The town of Fort Gibson is in Muskogee County, located at the junction of U.S. Highway 62 and State Highway 80, nine miles east of Muskogee. Col. Matthew Arbuckle established Cantonment Gibson, later Fort Gibson, on April 21, 1824, to settle strife between the Osage and the Cherokee. Near the southwestern boundary of the Cherokee Nation, the post provided relative safety for a camp town of military families, Cherokees, and African Americans and was one of the oldest such settlements in the future state of Oklahoma.
In 1857 the U.S. government abandoned the Fort Gibson stockade, and all the properties were returned to the Cherokee Nation. At this time, Cherokees renamed the camp town Keetoowah. Federal troops were again garrisoned at Fort Gibson temporarily during the Civil War. The camp town rebounded, as refugees sought protection near the fort. Through the 1870s and 1880s the community grew. In 1872 the Tenth Cavalry reoccupied the fort to keep law and order in nearby railroad camps for workers engaged in building the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad from Kansas to the Red River. When the Kansas and Arkansas Valley Railroad built through the area in 1888, a new town was constructed closer to the tracks. After the military permanently departed, the civilian community expanded into the fort. On May 20, 1898, the Articles of Incorporation for the town of Fort Gibson were established under the Arkansas Statutes, placing all of the occupied areas under one jurisdiction.
Poorly located and beset by fires, mosquitoes, and other afflictions, the town moved to higher ground around 1900. The first buildings, including "Black Town" (an African American section), faced west toward the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks. In 1904 the town was turned around and situated one block east when J. C. Pierce built the first brick building. In 1906 John C. Berd constructed a brick-and-stone building for his drugstore, and the commercial district grew around these two permanent features. In 1904 the town of Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, was surveyed and platted. Its 1907 population comprised 1,063 residents.
One of the oldest non-Indian settlements in Oklahoma, Fort Gibson had other firsts, such as the first telephone, first drama theater, first steamboat landing, first school for the blind, first highway to Fort Smith, the first interurban, which connected Fort Gibson to Muskogee, and one of the first post offices. In 1896 J. S. Holden began publishing a weekly newspaper, the Post. At least six other newspapers followed in the early twentieth century; the Fort Gibson Times carried this tradition into the twenty-first century. In 1940, 1,233 people populated the town, and by 1970 there were 1,418 citizens. Home to twenty-six churches and fourteen civic clubs and organizations at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the town boasted a strong civic spirit. The town has a board of trustees type of government. The manufacturing industry supports the majority of laborers, with the health care sector a close second. The 2000 census listed 4,054 residents, and the school system housed nineteen hundred students at a teacher-student ratio of one to fifteen.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Grant Foreman, Fort Gibson: A Brief History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1936). Fort Gibson Genealogical and Historical Society, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma Area: and the old Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation (Cane Hill, Ark.: ARC Press, 2000). Vincent Lackey, The Forts of Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla.: Tulsa Printing Co., 1963). George H. Shirk, Oklahoma Name Places, (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974). C. W. West, Fort Gibson, Gateway to the West (Muskogee, Okla.: Muscogee Publishing Co., 1974).
Fort Gibson Genealogical and Historical Society
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