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


Page 251

Fort Washita was located in that portion of the Choctaw-Chickasaw country occupied more especially by the Chickasaws after the Doaksville Treaty of 1837, referred to in the chapter on Fort Towson. Its establishment was in fulfillment of promises of protection given to these tribes in the several treaties, and the post was placed near enough to the Texas border to serve as a bulwark against any disturbances that might arise from that quarter, as well as to defend from the wilder Indians of the western portion of the Territory.

The site of the fort was selected by General Zachary Taylor in 1842, he being then in command of the Second Military District, which included Indian Territory. He located it on the uplands above the Washita River, in the extreme northwest corner of what is now Bryan county, about fifteen miles from the Texas border and the junction of Washita with Red River. General Taylor also gave the post its name. Not many forts in the United States can boast of owing their site and name to a military hero of a great war, who later became President of the United States.1 That the site selected was a good one is attested by many visitors, and by the further fact that we have no record at Washita of those epidemics of sickness so frequently mentioned in connection with posts in the western country. Dr. R. Glisan, who visited Fort Washita in 1850 on his way to assist in thee stablishment of Fort Arbuckle, spoke of the splendid situation, the fine landscape view commanded by our fort, the beautiful rolling prairies, and the fertile river valley near by, which he thought would afford the future home of "thousands of agriculturists," but which was at this time rarely traveled over even by the Indian owners of the soil.2

The orders of the War Department issued in October, 1842, called for a reservation four miles square, with the fort as near the center as possible, but a later description would in-

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dicate that the reservation was actually about five miles long and two miles wide.3

The work of construction was done by Companies A and I of the Second Dragoons, under command of Captain George A. H. Blake, who superintended the erection of the buildings. The barracks and other buildings were well constructed, most of them from the shell-rock quarried from the near by hills.4 So well built were the heavy walls that many of them are standing to-day in spite of repeated efforts at their destruction, and have served efficiently in the erection of farm house and barn for later owners of the property after it was relinquished by the Government. The great well, dug by the founders of the post, still furnishes an abundance of fine water.

The actual establishment of Fort Washita dates from April 23, 1843, though most histories of Oklahoma give the date as 1842, possibly confusing the selection of the site with the occupation and erection of the post.5 One of the earliest additions to the garrison was Co. C of the Sixth Infantry, and Major Thos. T. Fauntleroy was one of its first commandants.6

In 1844, Col. W. G. Harney had charge of this post. He later served in the Mexican War, was promoted, for gallantry at Cerro Gordo, to the rank of brigadier-general. He fought with distinction in the Civil War and was made a major- general of the Federal army in 1865.7 Rev. Wm. H. Goode, the Methodist missionary, visited Font Washita in the late fall of 1844, bringing to the post the first news of the election of President Polk. While he found conditions satisfactory from a military standpoint, he evidently did not think very highly of the moral and religious status. "The place is wicked, but the officers courteous" was his verdict. Colonel Harney gave Mr. Goode an opportunity of preaching to the men on Sunday, but after accompanying the minister to the door of the room where the service was to be held, he excused himself and did not remain for the sermon.8

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Within a mile of the fort was the Indian agency, and at the time of Mr. Goode’s visit, Colonel Upshaw held the position of Agent, but evidently did not let the responsibilities of his office weigh too heavily upon him. Mr. Goode had to wait until after the Agent’s "morning fox hunt" to get an appointment with him.9

Only a few miles away, and within sight of the fort, was "Prairie Grove," a Methodist mission school—at that time the most remote mission station of any denomination—a veritable "Outpost of Zion," as Mr. Goode called it. There were not many adherents of Christianity among the Chickasaws at this time, though they responded readily to the Gospel, and soon became a distinctly Christian people.10

Just across the small creek that passed near the fort on its way to Washita, there grew up a little town, known at different times as Hatsboro or Rugglesville. Here many of the employees about the post had their homes, as well as some of the soldiers, who were married and desired to have their families near them. There are a number of people still living in Bryan County, who remember the loud, clear call of the bugle at Fort Washita, sounded from some elevated position in the post, summoning the soldiers from Hatsboro to parade and drill.11

After the Mexican War, and especially after gold had been discovered in California, Fort Washita became a very busy place. One of the approved routes to the Golden West followed the so-called Marcy trail from Fort Smith to Coal Creek, then south through Perryville (near McAlester), Boggy Depot, over Blue River at Nail’s Crossing, on past Fort Washita, thence down the Washita to its mouth, ferrying Red River at Preston. As Texas was then an almost unknown and dangerous waste, overrun by the dreaded Comanches, only large parties, well armed and equipped, undertook the long journey across it. It was the custom for the emigrants to halt for a day or two at Fort Washita, where several parties would consolidate, elect officers and make all other necessary

