Located in present Bryan County, Oklahoma, Fort Washita was established in 1842. Positioned one and one-half miles east of the Washita River, and about eighteen miles north of the Red River, the site of Fort Washita was approved by Gen. Zachary Taylor, commander of the Second Military Department. Construction of the post was performed by men of the Second Dragoons under the command of Capt. George A. H. Blake. The fort served to protect the Chickasaw from aggressive Plains Indian tribes and unscrupulous whites, and it also stood guard over the Texas frontier. During the 1850s the fort was a bustling stop for travelers destined for the California gold fields.
A nearly continuous construction of permanent buildings at Fort Washita began in 1843. Within fifteen years a hospital, surgeon's quarters, and barracks had been constructed of stone. Other additions included such amenities as a bowling alley, a bar, a library, and a newspaper.
Various companies of dragoons, infantry, and artillery garrisoned Fort Washita from its founding until it closed in 1858. Comanche activity in that year caused the fort to be reoccupied in December. During the Civil War, Fort Washita was abandoned by Federal troops under Lt. Col. William H. Emory in May 1861. Confederate soldiers quickly seized the post and used it for a variety of functions. The fort's buildings were burned in August 1865.
In 1870 Fort Washita was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Kept by the Chickasaw Nation, the fort's grounds were allotted to tribal members in the early 1900s. In 1962 the State of Oklahoma purchased the land and transferred it to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and restoration of the site began. Fort Washita was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 (NR 66000626). Fort Washita Historic Site and Museum, situated fifteen miles east of Madill on State Highway 199, is open to the public.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert W. Frazer, Forts of the West: Military Forts and Presidios, and Posts Commonly Called Forts, West of the Mississippi River to 1898 (2d ed.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972). James A. Howard II, "Fort Washita," in Early Military Forts and Posts in Oklahoma, ed. Odie B. Faulk, Kenny A. Franks, and Paul F. Lambert (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1978). W. B. Morrison, "Fort Washita," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 5 (June 1927). Muriel H. Wright and LeRoy H. Fischer, "Civil War Sites in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Summer 1966).
Jon D. May
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