Sunday, February 19, 2017

Oklahoma History: Fort Gibson

Fort Gibson Entrance, Wikimeia

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez

After the Louisiana Purchase, there was a series of forts built along the southwestern border of the US with the intent to maintain peace between the US and the tribes. These forts included Fort Towson, Fort Washita, Fort Arbuckle, Fort Sill, Fort Reno, Fort Supply, and Fort Gibson, all of which are in Oklahoma.

In 1824, Fort Gibson was established as the furthest west fort created by the US Army. Colonel Arbuckle of Fort Smith, Arkansas sent troops to the fork of the Arkansas River and formed on April 21st 1824, Cantonment—or temporary post—Gibson. It was named after Colonel George Gibson, who later became Commissary General of Subsistence. In other words, it was named after the commanding general of the groceries. The surgeon of the cantonment immediately started taking meteorological surveys providing the earliest known records of weather for Oklahoma. Colonel Arbuckle also formed Fort Towson approximately 120 miles to the south. 

"Two Log Buildings at Fort Gibson, Dating from 1824
Above--Post Hospital
Below--Post Chapel
Courtesy Chronicles of Oklahoma
Cantonment Gibson kept the border secured between the different tribes and the Arkansas territory, until 1832, when it was designated by the Army as Fort Gibson, showing the change from a temporary outpost to a permanently garrisoned fort. This was in response to the increasing reports and complaints that the Osage were causing trouble with numerous raids. However, soldiers failed to find any tribesman during their initial forays into the territory. It wasn’t until 1834, in an expedition led by General Leavenworth, that the Army was able to make contact with the tribes. Unfortunately, General Leavenworth passed away during the expedition and was replaced by Colonel Dodge.

Map of Fort Gibson, circa 1874
Courtesy The New Buffalo Soldiers
During the Indian removal, Fort Gibson became extremely popular, having become one of the most populated forts in the US. There were quite a few notable people who were stationed at the fort, even for a short time. These names include, Robert E. Lee, Zachary Taylor, Stephen W. Kearny, Nathan Boone, Sam Houston, and Jefferson Davis. How many do you recognize?

Throughout the Texas Revolution, the Army sent most of the troops stationed at Fort Gibson to the Texas border region. Their absence weakened the military power and pacification capacity at Fort Gibson, but the reduced garrison did its job and maintained stability in the region. The fort served as command post for Colonel Arbuckle for numerous treaties between the tribes, as they were continuously in contention.

Colonel Arbuckle left in 1841, reporting that the area was as safe and secure as it ever had been. During the 1840’s and 1850’s, the Cherokee complained bitterly about the sale of alcohol to their people, and in 1857, they convinced the Department of the Army to turn the fort over to them. They established the town of Kee-too-wah on the site of the old fort.

During the War Between the States, Union troops occasionally occupied the post. In the summer of 1862, Union soldiers pushed back a Confederate invasion of Indian Territory. The Union abandoned the fort and withdrew to Kansas. In April 1863, Colonel William A. Phillips of the Union Indian Brigade reoccupied Fort Gibson and kept it in Union hands throughout the remainder of the war. The Confederates never attacked the fort, although an attack on the fort's livestock became known as the Battle of Fort Gibson. Troops under General Blunt marched southward in July 1863, and won the Battle of Honey Springs.

In the summer of 1864, a steamboat came up the Arkansas River with about a thousand barrels of flour and tons of bacon to resupply Union troops at Fort Gibson. Cherokee Gen. Stand Waite, largely cut off from the rest of the Confederacy, didn’t want to sink the boat. He wanted to capture it, along with the food and other supplies on board. The ensuing battle is the only naval battle to have been fought in Oklahoma/Indian Territory history.

Yukon River Steamboats at Fort Gibson, Courtesy Wikimedia
After the Civil War, the Army retained Fort Gibson, transferring most troops elsewhere in 1871, leaving only a detachment responsible for provisions in a quartermaster depot. In 1873, the 10th Dragoons occupied the fort, providing security for the workers completing the railroad, against the increasingly discontent tribes.

In 1890, the fort was abandoned by the US Army for the last time. Troops occasionally camped at the site when unrest brought them to the town of Fort Gibson, which took the name of the fort. After the military permanently departed, the civilian town expanded into the former military grounds of the fort.

Honey Springs Reenactmen, Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society
The fort was refurbished during the years Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, as part of the historic and preservation work handed over to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression. The Cherokee nation now owns and maintains the Fort Gibson site with the cooperation of the State of Oklahoma Department of Tourism, and the Department of Museums. The State of Oklahoma sponsors reenactments of the Battle of Honey Springs. If you are interested in seeing a reenactment, please visit the Oklahoma Historical Society located at: for the Honey Springs Battlefield in Checotah, Oklahoma.

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.


  1. I enjoyed the pictures and your info about Fort Gibson. I'm pretty sure I visited it years ago. I've wanted to attended a re-enactment, but haven't gotten to do that.

    1. Neat, Vickie! Hopefully, you can. There are three battle reenactments that take place, and they rotate yearly, so each site has it's reenactment every three years. Pretty good idea.

  2. Very interesting post. As an "East Coast Girl," my knowledge of the western part of the US, is limited so I enjoy reading about it. My goal is to visit all of the states, but I haven't made it to OK yet. Now I have somewhere to be sure to go when I get there. :-)

    1. That is a neat goal, Linda! I haven't been to most of the places Oklahomans have in my home state. Oklahoma is a treasure trove! There are so many unique places to visit. Like the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond where the 1st recorded wedding took place after the landrun and it saw another wedding after 117! There have been three blogs done on the schoolhouse on this site. You might be interested in reading them. Are you into medieval stuff? Did you know that Oklahoma has Viking runes? They're in Heavener and there is so much to do there! There's also old west gunfights in other towns. Like I said, it's a treasure trove! You'll have to let me know where you go and what you saw. I'd love to hear your stories.

  3. Informative post about Oklahoma history and Fort Gibson. I've never visited Oklahoma. I've seen reenanctments in our area of the Civil War era and debate with Douglas and Lincoln. Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I hope you will be able to visit my home state someday that I'm still exploring! I bet those debates can be quite intense. That would be an interesting sight to see!

  4. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post!

    1. Melanie, thank you so much for reading! Hope you come back for more.