Friday, July 22, 2022

Horse Apples & Osage Oranges by Zina Abbott

I suspect many of you are aware of the expression that it is like comparing apples to oranges. As part of my research for Joshua’s Bride, set partially in the old Cherokee Outlet of what is now Oklahoma, I found a fruit that is both neither and both.

My adventure began when I needed a quarter section of property in the Outlet for my heroine, Rose Calloway, to claim. You see, she did not intend to claim land during the 1893 land run. However, her sister, Marigold, did. Marigold wanted a town plot in the Ponca City Township being formed along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe rail line that already ran through the Cherokee Outlet. Since the sisters had a little money set aside, Marigold insisted Rose register for a certificate so the two of them could stay together. Marigold also decided they would ride the train.

Cattle cars full of land seekers behind locomotive

All well and good, except when the sisters prepared to board the train, they discovered the seats in the passenger coaches were already full—not with others running for land, but gawkers.


You see, life in the 1890s must have been rather dull. Events such that this land run were high excitement. Sitting in the comfort of railroad passenger coaches while watching the idiots running, racing their horses, driving their wagons to the point many animals stumbled and wagons crashed – people getting run over –people and animals getting injured or killed, that was fun. Then, there were those who shot and killed to take land claimed by others. Some were burned to death by those who set prairie fires to burn out legitimate claimants—all so they could claim the land themselves. For those spectators in the passenger cars merely along for the ride, it was like watching a fast-moving video game or the block-buster action-packed adventure movie of the century. The difference was, there were no stunt actors – it all happened to real people.

So, by the time those, like my two sisters, prepared to board the train to find land to claim, they could either climb on top of the passenger cars and ride up there, or get into the open-air cattle pen cars the rail line had so considerately provided.

The sisters ended up in a cattle car. To keep the run “fair” for those on horseback, the rules forbade the trains to travel over fifteen miles per hour. The trains were  to slow occasionally to allow those who wished to leave to get off. All well and good until Rose, pinned against the fence next to the gate, was accidentally pushed off the train by one of the men who wished to exit. Some who jumped from the train were injured. Rose temporarily had the wind knocked out of her. Through the tumult she heard her sister yell, “Run for land.”

Rose was on the wrong side of the train to run to the Arkansas River to the east. Instead, she saw a line of trees in the distance to the west. Trees meant there was water close by. She took off running.

Here is my journey for finding her creek. 

On an 1890 map of the region, I found an unnamed creek running north to south just to the west of the railroad tracks. I searched Google Maps. Changing it to terrain mode and bringing it in close, I found a creek about two miles west of what is today Ponca City. I found a quarter section of land for Rose. (Google Maps very considerately takes its images so that it shows the quarter sections blocked off when viewing the map.) Her quarter section included the creek and had a thick band of foliage growing on each bank. The creek was named the name:  Bois d’ Arc.

Never heard of it.

What does Bois d’ Arc mean?

And, what in the midst of all that flat grassland of Oklahoma was that dark border of foliage that followed the creek?

Hop – hop –  jump! Down the research rabbit hole.

Bois d’ Arc is a name given to the tree by French trappers because they learned the native tribes used the tough wood to make their bows.  

Other names for this tree are Osage Orange, Bow Wood, Bodark, Hedge Apple, and Horse Apple. It is now found across the United States. Originally, this tree’s range was largely restricted to the southern Great Plains of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. It is a small to medium-sized dioecious tree, meaning male and female flowers occur on separate trees.

The trees that bear the large, green, round fruits are female. Both male and female plants have thorny branches, pointed, ovate leaves, very hard wood, and white, milky sap.


The tree is a member of the mulberry family. When immature, it is covered with inch-long thorns. It bears a round fruit that looks similar to an orange without a rind. The first tree that Lewis and Clark sent from St. Louis to the East was the “Osage Apple,” which the French trader, Pierre Chouteau, obtained from the Osage Indians three hundred miles to the south and west. Thomas Nuttall, a philanthropist and printer who was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science, was the first botanist to explore Arkansas. He gave the tree its scientific name.


In the 1840s, the time before barbed wire, the idea of hedge row plantings as a living fence became popular. The thorny Horse Apple/Osage Orange tree was an obvious choice. Closely-planted Bois d’ Arc trees created a hedge that kept cattle in an unwanted persons out.

 In his 1858 book, "Hedges and Evergreens," John Warden writes from Cincinnati that "It is no longer a matter of experiment, whether the Osage Orange will make a fence or not. It is a proved fact that ... a hedge can be grown in four years, so compact that no kind of stock can pass it."

 In 1855, 1, 000 bushels of seeds of Osage Orange seeds were shipped from Texas and Arkansas to Illinois for as much as $50 per bushel.

Bois d' Arc Tree in Autumn

The hedging movement became less popular with the increased use of barbed wire. However the wire still needed posts, and the trees were used for that.


In Joshua’s Bride, I wrote under the assumption that the Bois d’ Arc tree that gave the creek its name was the plant that crowded both sides of its banks. This book, the first in the Land Run Mail Order Brides, is available. Please find the book description and purchase options by CLICKING HERE.









Alicia Haney said...

Wow,this is so very interesting Zina, I really enjoyed it and I learned alot, thank you so much for sharing this. Have a great weekend. aliiabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

Julie Lence said...

Interesting blog, Zina. Loved hearing about the land rush and those on the trains. That part I never knew. Thanks for sharing about that and the fruit. Hugs!

GiniRifkin said...

HI what a wonderful post, great info. Your Land Run Mail Order Brides series sounds interesting and fun (and well researched!)

Melissa said...

Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

ginabishop0404 said...

Interesting fact about Osage Orange, the fruit was used by farmers and other homesteaders as pest control. The fruit oozes a sticky goo that detracts bugs and other insects so they were rolled under the homes and porches of the homesteaders. I learned this when renovating a pre-civil war home and we had to cut an osage orange tree down because of city code requirements and the tree dated back to pre-civil war according to our local extension office. The wood when freshly cut is bright yellow like a crayon and is extremely hard. I decided I wanted my fireplace mantel to be made from this tree and had to replace the sawmills large blade (around $450) because it broke while cutting the mantle piece. I love my mantle and it dried a beautiful shade, it has been in my home now for 20 years.

ginabishop0404 said...

Also, I loved the book and read it in one sitting it was so good, Thank you!!!