|Fort Gibson, 1870's Wikipedia, public domain|
By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez
Hello! Thank you for joining us this month in our exploration of the U.S. Army and their influence on the development of our great state of Oklahoma. For the last three months, we have covered how the Army assisted in the Indian Removal Act, the assorted Trails of Tears, the War Between the States, the Southern Plains Indian Wars, and policing the territory during the time of the Land Runs. That was all during the 19th century. Obviously, it was rugged, and at different times, places were quite lawless. First let us say: 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.
By the end of the 19th Century, most of the land in Oklahoma had been settled. Though the tribes had somewhat settled down after the land runs, politically, tension was still high between the Indian Nations and the territorial government that had been established in Guthrie. The Department of the Army was tasked with keeping the peace; however, they had to work within jurisdictional boundaries. Many of the townships and most of the counties had their own police and sheriffs. However, the ultimate authority still lay with the Department of the Army and the local law could “call out the cavalry” if things became untenable.
In 1905, Oklahoma was still divided in two sections called the Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory. The tribes in Indian Territory attempted to form their own state called Sequoyah. Their constitutional convention failed to gain the required support inside the federal government, and the movement was stopped. The feeling at the time was that a one-state solution to the request was the best idea. This prevented the tribes from being able to gain additional political power inside the federal government.
In 1906, William Murray (principle chief of the Cherokee) and Charles Haskell (representative of the Creeks), came up with the “Oklahoma Enabling Act,” which was passed by the US Congress. This turned over the policing and military control of the Oklahoma Territory to the state government. This effectively ended the century-long martial law of the future state of Oklahoma. As a part of the formation of the state, the militia, which had been under regional control, formed into the 45th Infantry Division.
The role of the US Army in Oklahoma, changed from providing a police force and having ultimate control of the goings-on inside the state boundaries to one of supporting the larger national army.
Fort Reno, which had been a major fort with several cavalry units, was turned into more of a support role, being that they became a remount station.
Fort Sill changed from a primarily cavalry-based fort into an artillery fort and eventually became one of the army’s basic training boot camps as well as AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for artillery.
Fort Supply, while still a historical site, was sold to a local mental hospital, and the lands around it were sold as private residences.
During World War I, emotions were mixed, and the “Green Corn Rebellion” started. It was mostly a localized movement, where crops and resources were seized by protesters. But when the plans to march on Washington D.C. were discovered, the local municipalities called out the regional militia to put down the rebellion before the rebels were able to leave the state.
In direct response to the Green Corn Rebellion, the Department of the Army transferred control of the regional militia to the state, thus forming the 45th Infantry division. One of the first acts of the division was taking part in the 1921 Tulsa race riots and helping to end them more quickly.
Just after WWI, the state fell into an agricultural depression, which had the Department of the Army considering pulling all of the cavalry forces out of the state. During the 1920’s, Oklahoma saw an economic boom, which included the discovery of rich oil fields, and the start of several large ranches, providing beef, sheep, and horses. The U.S. Army kept the active forts alive throughout the Roaring 20’s and the Dust Bowl period.
The migration of the citizenry of Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s opened up considerable amounts of land. The army retook control of some of the areas they had previously lost in the land runs.
During the Roaring 20’s, Oklahoma became a major contributor to the US Army per capita. It is now 3rd in the nation, with close to 7500 enlistments per every 10000 citizens.
During World War II, the 45th took part in the invasion of Sicily, capturing more than 120,000 prisoners and suffering 3,650 deaths during the 511 days of fighting. Nineteen members were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously.
In 1941, the Midwest Air Depot Facility was opened to service the bombers and fighters during WWII. In 1942, the army renamed the facility after an Osage Major General Clarence Tinker whom had been killed leading a bombing raid against the Japanese on Wake Island. Tinker Air Field, now Tinker Air Force base, is the headquarters of the United States Air Force Matériel Command. The inland location and the military endorsement of the surrounding populace made Tinker the premier location.
Thank you for staying with us, as we describe the involvement of the US Army in development the state of Oklahoma. Please join us next month, as we wrap up our discourse on the Army next month, going from post World War II to the current day.
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.