Tuesday, December 19, 2017

US Army in Oklahoma--A True Tale of Cowboys and Indians

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us in our exploration of the history of the grand state of Oklahoma. We wish to pay our respects to the brave men and women of our military, and let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them, particularly those currently on deployment outside our country and away from their families during this holiday season. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

This month, we start a new series covering the history of the different branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their effects on the history of Oklahoma.

The section of land that became Oklahoma was part of the Louisiana purchase, bought in 1803. By late 1819, the federal government had decided to use the Louisiana Territory as an area for resettlement of the eastern indigenous tribes. It was also decided that non-indigenous citizens could settle west of the Mississippi river.

The first tribesmen to settle in the newly opened area were Cherokee who voluntarily moved west. They settled in what would be later considered western Arkansas and Missouri. After some bloodshed between the Cherokee and the local Osage over hunting rights, the department of the Army decided to found Fort Smith in Arkansas in order to keep the peace.

Fort Smith could be considered the first of the frontier forts that would later govern the Indian Territory, or Oklahoma. It was, in fact, originally part of the Indian Territory, until its transfer to the state of Arkansas in 1905.

After the creation of Fort Smith, the territories of Missouri and Arkansas were established, and the tribes indigenous to the territories were moved west. This established what was referred to as “A Permanent Indian Frontier.” In 1824, the army abandoned Fort Smith. Between 1819 and 1827, a line of seven forts had been built between Minnesota and Louisiana. These forts were presumably created to reassure the frontier settlers, but in fact they served as peacekeepers between the displaced eastern tribesmen and the existing tribes.

In the 1830’s, with the Indian Removal Act and the forced relocation of the eastern tribes to the Indian Territory (the eastern part of Oklahoma), the border forts that had been created served a vital role to the safety and security of both the western border states and the numerous displaced tribes. As a part of the removal act, the Department of the Army was tasked with keeping the peace between the displaced tribes and the indigenous tribes. This is where the official designation of the “Civilized Tribes” comes from. The displaced tribes were considered to be “civilized”, partly due to their exposure to the European settlers and the fact that many of them actually owned slaves. The western tribes were considered uncultured, and in many respects, barbaric.

In response to the demands placed on them by the “Indian Removal Act, the Department of the Army created Forts Gibson, Wayne, Coffee, and Washita. Forts Gibson and Washita remain until today. Fort Coffee, however, was abandoned after Fort Smith was re-commissioned, relocated, and re-manned in 1838. Fort Wayne was abandoned in 1842.

During the time of the Trail of Tears, the Indian Territory became even more contentious. Indians performed numerous raids into the Mexican state of Tejas (until 1836) and the independent country of Texas. With the combination of whiskey runners, gunrunners, and the numerous raids by the tribesmen, the Army had its hands full, keeping the peace, as well as securing the border. That is what prompted the development of military highways connecting the forts. This system of military roads between the different forts that was established formed the backbone of highway transport system in eastern Oklahoma.

This concludes the earliest part of the history of the United States Army in Oklahoma. Next month we will cover the Mexican war and the War Between the States.


  1. Thank you for the informative post!

  2. Great history lesson. I look forward to reading more in the future. Merry Christmas.

    1. Appreciate it, Marilyn! We sure are learning a lot about our home state and we're glad you're enjoying reading it!

  3. Thank you for sharing your interesting post. Merry Christmas!