Kemp, I. T., Oklahoma

and the Ferry


    Kemp Family Cemetery is located “in a pasture” on the northwest bank of the river, opposite Mulberry. Among the names on existing stones is Jackson Kilpatrick Kemp (1844-1910), son of a famous father (of the same name) for whom the town of Kemp was named.

    One William Kemp was a trader among the Chickasaw Indians in Mississippi from 1766 to ‘87 when he was killed by Creek Indians. Among his three sons Levi was “learning to read and other good things” in May 1799. Levi owned an inn on the Natchez Trace from 1815 to ‘21. In July ‘36 and September ‘37 he sold his land and, with wife Polly (Frazier), left on the steamboat “Fox.” He died soon after, leaving to his wife “many slaves.” As background for this personal history, A. W. Neville wrote for the Paris News:

    Removal of twelve thousand Choctaw Indians from Mississippi and Alabama to the lands given in exchange for their original area was a masterpiece of bungling in a physical sense. The original intention was to bring them from Memphis and Vicksburg in steamboats up the Arkansas and Red Rivers. When the emigrants were being gathered for these embarkation points a Washington bureau decided it would be cheaper to transport them all the way by wagons, despite the fact that there were no roads fit for travel. Also it was offered that Indians who walked all the way would be fed along the route and given $10 each in cash. The wagons broke down along the road and the result was that those who survived the “Trail of Tears” arrived footsore and hungry, leaving many dead and buried on the way.

    Jackson Kilpatrick Kemp (Levi’s son) was an interpreter for the Chickasaw agency in western Alabama in the 1830s. He was one of three hundred Indians (presumably with his brother Joel) who arrived at Doaksville, a village near Fort Towson in Indian Territory, on December 22, 1838. The 1839 census shows this Jackson Kemp as the owner of 52 slaves, 17 horses, 90 cattle, 200 hogs, 47 sheep, 1 wagon and 1 “pleasure carriage.”

    Joel Kemp and Maria Colbert were the first couple to be married at Doaksville. They settled on Red River, operated a ferry and raised cattle. Their home was “a large log house in a park-like setting.” The family cemetery is “about three hundred yards from where the home stood.” During the Civil War, Joel was “captain.” He died in 1874, aged “about 55 years.” Maria died in 1867, “about 45 years.”


Formerly Known As Black’s Ferry

    The undersigned having lately completed a new and splendid Boat, would respectfully solicit the Custom of the traveling community generally.

    This well known Ferry is North of Fannin County, Texas [Fort Warren], and on the road leading into the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, is on the most direct route from Missouri and the North Western States into Texas, it is by far the best road through the bottom, and decidedly the best crossing on Red River.

    The charges for ferrying are cheaper than any other, with a polite and trusty Ferryman always in attendance.

    By Capt. Joel Kemp.  July 18, 1855  [in Northern Standard]

    Joel and Maria Kemp had several children; one was Joel Carr, born in 1855, the year the captain announced his “new and splendid boat.” This Joel was named for J. H. Carr, the Methodist missionary who founded Bloomfield Academy for Indian girls near present-day Kemp in 1852.


    [Neville]  When Mr. Carr was instructed to establish a school, the site selected was several miles southeast of the present city of Durant [Oklahoma] and three miles from Red River. He went to the place and his axe struck the first blow to fell the trees for logs with which to build. When he was asked where his mail was to be directed he pointed to the flower-covered ground and said “Bloomfield”... [it] continued as a school intermittently until 1914, when the buildings burned for the third time.... Mr. Carr’s strength of character and resourcefulness were shown when one of his children died. He made her coffin and preached her funeral.

    Joel Carr Kemp (died in 1938) married Elizabeth Minevar Perry (1862-1912). They lived at Kemp’s Ferry Place. “Both were active in civic and educational affairs. All their children received good educations, the girls at Bloomfield.” Elizabeth was “Aunt Toona.”

    The town of Kemp was settled in the 1880s as Warner Springs. People came from all around for the good water, and to wash. Renamed about 1890, it was surveyed in August 1901; town lots were sold in October 1905. “Kemp really boomed for a few years....”

    Fannin County Commissioners’ Court Minutes (in 1879) indicate that “Kemp’s Ferry Road” originated in Mulberry’s bend of the river, and photographs of a “Sunday Excursion” help visualize what a festive crossing to Kemp could be.

     But the location (in 1855) “just north of Ambrose” (and Fort Warren) would have been the more travelled crossing when the first Joel Kemp put his “splendid” boat in service.  Again, from The History of Bryan County, Oklahoma:

    The sites of old ferries... are among the many places of historic interest.... They also are considered early signs of modern civilization. One of the earliest which ranked first in importance in later times, was Rock Bluff Ferry, better known as Colbert’s Ferry.... As the Indian country became more thickly populated, branch trails led off from the main “Texas Trail,” and other ferries were established.... A second trail branched off from the “Texas Trail” near Boggy Depot, which led almost due south to the ferry at Warren Crossing, now commonly known as Carpenter’s Bluff....

    [Neville] The first wagon bridge across the river was built by B. F. Colbert, a well-to-do Indian who lived north of Denison in the Territory. He had a ferry before the railroad came, which he operated until 1875, when his wagon bridge was completed at a cost of $40,000. It was 577 feet long and 16 feet wide, with a 24-foot turnout for passing in the middle of the bridge. It was built below the railroad bridge and on the site of the ferry. In May, 1876, there was a flood in Red River that washed out both bridges, and until the railroad bridge (pictured) was rebuilt passengers and freight had to go over on a ferry to the train on the north side. Colbert operated his ferry 22 years before he built his bridge, and a barrel set on a sled stood at the north side into which the silver dollars were pitched by people who crossed.... Although there were other ferries near Denison, the Colbert Ferry, in 1872 brought 19,000 wagons into Texas, besides horsemen and foot travelers.

    Joe C. Kemp and Simon Kemp were granted charters by the Chickasaw legislature to operate ferries across Red River for periods ranging from five to ten years between 1876 to ‘98. The 1879 Fannin County reference to “Old Kemp’s Ferry Crossing” used the familiar name of the older site near Fort Warren for a location east of Kemp where a road in the river bottom on the Texas side approached Mulberry from the north.

     J. W. Connlee’s “Trip to Yarnaby” in Indian Territory cites Mulberry, the ferry, and a “Mr. Davis,” or E. T. Davidson.