Friday, July 1, 2022

Fort Gibson, Oklahoma by Zina Abbott


I have read about and visited Fort Smith, Arkansas, which is just across the river from Oklahoma. I knew it played a large role in overseeing law and order within Indian Territory and, later, Oklahoma Territory. Fort Gibson, I discovered, was also right in the thick of things during much of early Indian Territory history.

In 1824, several years after the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase but prior to the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from east of the Mississippi River, marked the beginning of Fort Gibson. 

Colonel Matthew Arbuckle, who commanded the 7th Infantry Regiment (United States) from Fort Smith, Arkansas, moved some of his troops to establish Cantonment Gibson on 21 April 1824.  When it was constructed, the fort was farther west than any other military post in the United States. It formed part of the north–south chain of forts that was intended to maintain peace on the western frontier.

The US Army named the fort for Colonel (later General) George Gibson, Commissary General of Subsistence. It is located next to the modern city of Fort Gibson in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, where the three forks of the Arkansas, Verdigris, and Grand Rivers converge south of the Ozark Plateau. It was part of a series of forts established by the United States to protect its western border. It was part of a series of forts which the United States established to protect its western border and the land of the Louisiana Purchase. The troops constructed a stockade, barracks, other facilities, and roads. The fort provided the earliest known weather records in Oklahoma thanks to the post surgeon who began taking meteorological observations in 1824. It also served as a starting point for several military expeditions that explored the West.

The fort also served as an outpost on the Texas Road connecting settled Missouri with the new country of Mexico after it declared its independence from Spain in 1821. During the Texas Revolution against the weak Mexican government, the Army sent most of the troops stationed at Fort Gibson to the Texas border region.


Map of traditional Osage lands since 1700s

The Army designated the cantonment as Fort Gibson in 1832, reflecting its change from a temporary outpost to a semi-permanent garrison. Soldiers at Fort Gibson increasingly dealt with Indians removed from the eastern states to Indian Territory by being called upon to keep the peace between the indigenous Osages and Cherokees. When the Cherokees were first removed from North Carolina, the first bands to arrive were given land right in the middle of traditional Osage territory. The Osage did not accept the incursion well. The newcomers, not happy about being forced to leave their traditional homeland, complained about hostility from the Osage Nation and other Plains Indian tribes indigenous to the region.

Fort Gibson Commanding Officer Quarters

The fort figured prominently in the Indian removals. At the height of Indian removal in the 1830s, the garrison at Fort Gibson ranked as the largest in the nation. Notable American soldiers stationed at (or at least visiting) Fort Gibson include Stephen W. Kearny, Robert E. Lee, and Zachary Taylor. The Army stationed Jefferson Davis and more than 100 West Point cadets at the fort. The Army also assigned Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, to the post. After leaving Tennessee, Sam Houston owned a trading post in the area before later moving to Texas.


Originally assigned Five Civilized tribes Indian Territory

At a bitterly contentious meeting at Fort Gibson in 1836, the majority faction of the Muscogee (Creek) reluctantly accepted the existing tribal government under the leadership of Chilly McIntosh, son of William McIntosh, and his faction. Colonel Arbuckle tried to prevent intratribal strife within the Cherokee, but Chief John Ross and his followers refused to acknowledge the government that earlier "Old Settlers" had established in Indian Territory. After suing for peace in the Florida Seminole Wars against the United States Army, many of the Seminole, dispirited and about their defeat, arrived in Indian Territory. Officials at Fort Gibson managed to prevent bloodshed and disunity among them.

When Colonel Arbuckle left Fort Gibson in 1841, he reported that despite the arrival of 40,000 eastern disgruntled Native Americans, "I have maintained peace on this frontier and at no period have the Whites on our border or the Red people of this frontier been in a more perfect state of quiet and Security than they enjoy now." The removed Native American nations gradually lost their desire for American military protection.


Postcard of reconstructed Fort Gibson

Fort Gibson was occupied through most of the Indian removal period, but then abandoned in 1857. This came about when, in the 1850s, the Cherokee complained about the liquor and brothels at Fort Gibson. In an effort to prevent the sale of alcohol to their people, they urged Congress to close Fort Gibson. The War Department honored their request.

The fort was reactivated during the Civil War. It was renamed Fort Blunt and served as the Union headquarters in Indian Territory. The army stayed through the Reconstruction and Indian Wars periods, combating the problem of outlaws and squatters.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas RR, also known as the Katy

In 1872 the Tenth Cavalry reoccupied Fort Gibson. Soon after, workers were sent to the area to build the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad from Baxter Springs—the first Kansas "cow town"— to the Red River crossing at Colbert's Ferry, which was in Indian Territory, along the Texas border. The railroad improved transportation of cattle and beef to the east as well as shipping of goods from that area to the West. The cavalry from Fort Gibson was used to police the camps of local workers. Soldiers also tried to manage threats from outlaws, white encroachment on Indian lands, intra-tribal disputes, and other issues. The size of the garrison varied with the workload.

The Kansas and Arkansas Valley Railway built track through the area in 1888, and the town of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma began to develop. In the summer of 1890, the Army abandoned the military post of Fort Gibson, this time for good, although troops occasionally camped at the site when unrest brought them to the town of Fort Gibson. Eventually, the civilian town expanded into the former military grounds of the fort.


Fort Gibson Barracks -photo taken 1934

Fort Gibson was active on and off from 1824 to 1888. The fort succeeded in its peacekeeping mission for more than 50 years, as no massacres or battles occurred there. Abandoned in 1890, the fort was later the headquarters of the Dawes Commission which was tasked with enrolling members of the Five Tribes, particularly the Cherokee Freedmen.


My most recently published book is Joshua’s Bride, the first book in the Land Run Mail Order Brides series set in Oklahoma Territory about the same time Fort Gibson ended its service as a fort in Indian Territory. Although on opposite sides of the current state of Oklahoma, it has been interesting to learn more about the early history.

To find the book description and purchase options for my book, please CLICK HERE






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