HINTON, OKLAHOMA — If home is off the highway or down an old road.
Even if Oklahoma is a drive through or a fly over, there are sign posts that remain long after the path changes.
Historian Art Peters walks the old California Trail often enough to have found the wagon ruts and to have dug up the trash from a roadside that saw settlers between Fort Smith, Arkansas and the California gold fields.
One of the most famous landmarks from that era is still here, an outcropping of red sandstone named Rock Mary.
Peters says, “They estimate that about 80,000 people or more would have used the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and about the same number would have used this trail.”
In 1849, as the first 500 settlers and a group of Army surveyors moved west, an enterprising and infatuated Lt. raced up this slope with a flag and pronounced it Rock Mary.
He hoped his act would impress this young lady, a doctor’s daughter named Mary Conway.
As more wagons used the trail blazed by the first group, settlers and soldiers alike would often stop here because they remembered the story.
“It became a landmark they didn’t want to miss,” says Peters, “because they wanted to see where this romantic episode happened, and they wanted to carve their name on it.”
Other roads replaced the California Trail at least 150 years ago.
Some people came to assume other, taller mounds nearby had to be Rock Mary until a true historical survey settled the question in 1960.
A plaque is still in place at the summit where that Lieutenant waved his flag in 1849.
Peters laments, “It’s just a rock out on the prairie.”
Rock Mary sits on private property a few miles west of Hinton, Oklahoma.
It’s history and a treasure trove of artifacts un-earthed by Peters are housed at the Hinton Historical Museum.