|Fort Gibson, 1870's Wikipedia, public domain|
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez
Thank you for joining us in our exploration of the history of the grand state of Oklahoma. This month, we continue to explore the rich and diverse history of the U.S. Army and its effects on the development of this wonderful state. Last month we covered the beginnings of the initial forts going through the decades leading up to the Mexican War. With the development of the “military roads” that wandered throughout the eastern part of the territory, troops were able to move considerably faster than they had before, which is no surprise as the “trailblazers” would literally have to cut through miles of forest before they could make their way to the next fort.
By the time that Texas had seceded from Mexico, and relations with our southern neighbor had dissolved into outright war, the army had been tasked with keeping the white travelers safe along the several highways that spanned the Indian Territory. These roads included the California road, and the Santa Fe trail.
When the Mexican War broke out, forts Gibson, and Washita were virtually depopulated to support the war effort. During this time, we have visitations by numerous historical personages such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Albert Pike, Matthew Arbuckle, Nathan Boone, and William Tecumseh Sherman, just to name a few.
Forts Washita, Gibson, and Towson served as rest stops for the troops that were moving down to Mexico during the conflict. The previously established highways made an easy road the troops going through the area. At that point, while they were still restless, the tribes did not interfere with the troop movements through their areas, especially many of these units were the same ones that forced them to relocate to the area during the diverse “trails of tears”.
After the Mexican War, it became more of a business as usual affair. The different forts were re-provisioned, re-manned, and became the “law of the land”. During the intervening 13 years between the Mexican War and the War Between the States, the fiction of the “Permanent Indian Frontier” disappeared, and Forts Gibson and Towson were closed to pave the way for Forts Cobb, and Arbuckle. The Indian Territory became the recipient of the ousted tribes from the State of Texas, and the newly formed territories of Kansas and Nebraska.
The different forts in the area helped to protect the Choctaw, and Chickasaw from the raids of the Kiowa Commanche, and Apache that tended to raid the more peaceable tribes. They also served to secure the non-indigenous tribesmen going along the different trails through the area.
The Department of the Army had effectively developed a strategic connection between the forts in the territory, and to the forts in Texas. This connection became the front line of defense in what would later be known as the “Commanche Frontier”.
It was during this time that the need for the expansion of the army became evident, and the Department of the Army started to bring in indigenous tribesman to serve as scouts, translators, and guides.
This practice became more necessary during the War Between the States, as the tribes sided with either the United States, or the Confederate States.
There were numerous factors that led the different tribes to siding with one side or the other. The main concerns happened to be the increased prospects of preserving the Indian Territory nations from being dissolved, settlement of long-standing political and familial rivalries, and the concern over the withdrawal of the protective garrisons in the I.T. allowing troops to take part in hostilities east of the Mississippi River.
Confederate Indian Commissioner Albert Pike skillfully played on the resentments that accumulated during the Trails of Tears, and the years following to be able to secure alliances with ten of the larger tribal nations.
During the War Between the States, approximately 5000 tribesmen were recruited into 11 Confederate regiments, and 8 battalions. They succeeded in conquering the different forts, and the abandoned forts that littered the area, and were successful in driving the federal troops north to Kansas, and Missouri, if for a short time.
This conflict gives us such notable names as General Stand Watie, Lt. Col. Jackson McCurtain, John Ross, Chief McIntosh, and Opothleyahola. This conflict also includes the one and only naval battle fought in current day Oklahoma.
With the conclusion of the War Between the States, new treaties were drawn to further limit the different tribes, and limit their governing power. They also authorized the Cheyenne-Arapaho and Kiowa-Comanche reservations in present-day Oklahoma.
The role of the Army in keeping the peace, as well as stemming the flow of white settlers to the dedicated “Indian Territory” would continue up through the decades, even going beyond the five land runs.
Join us next month as we discuss the role that the army, and specifically the cavalry play in the “Southern Plains Indian Wars”, and the settlement of Euro-Americans to the territory.
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.