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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 8, No. 2
June, 1930
FORT TOWSON

W. B. Morrison

Page 226

Just as Fort Gibson was intended to be a center of Government influence and offensive and defensive force among the Cherokee and Creek Indians soon to be located in Oklahoma, so to the south, Fort Towson was to fulfill a similar purpose for the Choctaws and Chickasaws. With the latter, it is true, the defensive idea was more prominent, for they were never disposed to offer serious opposition to the whites, and boasted of never shedding American blood in war—at least the Choctaws did.

The first post known as Cantonment Towson was begun in May, 1824, on the banks of the Red River near the mouth of the Kiamichi, only a short time after the founding of Fort Gibson. The Choctaws and Chickasaws had not yet removed, but there were reasons why the Government should take steps to prepare for their coming. Some of these reasons are set forth in a letter to the Adjutant General of the army, under date of January 16, 1824, written by Major General Winfield Scott, then in command of the Western Department. He writes: "The evils existing on our Spanish border, and mentioned by Colonel Arbuckle, have been carried to a great extent. No question exists but that in addition to quarrels in that neighborhood among the parties of different tribes of Indians, the laws of the United States relative to the introduction of slaves and to trading with Indians are set at perfect contempt and daily and extensively violated. In addition to this, a band of lawless marauders have established themselves on the Red River, and are in the habit of committing the most outrageous acts of robbery, violence and murder. The evils, the Colonel thinks, can be corrected by the establishment of a post at that point, and he proposes, with this in view, to detach to that place a company of the Seventh regiment from Fort Smith as soon as that corps shall have been strengthened by recruits."

The post at the mouth of the Kiamichi was accordingly established by Major Alexander Cummings in command of companies D and I of the Seventh Infantry, under the general supervision of Colonel Matthew Arbuckle. It was named in honor of General Nathan Towson at that

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time paymaster-general of the army. General Towson had been a minor officer during the War of 1812, and was brevetted a major for bravery during that conflict. By 1834 he rose to the rank of brigadier general, and was later made a major general for meritorious service in the Mexican War. He died in 1854—the same year in which the Government abandoned the fort bearing his name.

Cantonment Towson on the Red River was never anything more than a temporary fort consisting of wooden shacks and tents. However, it served to cure the conditions mentioned in General Scott's letter, so that in April, 1829, we find the garrison ordered down the river to Fort Jessup, and Cantonment Towson abandoned. The following year saw the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and active preparations for the immediate removal of the Choctaws to the west. Accordingly, in November 1830, orders were given by the Government for the building of a permanent fort in the Choctaw country. A new site was chosen about six miles from the former location, and was for some time known as Camp Phoenix, though by 1831 it was again officially designated as Cantonment Towson. This site was well selected for all purposes. It lay on a beautiful open stretch of prairie above Gates Creek, about a half mile north and east of the present town of Fort Towson. When completed, the fort occupied a rectangle containing about a square mile of acreage. The north side of the grounds rested on the bluffs of Gates Creek, almost one hundred and fifty feet to the water below. The open side of the rectangle faced a little east of south. Probably none of the early posts had a more attractive and healthy natural situation.

All the work done in connection with the erection of this post was thorough and substantial. There is abundance of fine limestone most suitable for building purposes in the cliffs near by. Three buildings, comprising the officers' quarters, extended along the edge of the hill on the north side of the rectangle. These each had three foot stone foundations, and were built of logs—a story and a half in height, with openings and covered porches facing south. Four other buildings were erected along each wing on the east and west respectively facing each other but

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extending towards the south. As the ground slopes towards the south, the foundations of the last of these buildings was about nine feet high, affording an ample basement, though all of the eight buildings were theoretically of one story. The first two buildings on each wing, nearest to the officers' quarters, were used for sub-officers' barracks, quartermaster's office, amusement parlor, and school room. The last two buildings were used as barracks for the common soldiers—three tiers of bunks along each wall, and racks for their guns—while the kitchen and dining rooms were located in the basements. One striking feature of these buildings was the great stone chimney, with fireplace nine feet wide and four feet deep, and six feet from the stone floor to the arch. It is said that a whole steer could be roasted in one of these fireplaces and still leave room for the baking and the boiling.

