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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 2
June, 1927


Page 221

The muddy, rather swift-flowing Washita, deep-banked and unattractive, has, within the last century, furnished the thread of some history that is of vital concern to Oklahoma. Her banks have furnished locations for forts, roads for expeditions for the sake of peace and mercy, and scenes for fierce battles and horrid massacres. The thread of the stream has in some parts been the boundary established by the government of the United States between tribes of the aborigines.

The earliest records available relating to the Washita River tell how the Rangers were ordered south to scour the country between the North Fork of the Canadian and Red rivers, to drive to the West any Comanche or Wichita Indians found there, or better still to invite them to a conference at Fort Gibson that they might be impressed by the power of the United States. This was done especially to secure those who might be immigrating into the West. Under Lieutenant Colonel Maney his force left Fort Gibson May 17, 1833, and after a campaign of more than eight weeks had not only not impressed the wild tribes nor brought them into camp to make treaties of peace; but had actually lost one of their men, Ranger George B. Abbay, who was snatched, carried away, and killed by the Indians. The Rangers continued pursuit for twelve days but all to no avail.1

This was humiliating, and at the same time, added greatly to the danger and insecurity of the Indians who had recently been transferred from the East, as the Indians were quick to jump to conclusions, after tests of strength in which the odds were in their favor, that they were the stronger and hence need not be afraid.

But Secretary of War, Cass, knew Indians and set about to impress them. The Rangers by an act of Congress March 2, 1835, were to be absorbed and superseded by an army of

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Dragoons authorized at this specific date. General Henry Leavenworth, who was given command of all troops in the Southwest, February 12, 1834, was to be stationed at Fort Gibson; and at this place he arrived April 29, 1834. The Dragoon was to wear very striking uniforms; as this, doublebreasted, dark-blue cloth coat, bedecked with two rows of gilt buttons, ten to the row; cuffs and collar, yellow, while the collar itself was framed with gold lace. The trousers were a blue-gray mixture with two stripes of yellow cloth three-fourths of an inch wide down the outer seam. Cap, adorned with a gold eagle, a gilt cord, a gilt star in front and a white drooping horse hair pom-pom. The boots had a yellow spur at the ankle; the sabre, a steel scabbard and half-basket hilt; the sash, of silk net, and of deep orange color, was to be tied on the right hip and worn with full dress. The boots were of black patent leather and the gloves were white. Only a little less elaborate was the undress uniform; on the blue coat were only nine buttons to the row, one button on each side of the collar, four on the cuffs, four along the flaps, and two on the hips. There was an epaulette for each shoulder, and a great coat of blue-gray, double-breasted, to be worn with a cape.2 Even the color scheme was to be used for effect in the cavalry horses; one company would ride white horses, another black. Nothing was left out of the arrangement that could be used to "impress" the Indians.

In the report of the Secretary of War, Lewis Cass, made December 2, 1834, it is shown why the expedition was made "It was hoped that the display of a respectable military force, for the first time in their country, would satisfy them that further resistance would lead to their destruction."3

Of course there were other causes than mere display and terror. Raids such as were made in December 1832, on Judge Carr and eleven traders on the4 Cimarron River in what is now the Panhandle of Texas in which two men were killed, the others scattered, were not to be ignored. Judge Martin, while camping between the Glasses Creek and Washita River, had been foully murdered and his little son, Matthew Wright Mar-

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tin, taken captive by these same wild tribes.5 Abbay, one of the Rangers, had been captured and so far as was then known was held captive by these Indians.6 The Osages in Northeastern Oklahoma were constantly at war with the Kiowas so that there was danger of roving bands coming into settlements that were then being made by the five civilized tribes on the east.

So, it was thought, and rightly, that the land to the southwest must be looked after if there was to be any hope of peace and tranquillity in the reservations to the West. How these Indians were brought into treaty relations will be a great part of this story.

