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Whiskey Road was more than just its name

Mary Phillips Published: October 3, 2013

In 1968, the descendants of R.B. Carlile, an early-day Sequoyah County merchant and cattle rancher, were preparing to move the old family home, parts of which dated to 1878, to a new location.

The land, comprising the old Carlile ranch site, had been bought by the Kerr-McGee Corp. for a new uranium hexafluoride conversion plant near Gore.

The home’s original location, near the fork of the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, was a stagecoach stop on the road from Texas to Fort Smith, Ark., which was called “Whiskey Road.”

Oklahoma historian Grant Foreman gave this explanation for the colorful name in his series of articles titled “Early Trails in Oklahoma” that were published in The Oklahoman and the “Chronicles of Oklahoma” in 1925:

“Another famous trail but of evil renown, was what was called the Whisky (sic) road extending from Van Buren and Fort Smith up the north side of the Arkansas River to Webbers Falls. The soldiers at the army posts were constantly engaged in efforts to prevent the introduction of whiskey into Indian Territory.

“Steamboats brought it up Arkansas River but as discovery of these shipments was comparatively easy, resort was had to flat boats, keel boats and canoes that slipped up stream in more secrecy. But the wagon-road following closely the bend of the river was employed with the greatest success and in the thirties and forties whiskey was brought up by the wagonloads in quantities to the mouth of the Canadian, from where it was forwarded up that stream and the Arkansas; the success of this enterprise was so well established that the road employed came to be known as the Whisky road.”

The Oklahoman on April 12, 1959, published a story in “The Oklahoman Magazine” about the history of crossing the Red River.

Before bridges, ferries were often the mode of transportation, and this excerpt tells of their place on the Whiskey Road:

“Baer’s Ferry crossed Red river where the Denison dam is located and was built and put on the river before 1880, according to Corn Colbert, veteran police officer of Colbert, Oklahoma, and nephew of Chickasaw Ben Colbert.

” ‘Originally,’ Colbert said ‘Baer’s Ferry was known as the bootleggers’ ferry.’ He said the Creek Indians used it and the little-traveled road up the Washita road to Emet and on to Atoka because the Texas road had entirely too much traffic in the way of deputies and the military to suit their purpose. The bootleggers’ ferry was an important part of this back-way passage which came to be called the Whiskey Road.”

Times change, and instead of trails and ferries, we have state roads and interstate highways.

Time also has brought change to the Whiskey Road area.

Transportation became modern with state highways and bridges. Interstate 40 was built, crossing the state from east to west. The Robert S. Kerr Reservoir and the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was completed, and goods are once again moved up and down the river on barges.

In 1970, traces of the old Whiskey Road were still visible.

In 1993 the uranium plant closed.


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