|Sketch of Fort Towson, Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society|
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez
In 1824, the western frontier of the U.S. started with the Appalachian Mountains, and extended down into the Ozark foothills, then ended essentially on the western border of what is now the state of Arkansas. It was a rough-and-tumble sort of area. It was ruled as much by the U.S. Army, as by the law of the gun. In an effort to help secure the western border against the plains tribes, the army decided to establish several forts. While I was researching an earlier blog, I came across mention of seven different forts in Oklahoma, four in the east, and three in the west. I have written about a couple of them, so here is the next edition in the Oklahoma Fort Series!
Fort Towson was established in 1824 by the 7th Infantry under Colonel Matthew Arbuckle, the same officer who started Fort Gibson, as a cantonment, or temporary encampment on the fork of the Kiamichi and Red Rivers, in what is now Choctaw County, Oklahoma, between the towns of Hugo and Idabel. The cantonment was named after the war-hero of 1812 and Army Paymaster General Nathan Towson. The fort was charged with many duties, including building a road to Fort Smith, Arkansas, building a road to Fort Jesup, Louisiana, maintaining border security with the Mexican territory of Texas, serving as a hub for the Choctaw Trail of Tears, and keeping a buffer zone between the plains tribes and the notably peaceable Choctaw tribe.
|Fort Towson, Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society|
The new fort was more substantial. It was built with the north side up against the bluffs of Gates Creek, the officers’ quarters took up the northern three buildings of the rectangle, the other buildings in the fort included the sub-officer quarters, schoolhouse, quartermaster’s office, hospital, stables, shops, amusement parlor, gardens, kitchens, dining halls, and barracks. During this time, it had numerous notable persons that were known to have visited the fort. These names include Jefferson Davis, Congressman Davy Crockett, Benjamin Bonneville, Sam Houston, and Steven Austin. During the Mexican War, it served as a staging area for the army traveling south to invade Mexico.
It was during this time that another fort, Fort Washita, was established approximately 80 miles to the west with the expansion of the western frontier. Fort Towson was once again abandoned, and the troops were moved to the newest fort in 1856 and turned over to the Choctaw agency. Within a few years, storms and fire destroyed all the buildings save for one of the barracks and the hospital.
|Ruins of Fort Towson, Courtesy of Trip Suggest|
At the end of the war, the fort was once again abandoned, with the soldiers that were buried in the cemetery being moved to the federal cemetery at Fort Gibson.
The fort sat empty until 1902 when the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway came to Choctaw County. The fort became populated once again, and absorbed the local town of Doaksville, to form the town of Fort Towson.