All of the buildings were painted white. Gravel walks, lined with rows of shade trees, extended in front of the buildings around the hollow square, which latter space was kept open for the parade ground. Two hundred and fifty feet farther south from the last barrack building on the east tier was the hospital. Outside of the rectangle to the east, the stables, shops and gardens were situated, while on the west side were the suttler's building the dairy and poultry yards. About three hundred yards still farther west was the cemetery, always an important but melancholy feature of every military post. The soldiers buried here were removed to the cemetery at Fort Gibson after 1854.

During the early years of Fort Towson, companies from the Third Infantry occupied the post, Major Stephen W. Kearney, later a major general in the United States army being one of the first commanders. When General Leavenworth took command in the southwest in 1834, he found Fort Towson in charge of Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Vose. In his published orders, General Leavenworth complimented the commandant on the "highly moral condition of the troops at Fort Towson," which he attributed to the fact that ardent spirits had for some time been banished from this post.

In the summer of 1834 two companies of the Third

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Infantry from this garrison were ordered to open up a road from Fort Towson to the mouth of Washita River, through the Choctaw country. Bridges were to be built over the streams, or ferries were to be established at the larger rivers. Opening up means of communication between different sections of the country—and keeping them open—was one of the most useful services performed by the garrisons of the military posts in these early days.

We referred above to General Leavenworth's complimentary remarks regarding moral conditions at this post. It indeed seems to have afforded a refreshing exception to the average frontier fort in these respects throughout its history. One reason for this was the fact that Fort Towson was fortunate in having as commandants such men as Colonel Vose, and later, Colonel Gustavus Loomis. It is also fair to infer that the presence of that prince of early missionaries, Dr. Cyrus Kingsbury, almost under the shadow of the fort from 1835 to the close of its history, may have had something to do with this unusual moral record. Dr. Kingsbury was the director of the Choctaw Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, with headquarters at Pine Ridge, just two miles west of the Fort. He regarded the moral and religious welfare of the soldiers as a part of his missionary duty, and with the sympathetic co-operation of the officers, he acquired a wonderful influence at this post. In a letter written in 1837, Dr. Kingsbury speaks of the friendly attitude of the officers and the easy access to the garrison at all times. At this particular date there were he said, one hundred and sixy men in the garrison, some having recently been transferred to other points. Of the eight officers, five were "praying men," and all of the ladies—wives of the officers—were church members except one. There was a flourishing temperance society at the post, over half of the garrison being members. There was also a Sunday School, the classes being taught by the officers. Dr. Kingsbury could say: "I have never seen a place where there was a more decided religious influence. Those who have never witnessed the dissipation and almost total disregard of morality and religion among soldiers at our frontier posts can have but a faint conception of the happy

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change that has been made here." Rev. W. H. Goode, a prominent Methodist missionary, who visited all the posts in this section, was at Fort Towson in 1844, and had this to say in regard to the subject we have just discussed: "The establishment is altogether superior to any other I have visited on this frontier in point of neatness and permanence of improvements, comfort and good order, and especially the moral and religious influences among the soldiers." He went on to say that services were held nearly every Sunday; that large numbers of the soldiers were "pious"; the temperance society still flourished, as did also the Sunday School, and there were two prayer meetings held each week—a truly remarkable record for any military post. If no preacher was present, Colonel Loomis read and expounded the Scriptures. Some of the officers thought this beneath the dignity of their commander, but Mr. Goode said it endeared him to the common soldiers.

