Each year, the Doan’s Crossing Picnic is held in Wilbarger County north of Vernon. It is the oldest running pioneer celebration in Texas, held the first Saturday in May since 1884. The old settlement of Doan’s Crossing is located about 12 miles north of Vernon close to the intersection of FM 2916 and FM 924, near where the old cattle drives used to cross the Red River. The celebration includes the coronation of a king and queen, country and western music and other activities. For decades the picnic was a gathering place where old timers would tell of the early days in this Red River settlement, passing their stories down to later generations.
The settlement was founded by Jonathan Doan, his brother Calvin and their nephew Corwin F. Doan in 1878. Emma Doan Wheatley was a daughter of Jonathan and Louisa Harlow Doan. Mrs. Wheatley told of having been born in Wilmington, Ohio in 1866. Around 1870, her father and her uncle Calvin Doan headed southwest towards Kansas, following a line of Army posts and settlements of buffalo hunters and trading with them along the way. She also told of seeing an unusual array of northern lights one evening in 1871 and later being told that it was the illumination of the sky from the Great Chicago Fire.
Mrs. Wheatley said her mother had been taken ill after the party was caught in a blizzard on their trip south and her mother later died in 1874 after returning with Emma to Ohio. Emma lived with relatives in Ohio until rejoining her family in Sherman, Texas in September, 1878. By then, her father and uncle had made their way to the Red River area and established a trading post at Doan’s Crossing. Living at Doan’s for many years, Emma recounted having met many notable individuals including Chief Quanah Parker.
The area was far from settled at that time and in 1879, she said that a wagon train had been attacked and burned close to the trading post. They later learned that the Indians, led by an individual known as Sun Dance, could have easily overpowered the two adults and children (including Emma) at the Crossing, but they had thought that the post was more heavily defended by the Doans and a group of buffalo hunters than it actually was. Corwin Doan’s account generally affirms Emma’s and identifies the raiders to have been Kiowas. When she came of age, Emma married a cowboy and moved to the Panhandle but she was always a great source for stories of life in the early days of these settlements in North Texas. She died in 1947 having survived her husband Bob Wheatley by about 20 years.
The first Doan’s picnic was held in 1884 and was a modest affair. It was reported that although the economic prospects were slim, around the trading post it was spring and the native grass was beginning to rise. All the men had gone “up the trail” except for Corwin Doan. The women took some sardines and crackers from the store and coaxed Mr. Doan to join them as they walked up to a nearby grove of trees and had their picnic. Every year since 1884, the Doans repeated the tradition until the Doan family had all passed on or moved away. Since then, the tradition has been continued with various entities having sponsored and funded it.
A typical picnic was to be held in 1939, sponsored by the Wilbarger County Pioneers Association. A newspaper account said that they anticipated an attendance of 5,000 from Oklahoma and Texas. They expected the ceremony to be opened by the traditional firing of guns pointed to the sky. The organizers announced that there would be free barbecue for the old timers, a coronation ball for the king and queen at the Wilbarger Hotel in Vernon on Saturday night and a religious service on Sunday. Entertainment included singing by the Wilbarger County Singing Convention and they expected representatives from the Comanche and other tribes, including Quanah Parker’s son Baldwin, to attend during the weekend. The account added that this year there were to be no political speeches, since it was not an election year. No doubt, this was as welcome a relief in 1939 as it would be these days.
During the days of open range and cattle drives it is estimated that somewhere between 3 and 6 million head of cattle crossed the Red River at Doan’s Crossing. There is now only one building remaining from the earliest structures, a small rectangular adobe structure thought to date back to 1881. A Texas historical marker commemorates the building and tells some of the history of the settlement. There is also a stone monument engraved with the ranch names and cattle brands of pioneers who crossed at Doan’s during the era of the cattle drive. The Red River Valley Museum in nearby Vernon includes an exhibit setting out the history of the trading post and the families who established it. Jonathan Doan, Corwin Doan and at least about a dozen other family members are interred at Eastview Memorial Park, just outside Vernon on Highway 287.
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