Sunday, May 3, 2009

Horse Thief Spring - Ouachita Mountains, Oklahoma

If you've ever seen the John Wayne movies "True Grit" or "Rooster Cogburn," then you know a little about the stories of the outlaws that once roamed the mountains of Oklahoma and the determined Deputy Marshals who risked their lives to bring them to justice in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Stories like "True Grit" and Clint Eastwood's later film "Hang 'Em High" were based on real events that took place along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border in the decades after the Civil War. Believing that the Indian Nations of what is now Oklahoma would provide them with safety, outlaws flooded to the region.

Their presence terrified the peaceful inhabitants of the Nations and surrounding areas and the U.S. Government launched an aggressive campaign to round up these outlaws and bring them to justice. Isaac Parker was appointed as the Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, which held jurisdiction over the region, and before his career was over would hang more murders, rapists and robbers than any Federal Judge in American history. He would also suffer the loss of dozens of deputy marshals in the line of duty.

As Parker's deputies penetrated deeper and deeper into the outlaw hideouts, the outlaws found new locations deeper and deeper in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Traces of their presence can still be found there today at places like Robbers Cave and Horse Thief Spring.

Located along the beautiful Talimena Scenic Drive that winds its way along the tops of the Ouachita Mountains, Horse Thief Spring is a site rich in history and tradition. A small spring, now surrounded by a stone enclosure erected during the Great Depression, bubbles from the side of the mountain.

According to legend, this spring was used as a watering place by Old West outlaws who hid out in the vicinity. The site is relatively close to the Old Military or Fort Towson Road, which led from Fort Smith south to Fort Towson near the Texas border. This road was a major route for travelers in the 19th century and was frequented by outlaws.

From the end of the Civil War for about 25 years, outlaws used places like Horse Thief Spring before the diligent deputies and Indian police finally brought their presence to an end. To learn more about this unique historic site, please visit

1 comment:

gaye.livesay said...

I lived in a part of the Quachita National Forest for awhile and we traveled to Horse Thief Springs, which was not too far from our home. The Mountains in that region of Oklahoma are rich in History and Legend. The people in the small town of Talihina, near where I lived, were more than happy to spin a yarn or two. I sometimes wonder if it was true. Hidden Viking Rune Stones, Buried Treasure, Outlaws hideouts (this I KNOW to be true). Oklahoma is a state that is overlooked. If not for it's History, it's Beauty.