In 1873, after the Cherokee orphans had been cared for at Tahlequah for several years, the Cherokee Nation purchased the large three story brick and stone home and farm of Louis Ross, a Cherokee citizen, located in the eastern part of Mayes County, adjoining the present town of Salina, and converted it into a home for Cherokee orphans. In 1875, the large Ross mansion was enlarged and the school was prepared to care for one hundred or more orphans. This home was admirably adapted for the purpose to which it was dedicated. The farm consisted of about three hundred acres of land, approximately one-half of which was fertile bottom land, the other half consisted of timber and pasture land. Horses, cattle and hogs were raised, and the bottom land produced abundant crops of corn, oats and wheat. The timber land furnished fuel for the home, fencing and lumber for the improvement of the farm. Everlasting springs of pure water bubbled out of the nearby hillside, furnishing an abundant supply of pure water for the home and livestock

For nearly a third of a century the Cherokees cheerfully supported this institution entirely from their own tribal funds, expending annually about twelve thousand five hundred dollars for the support of about one hundred and fifty of their orphan boys and girls, but on the 17th day of November, 1903, the entire home, including the original building and the three wings which had been added was destroyed by fire. The fire occurred at noon, causing no loss of life as all 146 children were saved but consuming almost the entire contents of the building. About fifty of the orphans were transferred to the Whitaker Home at Pryor Creek and the others were cared for at Tahlequah. The orphan home, or asylum, as it was called, was never rebuilt, and a mound of old brick was all that was left to remind the Cherokees of their historic home, which for thirty years was one of the institutions in which they manifested special pride. That pile of brick and stone can still be seen today as it is the foundation on the old gymnasium in Salina. A plaque on the building is dedicated to the stones and states their use.


Early pioneers faced innumerable hazards as they traveled westward, not the least of which were river crossings. Most attempted to schedule their journeys in more moderate weather during the summer or fall, but even the best laid plans usually were foiled at some point. Today, travelers utilize modern bridges and as we pass over the swirling waters of any river, particularly at flood stage, we should reflect in wonderment at the courage of our predecessors. The Grand River was no exception, capturing enormous amounts of rainfall as it drained more than 10,000 square miles of water through eastern Kansas and western Missouri before it funneled through the valley of north-eastern Oklahoma.

When Jean Pierre Chouteau floated down the Grand River in search of a trading post site, he took time to look for a shallow rocky crossing which, after two days, he located at today’s Salina. But pioneers anxious to reach a distant destination in the west were eager to cross the water barrier and move on. So ferry entrepreneurs along the Grand River Valley capitalized on their urgency, as well as the rivers, by providing a much needed service and an income for themselves. Ferries were not elaborate structures. Most were logs with planks laid over them and guard rails on the side.The most reliable were run by a cable strung across the river, which was attached to a windlass to pull them back and forth.More primitive rafts were simply propelled by pike poles. Fees varied depending on what was transported. In early years, individuals were charged 5 cents each and horses 25 cents, but a team of oxen cost $2 because of their stubborn nature in loading and unloading. Occasionally, the ferry owner would trade for produce

Mayes County ferry service was provided by the Riley and Lewis families across the Grand River now inundated by Lake Hudson and further south by the Markham family, early pioneers in the 1840’s. The area they farmed near the Grand River became known as Markham’s Prairie because, in addition to the ranch, the Markham’s had a general store and shortly thereafter added a ferry service located on the southwest end of Lake Hudson on a gentle slope along the Grand River.

The Markham Ferry was located on an important trade route for farm families. However, unlike other ferries long forgotten, in 1962 more than 120 years later the Markham Ferry name would be preserved by the United States Corps of Engineers, which approved construction of Kerr Dam while referring to the location as The Markham Ferry Project.

In 1906 the Cherokee Chief, Samuel Houston Mayes established a ferry and mercantile business on the Grand River.

Just as many small businesses that serve a contemporary service, ferries were initiated then disappeared, some due to floods resulting in destruction of the raft and eventually all to the construction of bridges. But for the time they were in existence, ferries were a welcome site to weary travelers and a viable income for their proprietors.