With five hundred officers and men, General Leavenworth left Fort Gibson on June 15, 1834 displaying the most impressive array that had yet penetrated Oklahoma.7

The Field and staff organization as follows: Colonel Dodge, Lieutenant Kearney, Major Mason, Adjutant and Lieutenant Hamilton, Lieutenants Wheelock and Swords, Second Lieutenant Van Deveer; Captains Duncan, Hunter, Perkins, Boone, Brown, and Sumner; First Lieutenants (Jeff) Davis, Cook and Izard, each in command of a company, and Second Lieutenant Bergwin and Brevet, Second Lieutenant McClure. Four bands of Indians, 7 Senecas, 11 Osages, 8 Cherokees and 6 Delawares went along as interpreters. George Catlin, the painter, and Count Beyrick, a botanist, were the guests. Lieutenant T. B. Wheelock was at once staff officer and journalist. Two girls, a Kiowa, fifteen years of age, and a Pawnee eighteen years of age, had been procured from their captors, the Osages, and were taken along that, thereby, they might furnish an approach for negotiations leading to friendship with their kinspeople.

After having marched ten days, they came, on the twenty-fifth of June to a point on the Canadian fifty or sixty miles east of our own University City, Norman; here crossed the river and proceeded south with the intention of going to the fort which General Leavenworth had recently ordered built at the mouth of the Washita. On the way, sickness had de-

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veloped. They had traveled, when they reached the Canadian, one hundred and eight miles.

The move, after crossing the Canadian, was southwesterly and the distance given by the chronicler was ninety-five miles when Fort Washita was reached. But on the way there had occurred an accident to General Leavenworth which was to prove fatal to him.

The buffalo chase was so alluring that, even after he had just decided not to chase any more, the General rode fiercly into a drove, singled out a calf, and after failing once, was making a second effort to "get that calf before I quit" when his horse fell into a hole with both feet, and the General was severely hurt, although he insisted that it was nothing.8

Camp Washita was reached after traveling ninety-five miles from the Canadian. Catlin said that they could see over into Texas.9 Wheelock said that they reached Captain Dean's camp a mile or two from the Washita, without giving the exact location. I am inclined to think that the original camp is near the mouth.

On July 4, after having worked hard for two or three days, it was announced that the Washita was crossed, and the following description, written on Independence Day, 1834, is given of the Washita River by Lieutenant Wheelock. "The Washita is a narrow stream about forty-five yards wide; water of a dark red color, banks bold, shores miry, inconvenient landing for a horse."

On June 30, General Leavenworth had declared his intention of going on with his command, but on July 4, he announced a change of mind. He felt that he would not be able to make the trip, so he placed Dodge in command, and had a number of men detailed for service at the new camp Leavenworth, twelve miles west of the Washita, Captain Trenor in command. Think of being sick and wounded in the Washita bottom in 1834, with poor medical attention, no ice, nothing else in the world scarcely that he really needed. We hear only one request from him after this, and that was for a field officer to take command at Camp Leavenworth; Lieutenant Colonel Kearny was sent. Evidently after this he started out on the trail of Colonel Dodge, for his death was announced as


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having occurred at "Cross Timbers," some fifty or sixty miles west of Camp Leavenworth, July 21. 1834.10

Colonel Dodge now pushed on in a northwesterly direction not necessarily along the Washita River; Catlin says that the journey was along the "divide" between the Washita and the Red Rivers.11 That being the case, we note the course was west and northwest. After traveling about twenty miles, he began to come in sight of the Indians but they were somewhat afraid, and kept out of the way until finally a party of Comanches on the prairie one hundred and four miles northwest of Camp Leavenworth, answered his white flag and conducted him to their camp for negotiations.12 Later, Colonel Dodge marched northwest to a point on the north fork of the Red River to negotiate with the Pawnees and Kiowas.

In his negotiations Colonel Dodge gained favor by his coolness, his ability to make distinctions and his firmness. He was least successful with the Comanches. All their actions betrayed distrust and doubt of the white men. By restoring to the Kiowas and to the Pawnees respectively the girl that they had brought along with them, without any reward at all; and by giving the Indians who had come along with them a chance to tell of the kindness and sincerity of the white men, the favor and the friendship of these two tribes were gained. The Comanches, who had acted contemptuously, as though they would like to annihilate the whole of Colonel Dodge's command, finally yielded.

The total time of contact and negotiations was from July 14 to July 25—twelve days. Fifteen Kiowas, four Comanches, a squaw, and a Spaniard, a Waco chief, and two Pawnee warriors started back with him to Fort Gibson. All the Comanches, including the squaw, with the exception of one, turned back before they had proceeded very far. Little Matthew Wright Martin, whose recovery was one of the objects of the expedition, and a negro slave, who had been captured by the Indians some time before, were released by the Indians and were taken in the company by Colonel Dodge.

