On May 30, 1901, Dr. I. M. Howard registered his medical certificate in Montague County, Texas, up north along the Red River, which served as the border between Texas and Indian Territory—the future state of Oklahoma. Just over the river, about a mile into the Chickasaw Nation, was the small town of Petersburg. The 1902 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register lists Dr. Howard as practicing in two places: Graford in Palo Pinto County, Texas, and in the Indian Territory, Petersburg, Chickasaw Nation, population twenty-five. Good times. Rather than supposing that Dr. Howard was maintaining two practices so far apart, I’m guessing that the Petersburg listing is a holdover from when he was in and around Montague County, probably as early as 1900. To the best of my knowledge, that listing in Polk’s is the only evidence we have that Dr. Howard spent time in Petersburg. Over my Thanksgiving break, I took a little drive to see if I could change that.
Before heading east, I did my usual round of internet archeology, but all I could find on Petersburg were scattered mentions in gazetteers and post office directories, a little ancient history. Not too helpful. I even had a hard time finding a map that showed its location; the one at the head of this post is from 1895. I eventually determined that Petersburg was in present day Jefferson County and located the county seat, Waurika.
At Waurika, I perused the county records like I normally do in Texas; unfortunately, all of their records begin in 1907, with statehood, long after Dr. Howard was gone. Any records pertaining to him would be in the Indian archives, not the county courthouse. While in town I also went to the county library, which is housed in an old railroad depot. I really wanted a photograph of old Petersburg, but I had no luck at the library, either. With all of my “official” options exhausted, there was nothing left to do but visit the site.
From Waurika, I took Highway 81 south to Ryan and grabbed the 32 east. Near Grady, the road gradually dips southeast for a few miles then takes a sharp dive south where it joins Highway 89. Petersburg is just ahead, but first is the cemetery.
After leaving the cemetery, I drove into “town” and parked on the shoulder. There is a contemporary home set back from the intersection that once marked the center of town, and nothing else. Oh, there’s some fencing and a historical marker, but nothing save the road sign to say that a town called Petersburg ever existed.
While I was stomping around the historical marker near the intersection, a really old guy driving a tiny tractor hove into view. He was being followed by a younger guy in a pickup truck who I took to be an employee or grandkid. I flagged him down and started to ask if he knew anything about the place. He asked what I was looking for.
I told him about Dr. Howard and wondered if there might be a photograph of the town in its prime.
He laughed at that and said it was never much of a town and had been dead “for at least 75 years.” He indicated three of the four corners of the intersection and pointed to each in turn, saying there was the gin, there the school, and there the store. That was it. He could not remember a time when there had been a post office.
With that, he jammed the tractor back into gear and lumbered away. I took a few photographs of the empty spaces and then headed south. I had an appointment in Mineral Wells.
Back home, I found the photo below at ancestry.com. The poster says it is W. A. Eakin’s store at Petersburg, sometime before 1899. If anyone out there in the blogosphere has a better photo of the place, I’d sure appreciate a copy.