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Little River Bridge (possibly on piers of 1859 Beale Bridge)


Little River bridge

Abandoned 1909 Pratt thru truss bridge over dry oxbow of Little River.

Photo taken by Jack Smith in December 2009


BH Photo #291686

Located near historic location of Edwards Trading Post. 

Written by Gene McCluney

This bridge sits in the middle of 4 groups of private property and is not really viewable to the public. Please don't trespass. This abandoned 1909 Pratt Thru-truss single-span bridge on stone piers crosses a dry oxbow of the Little River in Hughes county, Oklahoma. Research leads us to believe it "may" have been at or near the location of a circa 1859 Beale Road Iron bridge (military bridge), which was one of six locations in Eastern Oklahoma, that Whipple patent Iron bridges were constructed along the route of the Beale Road. This existing abandoned bridge is very near the site of Edwards Trading Post, which was active from the 1830's thru the 1870's, The Beale Road was surveyed and constructed ending in about 1859, as a major wagon route to California. It started in Fort Smith, Arkansas and south of Fort Smith crossed the Poteau river and ran West to California.

The attached newspaper photo/story says the 1909 bridges are being built on "concrete and steel" piers. To me this suggests, considering it is 1909, Lally Columns, which were riveted steel cylinders packed with rubble and concrete. An inexpensive method of construction. This bridge is on Stone piers, it is 100ft in length. The original 1859 Beale Road bridge across Little River was on Stone piers and was 100ft in length. This suggests to me that the original 1859 piers "might" have been refurbished and used, possibly enlarged. The mortar looks to me to be just external, as a way to seal things, and could have been added any time between 1909 and 1948. We do know that all the 1859 Beale Road Iron bridges (6 in all) were erected on masonry stone piers. Given that both the original 1859 Whipple patent Bowstring bridge and this 1909 Pratt thru-truss bridge are 100ft. in length, and the 1909 bridge is on stone piers that would be correct for the older bridge, and given that it appears to be located in the correct location of the original Beale Road bridge of 1859, it is easy to surmise the piers were reused.


Abandoned pratt through truss bridge over Dry Oxbow formerly Little River
Near Holdenville, Hughes County, Oklahoma
Built 1909, abandoned circa 1948 due to flood changing course of river.
Pratt through truss
Span length: 100.0 ft.
Total length: 100.0 ft.
Inventory number
BH 62611 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • September 2, 2014: Updated by Gene McCluney: More historical data has surfaced
  • August 21, 2014: Essay added by Gene McCluney



Little River Bridge (possibly on piers of 1859 Beale Bridge)
Posted March 4, 2020, by Carroll Messer (cj [dot] messer [at] att [dot] net)

Who was the "Wanderer" who wrote about his personal observations of the construction of Beale's Little River Bridge in 1859? He later became:

1. A VIP correspondent who sat nearby on the stage as President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address in 1863. He was the first person to interview President Lincoln after giving his address.

2. President U. S. Grant personally invited him to go with the President on Grant's World Tour and write about it, and he did.

3. He later became the 7th Librarian of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

The Wanderer was-- John Russell Young

Little River Bridge (possibly on piers of 1859 Beale Bridge)
Posted February 6, 2019, by Carroll Messer (cj [dot] messer [at] att [dot] net)

A newspaper correspondent (The Wanderer) of the Philadelphia Press visited the construction of the Beale Wagon Road in Indian Territory during the Summer and Fall of 1859. He visited the Little River iron bridge site twice, around Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, 1859, as he rode out from Fort Smith thru Indian Territory and returned. He saw the bridge in early construction and nearing completion (only the wood flooring remained to be added). He wrote:

“The Little River bridge is a beautiful structure. It crosses the river at the narrowest part. The banks are very high, and it leaps from the solid masonry close to one, to the other, with a spring as airy and as light as the skip of a fairy.

One arch of iron was stretched, and then they (the Indians) laughed—"Ha! ha! It t’aint wide enough for our ponies "—those (Indians), who had never seen a bridge, deeming the (single) arch was the bridge.

Now (on his return) both arches are up, and the roadways are levelled to the road-way of the bridge, the structure excites unbounded admiration.”

Thus, we see that: (1) the support masonry piers were located away from the steep river banks (as are seen today at Little River; (2) two iron arches hold up the bridge; (3) each arch is individually free standing on its two support masonry piers (as Whipple arches were); (4) the assembled bridge is a beautiful structure (as Whipple arch bridges were frequently noted to be).

The bridge was not a Whipple-Murphy frame-truss bridge, but has a visibly curved cast-iron arch, wider at the ends than at the top, connected to the river banks by near-horizontal ramps.

Little River Bridge
Posted September 2, 2014, by Jack Beale Smith (bealroad50 [at] msn [dot] com)

I have spent over 40 years researching the Beale Wagon Road that went from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Los Angeles, California. This road was the Southwest's first federally funded interstate highway. being built between the years 1857-1860. The Beale Bridges were built during the years 1859-1860. The total cost of the road and bridges was $285,000. The Beale Road has been marked with historic signs through the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma is being signed at present. Gene has been of great assistance to me in my research on the Beale Bridges. Jack Beale Smith. The photos of the 1909 bridge were taken by Mike Shockley of Holdenville, Oklahoma.