It was hot July weather, the July drouth was on, many were sick and had to be carried in litters; the grass was so

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parched and brown that it crackled under the feet of the horses. On July 29, the command marched "between two forks of the Washita." To this description the Little Washita and the Washita answer admirably. Seventy-six miles from the place of holding the council, on the Red River, on the thirtieth of July, the command crossed the Washita River. Notice was taken of the large fish in the stream, the timbered creeks, the black jack, elm, and mulberry trees. Fifteen miles from the Washita the command camped on a creek, a "branch of the Canadian." The stream now known as Walnut Creek which empties into the Canadian at the present town of Purcell, fills well this description. On this day the country was described as "rolling, with frequent deep gullies." We, who know that part of McClain County, feel that we have a rather warm trail in this statement. Evidently the command crossed the Canadian between the present towns of Noble and Purcell.

They had now been finding some buffalo for two or three days; but after they crossed the Canadian they found them in such abundance that the soldiers, who were well enough, abandoned themselves to a regular orgy of killing. Catlin registered a complaint against such wanton, wholesale slaughter.13 So many buffalo were there that at one time the camp was threatened with a stampede of the "thundering herd," and were only saved by the timely charge of the army sentinels.14

They, as Washington Irving and his party had done just two years before, hunted buffalo here in Cleveland County; and possibly over the very spot where our own university now stands.

But their horses were worn out, their elegant and extraordinary uniforms, torn, soiled, and wilted; and worst of all, they were sick. They found their way to Fort Holmes at the point of confluence of Little River and the Canadian, and back to Fort Gibson along the route which they had followed on their expedition out. Just two months after they left Fort Gibson the command was back.

The expedition was very disastrous on man and beast, taken in the very hottest of summer, with those smothering

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uniforms, fresh meat without the proper seasoning and bread—poor medical attention—all caused disaster. But the expedition on the Washita in 1834 was a success in that it abundantly accomplished what was planned for it to accomplish. Below is the estimate of the President of the United States.

In the sixth annual address to Congress, December 1, 1834, President Andrew Jackson said: "The expedition of the regiment of the Dragoons into the territory of the wandering and predatory tribes, inhabiting the Western Frontier and living adjacent to the Mexican boundary has been effected. It became necessary for the peace of the frontier to check these habitual inroads, and I am happy to inform you that the object has been effected without the commission of any crime. Colonel Dodge and the troops under his command have acted with equal firmness and humanity, and, an arrangement has been made with those Indians which it is hoped will assure their permanent pacific relations with the United States and the other tribes of Indians upon that border."15

The visit to the Pawnee Picts had cost the lives of General Leavenworth and of Brevet Second Lieutenant McClure, and probably that of more than one hundred men. Besides this there were many men who were enfeebled by the exposure to the severe weather and drouth of 1834. It had gained without a single tragedy on either side, a consent of the Plains Indians in the Southwest to enter into treaties, a response to overtures of friendship, a partial reconciliation of these Indians with the "newcomers" from the East, so that the warfare could be stopped between the Osages and Kiowas; and possibly the establishment of treaty relations between the five civilized tribes and the ones who already inhabited this country. Not that it always lasted but that an entry was effected which more and more established the authority of the United States. A conference of three days' duration was held with these Indians, but no treaty was signed because Colonel Dodge did not have that power. And then, the Indians, insisting that the white men come to their country and sign peace treaties with them, had their request granted by Governor

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Stokes and his commission near our present Purcell, August 24, 1835.16

The journey was made none too soon; trouble was on the border; Indians were offered huge sums evidently by the Spaniards, so thought Colonel A. P. Chouteau,l7 for breaking their treaties with Washington, and the white men in Texas both before and after the time of Independence, were disposed to take no insult from the Indians. Consequently, these Indians were frequently chased across the Red River and severely punished by the Texans. The Mexicans had offered the Indians wonderful pay if they would fight the Americans; and many Indians in the Southwest seemed to be not averse to it. The first fort built was that at the mouth of the Washita by General Leavenworth in 1834. But this had been such a disastrous place for the soldiers that it was not occupied for a long while. The Chickasaws were begging for protection and in answer to their cry, General Taylor departed from Fort Gibson in September 1841, to locate a camp among them. This camp was finally located April 3, 1843, about twenty-two miles above the mouth of the Washita. It was occupied immediately by two companies of Dragoons. Major Fontleroy was placed in command.18

