Two Oklahoma military outposts were designated Camp Holmes. The first, often referred to as "Old" Camp Holmes, was established in June 1834, five miles south of present Holdenville in Hughes County. Situated on the Little River's east bank, some two miles above its confluence with the Canadian River, Camp Holmes was named for Lt. Theophilus Hunter Holmes, the commander of the Seventh Infantry detachment that constructed the post.
Camp Holmes originated as a forward base for the Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition. Lieutenant Holmes led his troops from Fort Gibson to the mouth of the Little River and began building the post on June 21, 1834. A military road connected the site with Fort Gibson. The camp was called Camp Canadian before being named in honor of Holmes.
The fortification was designed to house two companies of troops within a picket enclosure eighty yards square. As many as seventy men toiled to build the outpost. The Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition reached the site on June 25, 1834, and departed the next day. Twenty-seven dragoons became ill and remained in camp, where many died and were buried. The expedition returned to Camp Holmes on August 10, 1834, and found that one blockhouse and lodgings for one company of troops had been completed. Fort Gibson commander Col. James B. Many withdrew the Camp Holmes garrison in autumn 1834. Camp Holmes is often referred to as a fort, yet there is disagreement concerning its official designation.
A second Camp Holmes was established in May 1835 by troops under the command of Maj. Richard B. Mason of the First Dragoon Regiment. Ordered to contact the Comanche, Kiowa, and other western tribes and invite them to Fort Gibson for talks, Mason and his men left Fort Gibson on May 18. After marching 150 miles toward the southwest, Mason found an appropriate campsite along now-diverted Chouteau Creek just north of present Lexington in Cleveland County.
When the Plains tribes refused to visit Fort Gibson, officials decided to hold a council at "New" Camp Holmes. Mason's soldiers erected a brush arbor and crafted bench seats, and troops from Fort Gibson cleared a road to the site. U.S. commissioners Montfort Stokes and Gen. Matthew Arbuckle arrived on August 19 accompanied by representatives of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Osage, and other eastern Indian Territory tribes. Designed to bring peace to the region, the Treaty of Camp Holmes was signed on August 25, 1835. Major Mason and his men abandoned the encampment on August 29.
Auguste P. Chouteau, who had served as Mason's interpreter and advisor, constructed a stockade near Camp Holmes soon after the army's departure. He maintained "Camp Mason," as he called it, as a trading post until his death in 1838. Dragoons spent the winter of 1837-38 at "Chouteau's Fort" and built cabins for shelter. Over time the structures were occupied by Kichai Indians, trader Jesse Chisholm, hunters, outlaws, and settlers and served as a line camp for rancher Montford Johnson.
Known by several names, the site became a stopping place for travelers. Josiah Gregg visited "Camp Holmes" en route to Santa Fe in 1839. Capt. Nathan Boone was at "Mason's Fort" (as well as Old Camp Holmes and Edwards Post) in 1843. Lt. James W. Abert and Capt. Randolph B. Marcy passed "Fort Holmes" in 1845 and 1849, respectively. Sooners occupied the site prior to the opening of the Unassigned Lands in April 1889. They were removed by soldiers who eradicated the remains of Camp Holmes and Chouteau's Post.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carolyn Thomas Foreman, "Lieutenant-General Theophilus Hunter Holmes, C. S. A., Founder of Fort Holmes," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 35 (Winter 1957-58). Grant Foreman, Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest (Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1926). Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West: Military Forts and Presidios and Posts Commonly Called Forts West of the Mississippi River to 1898 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972). William Brown Morrison, Military Posts and Camps in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Harlow Publishing, 1936). Howard F. Van Zandt, "The History of Camp Holmes and Chouteau's Trading Post," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 13 (September 1935).
Jon D. May
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