In 1838 the Third Infantry detachments at Towson were strengthened by the arrival of one hundred and eighty recruits from New York City, under Captain De Hart. They had come all the way by boat—from New York to New Orleans, up the Mississippi and Red rivers through the "Great Raft," which had just been opened up by Captain Shreeve (whose name is commemorated in the flourishing Red River city of Shreveport), landing at Old Doaksville, where the first post was established in 1824. The article in Niles Register describing the arrival of these troops, spoke of the remarkably fine time made by the party, they having left New York on February 9, arriving on March 31, covering the distance "no doubt in half the time it was ever performed before by a similar body of men." At the time of the arrival of this contingent, the famous Captain Bonneville was at Towson, but left with his company shortly afterwards for Fort Gibson.

In January 1842 the companies of the Third Infantry were relieved by two companies of the Second Dragoons commanded by Major Thomas T. Fauntleroy. In May of this same year the entire Sixth Infantry, some seven or eight hundred men, was encamped here for quite a while. The Fort was a busy place during the concentration of troops in the Southwest just prior to the Mexican War. Af-

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ter that war several companies of the Fifth Infantry occupied the post until June 1851, when Company K of the Seventh Infantry arrived and remained until June 8, 1854, when the post was definitely abandoned and these troops ordered to Fort Arbuckle. Just two days before the fort was abandoned, a fearful storm swept over that section of the Territory, blowing the roofs from several of the buildings at Fort Towson, uprooting trees and doing other damage.

After the soldiers left, the buildings were placed in charge of the Indian Agent, Douglas H. Cooper, to be used for purposes of Indian administration. A few years later a fire broke out that destroyed all of the buildings except the hospital and one of the barracks. These remaining buildings were occupied by the Confederates during the Civil War, and General S. B. Maxey made it his headquarters in 1864. Thus the old Fort was quite a busy place and retained its importance until the close of the War. After that time the few buildings that survived soon fell into ruins, most of the materials—even the foundation stones—being hauled off by the people in the surrounding country.

We should speak briefly of Doaksville, as the little town was called that sprang up about a mile west of the Fort, taking its name from the trading station two brothers named Doak first established on Red River at the mouth of Kiamichi. Doaksville became the trading center, the site of the Indian Agency, and from 1850 to 1860, the capital of the Choctaw Nation. Here in 1837 the Choctaws and Chickasaws entered into a joint treaty with the United States and one another, by which the Chickasaw acquired homes within the Choctaw territory and promptly removed to Oklahoma. Here was held the famous Choctaw convention of 1860 which drafted the Doaksville Constitution under which the Nation operated thereafter. The first Masonic lodge in Oklahoma was instituted at Doaksville, to which many of the army officers and missionaries belonged. In the old Doaksville cemetery, now a part of the cemetery of the town of Fort Towson, lie the bodies of Colonel David Folsom and Colonel J. H. Nail, both of whom led parties of Choctaws from Mississippi to Okla-

Page 232

homa, and became founders of families still prominent in the eastern section of the state.

Of old Fort Towson scarcely a vestige remains, with the exception of a few scattered piles of rock, and an occasional section of foundation walls. Several of the great chimneys stood until a few years ago, and the wall, eight or ten feet wide and walled with stone, may still be seen where it stood in front of the officers' quarters. In a few years more this fort, once the best built and best kept in all the West, will be only a memory.

W. B. Morrison
Southeastern State Teachers College,
Durant, Oklahoma.

REFERENCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Abel, Annie H., The Indian as a Participant in the Civil War.
Carter, W. A., A History of McCurtain County.
Dyer, Mrs. James, A Paper on Fort Towson.
Fleckinger, R. E., The Choctaw Freedman.
Gardner, E. J., Personal Information.
Goode, W. H., Outposts of Zion.
Heitman, F. B., Historical Dictionary of the United States Army.
Hudson, Peter J., Personal Information.
Love, Wm., The Mayhew Mission, Mississippi Historical Society Reports, Vol. II.
Mission Herald, 1837.
Niles Register, April 28, 1837.
Oklahoman, Sunday, May 24, 1924.
Thoburn, J. B., History of Oklahoma, Vol. I.
Wright, Muriel, The Story of Oklahoma.

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