DEXTER — Hal Dick turned 90 years old on Friday — he is a former resident of Delaware Bend still living — one of the last.
Much of Delaware Bend was claimed by Lake Texoma in the early 1940s and families were relocated off the land.
Hal now lives on a ranch in Dexter, about 10 miles south of the Bend.
He was a long-time teacher in Cooke County and taught school in Slidell, Callisburg, Gainesville and Era. On Friday his phone continually rang with well wishers.
He will tell you that some of the richest farmland around was in Delaware Bend and now lies beneath the lake.
His father, Jule Richard “Tort” Dick grew cotton on land in the Bend. When Hal was a young boy he picked cotton and could pick a bale of cotton in a week. That was how he was able to afford to go to town.
“The only way to go to town was with a load of cotton,” Hal said. “We went to Whitesboro to the cotton gin to sell the cotton, then with the money we’d go shopping.”
There was a bridge on the main road from Whitesboro to Dexter to the Delaware Bend Ferry on the Red River and nearby town of Orlena. It was located on property settled by James G. Bourland in the 1850s.
Hal would have traveled across the Bourland Bridge before it was washed out when he was 11 years old.
The concrete abutment on the north bank is still intact along with the approach road with local stone retaining wall. The south concrete abutment has collapsed and the approach road and retaining wall are scattered in the creek bed.
The road began on the prairie, up on higher ground, then crossed Bourland Bridge and the dipping vats (concrete pits that cattle were chased through for insect control).
The road meandered on down past small farms and houses. Then it continued past more houses, some businesses, and finally to the ferry and the river, where it ended. The road was several miles long and went through the heavily populated area of Delaware Bend before Lake Texoma was constructed. Today, very few families live in the area.
Orlena was another name for Delaware Bend. And the main road through the upper bottoms was Orlena Road.
Hal has many stories to tell about the Delaware Bend Ferry.
“Bonnie and Clyde rode across the ferry,” Hal said.
The story goes, they were on their way to rob the Marietta, Okla. bank, but were deterred because bank security was more than what they expected. An armed guard was in the bank.
The ferryman, Walter Swadlenak, was teased about not capturing the pair of notorious bank robbers.
“He said he was afraid they’d shoot him,” Hal said.
The ferry was well used as people traveled to Marrietta, Okla., which was the closest town located right across the river and some of the best dances were held there.
The Bend was originally a Native American settlement before white settlers arrived in the 1840s. Trading posts were built and military roads connected the various settlements. Men led expeditions to control raids on the settlers that included Col. Young, who served as a U.S. Marshall for a term and Col. James Bourland, military commander for the Confederacy. Young and Bourland are best known for their participation in events that led to the “Great Hanging” in Gainesville. James Bourland’s son, W.W. Bourland died in 1907. He is buried close to the Bourland Bridge that is now overgrown with trees, weeds and brambles.
Eventually the Indians were pushed north across the river into Indian Territory and the area increased in population. Outlaws ranged through the area and could escape any law enforcement by crossing the river into Indian Territory.
There are stories that the notorious James brothers had a hideout in the Bend and would give local boys fifty cents to watch out for posses.
Charles Quantrill, the guerilla chieftain of the south, was a familiar sight around Delaware Bend.
Hal’s great-grandfather, Rube Dick settled in the Bend sometime after the Civil War. Handed down through the family are stories of buffalo crossing the Red River at the low river crossing. Area ranchers would drive cattle to the river once a day for water, because there were no hand dug ponds.
The process was still done when Hal was a young boy. “We owned a mile strip along the river and ranchers would drive their cattle to the river to drink everyday between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. There’d be about 200 head at a time.” He said the cattle had to be closely watched to be sure they did not get stuck in the mud. “You had to know how to watch for it,” Hal said.
“It’s gone now, Delaware Bend, but I remember,” Hal said.