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arrangements before crossing the Red River.12 General R. B. Marcy, an authority on western travel in those days, published a small guide-book which he called the "Prairie Traveler," in which this route was described with some minuteness. He stated that there was a good camp within a half mile of Fort Washita, and settlers all along the road who would gladly give all needful information to strangers; that the road ran through the Indian settlements to Preston, where stores and a blacksmith shop were to be found.13

General Marcey was one of the best-known soldiers in the western country for twenty years or more preceding the Civil War. He was born in 1812 in the state of Massachusetts, graduated from West Point and became a soldier by profession. He served in the Black Hawk War, and also in the Mexican War. From that time on until the Civil War he was stationed at various western posts in the present territory of Texas and Oklahoma, and won distinction as an explorer and guide. It was from Fort Washita that he went, as will be seen in a later paper, to establish Fort Arbuckle. In the Civil war he became chief of staff for his son-in-law, General George B. McClellan in his West Virginia campaign. He rose to the rank of major-general for his services in the Civil War. After the war, he became well known as a hunter of big game in the Rockies, and as the writer of a number of interesting books, among them being "Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border," and "Border Reminiscences." He died in 1887.14

It was well for the emigrants that a man so well qualified as General Marcy had provided a guide, for the roads at best were not much more than trails, and much of the country still wilderness and very sparsely settled. In 1850, Dr. R. Glisan, to whom we have referred before, made the trip from Fort Smith to Fort Washita by an untraveled route across the Choctaw country, with a guide who did not know the country any too well. It took him six days to make the journey. On the last day, they had reached Blue River, and as he afterwards found, were within twelve miles of the fort. Going into camp in the afternoon, they unharnessed the mules from the wagon in which they were traveling, and let them out to graze. The

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animals wandered off. Late in the afternoon, the driver and guide took the only gun they had and went in search of the mules, leaving the young doctor alone in his glory. Neither guide nor mules made their appearance that evening. Dr. Glisan described that dismal night he spent alone on the wilds of Blue. He said there must have been a regular menagerie of wild beasts and birds around his tent, barking, growling, hooting, and screaming throughout the night. "Whether," said he, "such gatherings of wild animals were ever heard in this dark and dismal forest before, I know not, nor do I care again to be a lonely auditor of their Tartarean chants."15 It was the following afternoon before the guide, accompanied by Dr. E. J. Bally and Lieutenant E. F. Abbott, returned to take him to Fort Washita.

Col. Dixon S. Miles was in command at Fort Washita in 1850. Dr. Glisan speaks of the cordial reception given him by the officers, and he was entertained while at the fort by the post doctor, E. J. Baily and his estimable wife.

Record is left of the visit of a number of large emigrant parties to the Fort during the year 1850. One of these, led by a Captain Reynolds, was from Mississippi, and consisted of fifteen of the big covered wagons.16 One reason for a greater amount of travel to California along the southern routes in 1849-50, was the prevalence of cholera with particular virulence along the northern routes. While there was some of it to the south (it will be remembered that another wstern pioneer soldier, General Matthew Arbuckle, died of this plague at Fort Smith in 1850), the disease was not nearly so prevalent along these trails.17

After the death of General Arbuckle, the ranking officer in the Southwest was General Wm. G. Belknap, who at that time was in command on the Brazos River in Texas. General Belknap was a native of New York state, had been a lieutenant in the War of 1812, and was wounded at the Battle of Lake Erie. He established Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1828, and served as commandant at a number of other western forts. He entered the Mexican War as a captain and came out a brigadier-general, his last promotion coming because of meri-

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torious services in the Battle of Buena Vista.18 The campaigns in the Southwest broke down his health, however, and while on the way from the Brazos to Fort Washita, he grew suddenly worse, and died in an ambulance wagon not far from Washita on November 10, 1851.19 He was buried in the fort cemetery, where a tombstone still bears his name. His body, however, along with those of other U. S. soldiers buried here, was removed to the Fort Gibson cemetery years ago. He was the father of Wm. W. Belknap, a federal general in the Civil War, and Secretary of War under President Grant. Secretary Belknap, it will be remembered, was impeached for malfeasance in office, which matter will be discussed in our chapter on Fort Sill, where the events occurred that caused the charges to be filed.20

