Special Thanks goes to Linda Mayes Miller of the Webbers Falls Museum, without whom this Short History of Webbers Falls would not have been possible. Thank you for all your kind words and guidance, it is greatly appreciated.
Early History of Webbers Falls
Webbers Falls has a rich History which can be traced back to the Cherokee People years before the Trail Of Tears. After the Revolutionary war the Cherokee began moving west, outside of the states. And between 1809 and 1817 a great number of settlers to the Indian Territory were Cherokee. In 1828, the U.S. Government persuaded the Tribes to move into the Indian Territory. These early Cherokee immigrants were called ‘old settlers’, which included Chief Walter Webber and for whom the Town of Webbers Falls was named.
Lt Zebulon Montgomery Pike was sent to explore the Arkansas River in 1806. Along with Lt Wilkinson they explored the head waters of the Arkansas and the Red River, which was an unknown region at the time. Wilkinson and his men separated from Lt Pike on October 28th, at the Great Bend of the Arkansas River in what is now the State of Kansas. Wilkinson’s journey was filled with hardships including lack of food, rain and snow. On December 29th they passed the falls at Webbers Falls and which was recorded by Wilkinson as “a fall of nearly 7 feet perpendicular”.
Chief Walter Lewis Webber arrived in Webbers Falls, (called La Casscade for the original falls on the Arkansas River), in 1828, where he built a trading post after the store he had in Arkansas burned to the ground. Thomas Nuttall, an English botanist and zoologist, wrote of Walter Webber in his book “Journal of Thomas Nuttall” from a visit to the Cherokee several years earlier.
On April 9th, 1818, Nuttall visited the Cherokee, living in what is now the State of Arkansas and noted” Mr. Walter Webber, a metif, who acts as an Indian trader, is also a Chief of the Nation, and lives in ease and affluence, possessing a decently furnished and well provided house, several negro slaves, a large, well cleared and well fenced farm; and both himself and his nephew read, write and speak English.”
Nuttal also saw the falls of Webbers Falls during his travels, though by his account the falls were not nearly as high as when Lt. Wikinson passed through the area. Thomas Nuttall’s description of the falls “About four miles above the Illinois, we came to a cascade of two or three feet perpendicular. In endeavoring to pass it, our boat grounded upon the rocks, and we spent several hours in the fruitless attempt to pass them, but had at last to fall back, and attempt it again in the morning, which we then (on the 13th) effected by the assistance of the wind with our much difficulty….At this season, in which the water is far from being at its lowest ebb, no boats drawing more than from 12 to 18 inches of water, could pass this rapid without lightening, and it appears to form one of the first obstacles of consequence in the navigation of the Arkansas.” Thomas Nuttall stayed with Walter Webber until the 20th of April, 1818.
Webbers Falls and the Civil War
The onset of the Civil War fractured the Five Civilized Tribes, many of whom desired to remain neutral in the conflict, however those tribe members owning slaves became apprehensive when the Republicans gained power in 1860 and joined the Confederates in opposition to the Union. Further exacerbating the situation was the abandonment of Forts Washita, Arbuckle and Cobb by Lt Col William H. Emory in May of 1861, leaving those in sympathy with the Union alone and surrounded by the Confederacy.
In 1861, Confederate Albert Pike signed treaties with the Creek (Jun 10th), Choctaw and Chickasaw (July 12th), Seminole (August 1st), the Wichita, Caddo and others (August 12th) and the Cherokee, despite John Ross’ attempt to stall (October 7th). Lastly the Quapaw, Seneca, Shawnee and Osage also signed treaties with the Confederates. Many of the mixed bloods rejoiced and joined the Confederate Army. John Ross, who opposed the treaties with the Confederates, served as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee for almost forty years during one of the most chaotic periods in Cherokee History. Ross gained national attention during the Civil War while leading his People during the debate over allegiance to the Union.
Most of the skirmishes in the Indian Territory was either to further Brig General Ulysses S. Grant’s advance down the river or attempts to keep the General at bay. In 1863, Union Troops while trying to capture Gen Stand Watie, burned the home of “Rich Joe” Vann, a wealthy Cherokee who had come to the area after being forced to leave his home in Georgia in 1830-1839 in the course of the Indian Removals known as The Trail of Tears.
Also burned was most of the town of Webbers Falls, though Federal Troops failed to capture Gen Stand Watie. Gen Watie’s Cherokee name was De-ga-ta-ga or ‘he stands’ and he was the nephew of John Ridge, who was head of the Treaty Party at the time of the beginning of the Civil War. After his Uncle John was murdered, Gen Stand Watie took over the party and figured prominently in the Confederacy during the Civil War. On July 12th 1861 he was commissioned a Colonel in the Confederate Army, he raised a regiment of Cherokee which were later called the Cherokee Regiment of Mounted Rifles. In 1862 General Stand Watie was elected the Principal Chief of the Confederate Cherokees. They participated in 18 battles and skirmishes with Union Troops during the Civil War. He was promoted to Brigadier General on May 6th, 1864 and the only Native American to hold the rank of general during the Civil War.
The war was devastating to the Five Civilized Tribes, while not the main cause of the difficulty for the Tribes in the Indian Territory, it hastened the economic destruction and the loss of wealth and decline in the populations of the tribes.
In 1907 Oklahoma achieved statehood and the Brewer’s Academy, headquarters to General Stand Watie during the Civil War and named for the Cherokee Nation’s first Superintendent of Education, O.H.P. Brewer became known as Webbers Falls Public School. The Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad operated in 1911, an 11 mile line connecting Webbers Falls to Warner, OK, but by 1914 was no longer in use due to the lack of business, it was revived in 1916.
Also in 1911 the town of Webbers Falls again burned and was rebuilt with brick in 1912. In 1943, the town experienced a devastating flood, the entire downtown area flooded, people were being rescued from their rooftops by the City Marshal, volunteers and men from Camp Gruber in boats.
Webbers Falls has survived the turmoil of floods and fires. Today it is a lovely town that seeks to encourage individuals and businesses alike to move to the area and enjoy the rich History that has molded Webbers Falls into the charming community it is today.
For a comprehensive History of Webbers Falls, please visit the Webbers Falls Museum.
Thomas Nuttall – Journal of Thomas Nuttall; – Available via Google Ebook for free
Linda Mayes Miller – Webbers Falls Museum & © Oklahoma Historical Society — http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/R/RO031.html
Stand Watie Biography – http://www.civilwarhome.com/watiebio.htm
Webbers Falls, Shawnee and Western Railroad –(Reprinted by the Sequoyah County Times)–Feb 20, 1914 Issue of the Star Gazette http://www.sequoyahcountytimes.com/opinion/article_0323f3b4-9b15-11e3-91a5-0017a43b2370.html
Flood of 1943 -Muskogee Phoenix — http://www.muskogeephoenix.com/features/x703141334/It-s-showtime-Webbers-Falls-celebrates-grand-opening-of-venue
Civil War — http://www.okcivilwar.org/history/regiments