Thursday, January 19, 2017

Oklahoma History: Fort Washita, The Loss of a Historic Icon

Perspective of Fort Washita, Oklahoma Historical Society


By Alanna Radle Rodriguez



In 1830, the Indian Removal Act was enacted, and by 1842, most of the eastern tribes were relocated from the eastern U.S. to the Indian Territory. Some went willing, some were forced. These instances of forced relocation have been referred to as the “Trail of Tears”. There was one “Trail of Tears” for each Eastern Tribe. In an effort to protect the safety and security of the southwest border of pre-Texas United States, Fort Washita was established.
  
Entry to Fort Washita, Courtesy of Legends of America


Let me give you a quick refresher of American history. The Louisiana Purchase happened in 1803, and Lewis & Clark explored the vast majority of the newly purchased territory. They had gotten some of their bearings off, and accidentally categorized most of what would become the state of Oklahoma as mostly a desert. Then fast forward approximately 20 or 30 years, and with the relocation policy enacted by President Jackson, fears mounted that most of the tribes would mount a revolt after sending them into what was thought to be at best an arid desert, thinking it was much like Little Sahara in the northwest corner of Oklahoma that Lewis and Clarke mistakenly surveyed.



The relocation of the tribes also allowed the opportunity for certain enterprising individuals to provide themselves with a steady stream of slaves. The Chickasaws, in particular, were considered a peaceable people, and there were fears that they would be captured or enslaved. To alleviate some of the fears, President Taylor authorized a fort to be built at the location of 1.5 miles east of the Washita River, and 18 miles north of the Red River, or about 12 miles northwest of current day Durant, Oklahoma.


A map of the old fort for visitors, Courtesy of The Fat Okie
Roughly around 1842, Captain George Blake, the original commander of Fort Washita, started construction of the original fort. Initially, it housed only the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. It was just a simple palisade, and tent city. After 15 years of continual construction, however, it ended up including a stone barracks, hospital, surgeon’s quarters, bowling alley, bar, library, and a building housing a newspaper.  During its use as a fort, it housed dragoons, infantry, and artillery units.



The remains of the stone shell of the West Barracks and the wooden two-story South Barracks. Notice you can see the top of the fireplace in the middle of the South Barracks, Courtsey of Civil War Talk

During the American-Mexican War 1846-48, the fort was used as a rest stop for the northern troops marching south on their way to Mexico. During the 1850’s, Ft. Washita was one of several stopover points for many of the caravans going down the California Road to the gold mines in the “Bay Area” from Fort Smith, Arkansas. It served, also, as a place for the wagon trains to gain a guide to show them the route through the rough-and-tumble area known as “Hell’s Fringe.”



The fort continued as a popular stopover until the beginning of the War Between the States. Fort Washita was consistently manned by Federal troops until May 1st, 1861. Colonel Emory abandoned the fort with his men to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, being pursued by 4000 Texas militia. The abandoned fort was then taken control of by Confederate troops on May 2nd 1861, where it was used as headquarters during the remainder of the war. After the ending of hostilities of the war, the fort sat abandoned until the property was transferred from the Department of the Army, to the Department of the Interior in 1870, which then turned the property over to the Chickasaw Nation. It was allotted to one of the more prominent families in 1906 then sold to the state of Oklahoma in 1962.


The heartbreaking loss of the South Barracks in 2010, Courtesy of Legends of America
After its purchase, it was renovated and maintained until most of the property was destroyed by a fire in 2010. In fact, the only building reportedly left after the 2010 fire was the ruined remains of the stone barracks built in 1857. In 2016, the state of Oklahoma sold the site back to the Chickasaw Nation for an undisclosed amount. There has been discussion that once the fort has moved back to the Chickasaw Nation, the site might be closed.


Fire eating at history, Courtesy of Lakewood Fire Department

The remains of the West Barracks and the stone foundation of the South Barracks with the large fireplace in middle, Courtesy of Chickasaw Country


If you ask any reenactor or living historian in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas who has stayed at or even been to the site, they will be able to relate to you their fond memories and impact the historic location has had on their lives. There is a yearly reenactment that takes place at the site, which depicts one of the battles that took place there during the War Between the States. Trust me, coming from a reenactor, if you ever get the chance to stop by the old historic fort, it will definitely be worth the visit. But don’t wait too long to go!


Closeup of the South Barracks Fireplace, Courtesy of the Trip Advisor     


Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Alanna loves the history of the state and relishes in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna lives with her husband and parents in the Edmond area. She is currently working on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Waterloo, Oklahoma.

Facebook.com/AlannaRadleRodriguez
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3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great history lesson.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Chappydebbie! Glad you liked it!

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  2. A sad time in history when great historical buildings and landmarks are destroyed. Thank you for sharing this insight history of Oklahoma.

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