In 1854, Colonel Braxton Bragg, later the distinguished Confederate general of Chickamauga and Chattanooga fame held Fort Washita, with two companies of light artillery. He it was to whom General Zachary Taylor—old "Rough and Ready"—had said at the Battle of Buena Vista, "Give them a little more grape, Captain Bragg," and these were the companies that helped win that important fight. In reference to Colonel Bragg, Dr. Glisan said, "His military reputation is not excelled by any officer in the service." He also spoke of Colonel Bragg’s charming manners and pleasing personality."21

We find little further record of events at Fort Washita until just prior to the Civil War. It was constantly occupied by troops, however, except the period between February 17, 1858 and December 29, 1858. At the time of its temporary abandonment it was garrisoned only by Co. K. of the Seventh Infantry under Major, Daniel F. Whiting. This was a period when the forts of the Southwest were almost denuded of men, owing to the policy then being pursued by the War Department. It was re-occupied by two troops of the First Cavalry under Captain Thos. J. Wood.22

When the Civil War appeared imminent, the Federal Government at first seemed inclined to try to hold the Indian country, and Col. W. H. Emory, then in charge of troops in

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this region was instructed to make Fort Washita the center of defense, and to concentrate at that point troops from the other posts of the Territory.23 The Adjutant-General about the same time wrote to the Secretary of War: "Fort Washita is a highly important military point, and the public buildings are in good repair."24 Owing to disturbed conditions in the Southwest, Emory was given full authority to use discretion, which he did, and on May 1, 1861, the four companies then at Fort Washita, later joined by the remainder of the Federal troops in the Territory, started for Kansas, closely pursued by Confederate forces from Texas. The post was never again occupied by the United States.25

Fort Washita was occupied by the Confederates throughout the War. During the earlier part of that struggle, different companies of Texas cavalry seem to have been located there. We have mention of Capt. John W. Marshall and a company of Texans holding the post in 1862.26 General Albert Pike made it a supply depot while he had headquarters on Blue.27 In 1863 Major W. C. Schaumburg, Inspector-General for the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate army, visited Fort Washita, which was then in charge of Lieut. Colonel T. D. Taliaferro. The Inspector’s report was by no means complimentary. He says: "I found the post at Washita in a dilapidated and broken down condition. From a beautiful post it has come to be a perfect wreck. Not a fence or paling is left scarcely. The buildings, quarters, etc. have been terribly used, and no care seems now to be taken of what is left."28 He complimented the quartermaster, Capt. W. A. Welch as an energetic and efficient officer, and spoke of the workshops he had erected for the repair of transportation. He also said the hospital was clean, and the sick well taken care of.

During the latter years of the war, many of the refugee Indians camped near the fort, especially the Seminoles in this immediate section.

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There is record of an inspection of the post in November, 1864, by General S. B. Maxey, then commanding the Confederate forces in the Territory. There had evidently been some improvement, for he reports finding things in good condition.29

Among the names of Civil War times that are intimately connected with this post are General Albert Pike and General Douglas H. Cooper. General Pike’s striking face and long gray hair are well remembered yet by old residents of the Fort Washita region.

Douglas H. Cooper was for a number of years prior to the War, the Government Agent for the Choctaws and Chickasaws, with headquarters near Fort Washita. A native of Mississippi, he was an ardent secessionist, and having by his long service as an Agent secured great influence with the Indians, he used it to attach them to the Confederacy. At the outbreak of the War, he was made colonel of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment in the Confederate service.30 He was a man of undoubted courage and military ability, but dissipated and inclined to be rather unscrupulous. He had served in the Mexican War with Jefferson Davis, however, and before the close of the War, he had secured the coveted title of Major-General and commander of the Confederate forces in the Territory. After the War, he returned to Fort Washita, and sank to a condition of abject poverty, until mercifully relieved by death in 1879. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the old cemetery at Fort Washita.31

With the fall of the Confederacy this post was deserted and burned by the retreating southerners. As stated earlier in this article, it was never repaired by the Federal Government, but on July 1, 1870 the Fort Washita reservation was definitely abandoned and handed over by the War Department to the Department of the Interior to be handled as any other Indian property.32 Therefore, when tribal government ceased, this reservation was allotted along with the remainder of the Chickasaw territory, and Old Fort Washita, or what remained of it, became the home of an Oklahoma farmer.

Southeastern State Teachers’ College,

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