The fort was made a station for the policing of the country round about, for the protection of the friendly Chickasaws with whom we were in treaty relations. Supplies were received from the boats that came up the Red River when the water was sufficiently deep for navigation. Escorts for peace commissions and government agents were also furnished from Fort Washita. It stood as a kind of bulwark against the outlaw element who had pushed into the West and straggled back towards the settlements to make trouble. Communication was held directly with Fort. Gibson by way of Fort Holmes along the military road that General Leavenworth had ordered cleared out in 1834.

In 1861, Colonel W. C. Young commanding the Confederate forces from Texas made a dash for Fort Washita and the fort was abandoned May 1, of that year, and the garrison fled to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.19

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Another fort on the Washita that was to see considerable service was that known as Fort Arbuckle, founded April 19, 1851, and named for General Arbuckle who had succeeded to the command of all the forces of the Southwest on the death of General Leavenworth in 1834. General Arbuckle had died June 11, 1851, and the fort was officially named for him June 25, 1851.20

Fort Arbuckle was established on a branch of the Washita, Wild-Horse Creek, about six miles west and one north of the present town of Davis. This fort was built of logs, hewn and notched; the cracks were stripped with drawnboards, fireplaces were made at the ends of the burildings. The foundation for each building was of solid stone masonry. The roofs were of the old style clapboards made from the oak trees with the froe.

Office and officers' headqparters, servants' headquarters, sleeping quarters for the men, commissary, guard-house, and stables were a part of the general buildings of the fort which was designed to be permanent, and of sufficient proportions to accommodate four companies; for, by this time the commanders of our army had come to realize that they who were to deal with the wild tribes must be both convenient and adequate.

This fort also became the gateway for peace commissions, for councils, for military expeditions to relieve the distressed in the Southwest. From February 13, 1858, to June 20, 1858, the Fort had no occupants, but after the last mentioned date, it was occupied till May 5, 1861, when Colonel W. C. Young of the Confederate forces took possession and Colonel Emory led this garrison to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Almost immediately after the war, the Fort was occupied by Federal troops, but was officially abandoned June 24, 1870, when the establishment of Fort Sill practically absorbed all the business that was being transacted at Fort Arbuckle.21

Fort Cobb was founded on a site selected by Colonel Cooper about eight miles west of the present site of Anadarko, named for General Howell Cobb, Secretary of the Treasury. It was known as the Wichita Agency because it served those Indians who had been moved into the Washita Valley under

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the direction of Elias Rector in 1858. A separate agency for the Wichitas was made in 1871 and it was placed on the north side of the Washita in the side of a hill overlooking the present town of Anadarko.22

It was at Fort Cobb that Matthew Leeper, Indian Agent, was killed by Ben Simon and a band of marauding Indians. He had been appointed to succeed Blain as agent at Fort Cobb in 1860. Having done his work well the time when the Civil War came on, he resigned his post distributing what provisions, money, and such that he had to the Indians. His sympathies being with the Confederacy, he took this way out. It was not long however, until he was appointed to the same position by the Confederate Government. Supplies run short, he had no garrison, no medicine for the sick, but even under these conditions he was able to negotiate a peace with the wild tribes and was getting along very well indeed until Ben Simon, a marauder, came down from Kansas and falsely claiming that there was a force of two hundred soldiers at the fort, fell upon Leeper and what few employees he had there on October 23, 1862, and murdered them. A typical Indian massacre.23

General Custer in charge of the Seventh United States Cavalry and having been promised the nineteenth. Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, was pursuing the Cheyenne Indians who had committed depredations in the Solomon and Saline River Valleys, in the summer of 1868.

