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Heckabbe's Station: A forgotten stage stop?
Boggy Depot, Doaksville, Skullyville, Colbert's Ferry; these are all place names easily associated with Oklahoma's early history. There are a number of tales of the old Butterfield Overland Mail company and of the trepidatious cattle drives. Still, some stories from that era remain lost in time. One such story is the tale of Heckabbe's Station near Poteau, Oklahoma in LeFlore County.
Heckabbe's and the Ft. Towson Road
Heckabbe's Station, also known as Heckabbe's Post Office, was located on the old military trail leading south out of Ft. Smith. This trail, named the Ft. Towson Road, was established in the 1820's as a major route leading from Ft. Smith to Ft. Towson in southeastern Indian Territory. The road was very primitive and there were few stops along the way.
During the early and middle 1800's, travel through the area was extremely difficult. It would sometimes take days just to travel a few miles, especially during and after heavy rains. If a wagon broke down the owner could easily be stranded for weeks before another person came along.
Most early maps don't show any real settlements along the old military road. Considering the long distance of travel and how often the road was used, this was extremely unusual. Other roads that ran through Indian Territory had stage stops where the weary traveler could rest and make repairs. Looking at this, it simply doesn't make any sense that there wouldn't be a major stage stop along the Ft. Townson Road.
Discovering the Stage Stop
Research began in 2010 in order to find the reasoning behind this. Through countless hours of pouring through maps, it was discovered that there was a fairly large stage stop on the old military road. This stage stop, named Heckabbe's Station, would have been located just south of Poteau. The earliest reference that has been found to this station was shortly after the Choctaw removals.
Two other maps surfaced showing the same stage stop from different years, however, they were marked in different locations. Overlaying them on Google Earth maps only confused the matter further.
Many of the topographic markers that are commonly used for locating old towns had moved. For example, both the Arkansas River and the Poteau River are not the same as they were over 100 years ago. The construction of dams and the navigation channel changed their courses. In the case of the Poteau River, this course change was dramatic. An exact determination of the stage stop has yet to be determined.
Origins and Decline of Heckabbe's Stage Stop
As with most stage stops, Heckabbe's originated from necessity. Travelers from Ft. Smith to Ft. Towson simply needed a place to pull off of the beaten path.
Locating it near modern day Poteau made sense.
Ever since the 1700's, the area has been populated by one group or another. During the French Fur Trading days, there was a large trading camp that was established at the base of Cavanal. It is said that wild game was easy to catch and with the Poteau River, traveling from Cavanal to Belle Point, and then further down to New Orleans was relatively easy.
In the early 1800's, the area already had several small roads. When the military surveyors came through, they simply plotted out the easiest path. This path followed a lot of the pre-established roads. These roads were widened and connected, forming a relatively straight path between the two forts. Most likely, Heckabbe's Station was a direct result of this and would have been established at the same time the roads were being constructed.
Heckabbe's Station is lost for several years until it appears again on a map dating from 1850. From that point, it shows up on several other maps up until 1873.
From all indications, it appears as if this was a minor stage stop until the Civil War era. During the Civil War, it is believed that this became a large supply house for troops moving throughout the area. As more troops visited the station, a larger town was developed which lasted until the late 1870's.
During the 1870's, a large influx of white settlers began emigrating into Indian Territory. With this influx, new towns and roads were established which diminished the importance of Heckabe's Station. It may have existed through the 1880's and 1890's, however, with the arrival of the railroads, the old military trails were considered obsolete.
The full story of Heckabbe's has yet to come to light. One thing is for certain, during the 1800's, Heckabbe's was most certainly an important town in the Indian Territory.