustrated Family Herald, Fort Smith Times, Van Buren Press, Harper’s Monthly, and the Central Advocate to name a few.
It also appears from records found in the house that they made and sold home remedies such as liniment and internal medicines.
The Old Edwards store still remains even though it is fragile condition now. There is a marker from the Historical Society. I want to thank Bobbie McAuliffe for giving me the book with this information in it.
The book is called the “The Edwards Store or Old Red Oak” published by Eastern Oklahoma Historical Society. I hope soon to visit the site. After seeing the pictures and reading the text, I am pretty sure it is one of the places my grandma took me to see many years ago.
Until next week…