CAMP NAPOLEON COUNCIL
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 the Confederate Bureau of Indian Affairs sought to lure the Indian tribes of the trans-Mississippi region away from the security of their established ties with the United States and ally them with the new nation whose uncertain future was to be determined by war. In exchange for arms, equipment, protection, and money, the Five Civilized Tribes, among others in the Indian Territory, aided the Confederate war effort by contributing men to the military and security to those Texans and Arkansans living near the border. As the fortunes of war turned against the Confederacy, however, the people of the Indian Territory soon discovered that the Confederate government, much like the United States before the war, could not or would not keep its promises.
Beginning in autumn 1863 leaders in the Indian Territory convened a series of intertribal councils to discuss their concerns and make plans for the future. One of the last and most remarkable of those councils occurred in May 1865. In April Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi, undeterred by news of the collapse of Confederate military and political order, strove to maintain the alliance with the nations of Indian Territory and to include as many of the southern plains tribes as possible.
On May 24 delegates from the Five Civilized Tribes, as well as representatives from other nations, including the Caddo, Osage, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche, gathered at Camp Napoleon on the banks of the Washita River near present Verden in Grady County. By that time, however, tribal leaders were aware of Kirby Smith's imminent surrender to Federal authorities. Realizing that their survival depended upon cooperative action among traditionally disassociated tribes and bands, the delegates organized a confederacy of their own. They drafted a compact on May 26 to cement an alliance between the nations represented there and "to present a body that would afford sufficient strength to command respect and assert and maintain our rights. . . ." Likening the league to a "band of brothers," participants at the Camp Napoleon Council hoped to achieve "the peace, the happiness, and the protection of all alike, and the preservation of our race." With that objective in mind, Indian people of the southern plains looked resolutely to the future as they strove to reestablish ties with the United States. Their hopes for survival as independent nations, however, were dashed by the Reconstruction Treaties of 1866 and other treaties and by congressional acts that followed.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Brad R. Clampitt, "'An Indian Shall Not Spill an Indian's Blood': The Confederate-Indian Conference at Camp Napoleon, 1865," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 83 (Spring 2005). Anna Lewis, "Camp Napoleon," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (December 1931). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 2 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1896).
Alan C. Downs
© Oklahoma Historical Society