Cimarron River

The Cimarron River is a tributary of the Arkansas. It extends over 698 miles across four states states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas). The headwaters flow from Johnson Mesa west of Folsom in northeastern New Mexico. The river enters the Oklahoma Panhandle near Kenton, then crosses the southeastern corner of Colorado where it flows into Kansas. It then re-enters the Oklahoma Panhandle, again into Kansas, and finally back into Oklahoma where it flows into the Arkansas River at Keystone Reservoir above Tulsa, Oklahoma.


The river's name comes from the early Spanish name, Río de los Carneros Cimarrón, which is usually translated as River of the Wild Sheep. Early American explorers also called it the Red Fork of the Arkansas because of water's red color.

In New Mexico the river is known as the Dry Cimarron River. The river is not completely dry but sometimes disappears entirely under the sand in the river bed. The Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway follows the river from Folsom to the Oklahoma border. In Oklahoma the river flows along the southern edges of Black Mesa, the highest point in that state. As it first crosses the Kansas border, the river flows through the Cimarron National Grassland.

Historical notes of interest
Historically, the Santa Fe Trail branched southward from the Arkansas to the Cimarron. One branch was known as the Cimarron Cutoff, and another, the Aubry Cutoff. The lack of water along the Cimarron Cutoff route from the Arkansas to the Cimarron led American traders and travelers to call the area the "Cimarron Desert". Mexican traders called it the "Jornada del Muerte" (Journey of Death).

In 1831 Commanche Indians killed Jedediah Smith (a famous hunter, trapper, and explorer) on the Santa Fe Trail near the Cimarron River. His body was never recovered.

In 1834 General Henry Leavenworth established Camp Arbuckle (Fort Arbuckle) at the mouth of the Cimarron River.
Historic sites along the river include the ruins of Camp Nichols, a stone fort built by Kit Carson in 1865 to protect travelers from Indian raiders on the Cimarron Cutoff. It was located near present day town of Wheeless, Oklahoma.

The old Chisholm Trail crossed the river at Red Fork Station near present day Dover, Oklahoma.

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