The nineteenth Kansas did not arrive because of a severe snow-storm, but Custer pressed on in the winter time, and found the Indians in camp on the headwaters of the Washita near the present site of the town of Cheyenne. He struck them at daybreak and while it was something of a surprise, they rallied and fought bravely through it. Black Kettle was killed and a greater part of his braves, though some escaped down the Washita. Custer had to get out in a hurry, for, down below on the Washita were hostile Indians. He went up to Fort Supply; but just a little later returned, got his dead and romoved them to Fort Arbuckle for burial. This is the "Battle of the Washita," famous because it practically broke

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the resistance of the wild tribes. The battle was fought November 27, 1868.24

There are two famous trails that touch the Washita; one is the California trail coming in from the east through Fort Gibson, along the route by which Dodge returned to Fort Gibson in 1834 till it reaches Purcell, then across the Canadian, then up between the Canadian until the Caddo country is reached when it swerves toward the Washita Valley. Along this route went the "Gold Diggers" in 1848-49-50 ; the other was the famous Chisholm Trail which, coming in from Texas strikes northward through Fort Sill, Anadarko, on the Washita, Fort Reno, and on to Caldwell, Kansas. Over this route went the great droves of cattle in 1866 to 1885. Chisholm established this trail in 1865 and it became famous in Oklahoma history.

One of the most important events in the history of Oklahoma was the surveying of the land into tracts such that it could be allotted. This may have been not the immediate purpose; but it was very convenient when the time really came for allotting to be done. Before the year 1870, there had been surveys mode, and boundaries of the tribes had been known largely by the principal rivers, and by parallels. But when the time of re-adjusting came after the Civil War, and the Indians had to give up much of their lands to the Government, it became necessary for the land to be surveyed. Because of the fact that the government in the Indian country was in the hands of the Indians, the government never had a surveyor-general office in Oklahoma. All the work that was done in Oklahoma was done in surveys contracted with the Government through the Department of the Interior. The General Land Office, a subdivision of the Department of the Interior, was directly responsible for the surveying of the lands in Oklahoma. Contracts were made directly with this office, and the contractors made their reports to this department. In the General Land Office Report for 1870, page three, occur these significant words: "Chickasaw Lands in Indian Territory. A contract has been made by order of the Department of the Interior for the survey of these lands into 160-acre tracts, and the surveyors have departed for the theater of their opera-

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tions." On January 6, 1927, the writer sent a letter to the General Land Office for information as to the details of this contract, and received in reply dated January 17, 1927, a letter containing information which he now embodies in this account:

"In connection with his survey of the eastern portion of the Chickasaw lands, Ehud N. Darling, U. S. Surveyor, under his contract dated July 25, 1870, was required to establish an initial point for the survey of the lands into townships and sections, and his instructions directed that such initial point be located near the center of the Chickasaw lands or in the vicinity of Fort Arbuckle. His notes with relation thereto show as follows: `Initial point between two small streams having a northerly course making a junction about twenty chains north. Set sand stone 54x18x18, marked on west side I. P., on east side Ind. Mer., and on north side 1870, in a mound of stones, six feet in diameter and three feet high, from which Flag Staff; at Fort Arbuckle bears N. 7 ° 37' W.'—This monument is located in Lat. 34 ° 30' N. and Long. 97 ° 14' 30" W." Continuing the report we find this interesting account that touches directly or indirectly every Oklahoman, "From this initial monument all the surveys in Oklahoma were in due time extended except those of the Public Land Strip, lying between Lat. 36 ° 30' N., and the south boundary of Kansas and Colorado, Lat. 37° N., and between the 100th and the 103 degrees of west longtitude, whereof the initial monument was established at the intersection of the 103d degree of longitude and the parallel of 36 ° 30', and these lands were all related to the Cimarron Base and Meridian thus defined."25

This splendid bit of information is self-explanatory, the monument in Oklahoma history is styled the "beginning," and it is interesting for us to reflect that this is in the Washita Valley, some six miles west of Davis, and about one mile south of old Fort Arbuckle. After winding your way south from the old Fort, you will come to some steep hills and some very sharp valleys, scrubby cedars are holding tight to the barren soil, scaly stones lie thick on the ground; one hill stands above the others, and on its top stands the historic sandstone set near fifty-seven years ago—the "beginning,"—lands in severalty, individual ownership, happy firesides, prosperous farms, thriv-

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ing cities, gushing oil wells—the "beginning" of a great Commonwealth, Oklahoma.

I am told that this stone fell and lay prone for some time; but that within the last year or two it was replaced. When my friend, Rev. J. C. Morris and son of Wynnewood visited it on January 8, 1927, it was standing, though it was weathered considerably from what it was when Mr. Darling set it up in 1870.

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