Fort Gibson, Muskogee County, Oklahoma

 

In many respects, Fort Gibson, located seven miles east of Muskogee, is the most interesting place, from an historic standpoint, in the State of Oklahoma. In 1824, before the Cherokees and Creeks, with the possible exception of a few wandering bands, had been compelled to abandon their Eastern homes and take up their abode in this unknown and uninhabited country, the United States Government sent Matthew Arbuckle, colonel of the Seventh Regiment, United States Infantry, with a battalion of soldiers, to establish a frontier outpost, for the purpose of suppressing the Indian wars and insurrections of the uncivilized tribes that roamed over the vast unknown domain between the Arkansas River and the Rocky Mountain region. The site selected was an ideal one, located as it was on the summit of a gently sloping hill, overlooking the Grand River and within sight of the point where the Grand, Verdigris and Arkansas rivers unite to form the greater Arkansas.

In the summer of 1832 Washington Irving traveled overland from St. Louis to Fort Gibson, accompanied by a few friends and from this point started westward on his trip which is so minutely described in his book, "A Tour on the Prairies." In the first chapter he gives the following picture of this section of the country as it appeared to the tourist, ninety years ago

"In the often vaunted regions of the Far West, several hundred miles beyond the Mississippi, extends a vast tract of uninhabited country where there is neither to be. seen the log house of the white man, nor the wigwam of the Indian. It consists -of grassy plains, interspersed with forests and groves and clumps of trees, and watered by the Arkansas, the grand Canadian, the Red River, and their tributary streams. Over these fertile and verdant wastes still roam the elk, the buffalo and the wild horse, in all their native freedom. These, in fact, are the hunting grounds of the various tribes of the Far West. Hither repair the Osage, the Creek, the Delaware and other tribes that have linked themselves with civilization, and live within the vicinity of the white settlements. Here resort also the Pawnee, the Comanche and other fierce, and as yet independent tribes, the nomads of the prairies or the inhabitants of the skirts of the Rocky Mountains. The regions I have mentioned form a debatable ground of these warring and vindictive tribes; none of them presume to erect a permanent habitation within its borders. Their hunters and 'Braves' repair thither in numerous bodies during the season of game, throw up their transient hunting camps, consisting of light bowers covered with bark and skins, commit sad havoc among the innumerable herds that graze the prairies, and having loaded themselves with venison and buffalo meat, warily retire from the dangerous neighborhood.

"These expeditions partake, always, of a warlike character; the hunters are armed for action, offensive and defensive, and are bound to incessant vigilance. Should they, in their excursions, meet the hunters of an adverse, tribe, savage conflicts take place. Their encampments, too, are always subject to be surprised by wandering war parties, and their hunters, when scattered in pursuit of game, to be captured or, massacred by lurking foes. Mouldering skulls and skeletons, bleaching in some dark ravine, or near the traces of a hunting camp, occasionally mark the scene of a foregone act of blood, and let the wanderer know the dangerous nature of the region he is traversing. It is the purport of the following pages to narrate a month's excursion to these noted hunting grounds, through a tract of country which had not as yet been explored by white men."

Fort Gibson was named in honor of Colonel Gibson at that time chief of the Commissary Department of the army. Cheaply constructed buildings were utilized at first for housing the army post, but twenty years later, spacious barracks, officers' headquarters. and other buildings were constructed of stone obtained from the nearby hills.

Many persons of National prominence have at various times been stationed here. Zachary Taylor, "rough and ready," afterward President of the United States, was stationed there, as colonel, for a while, about 1835, as was also his son-in-law, Jefferson Davis, a lieutenant in the regular army. It is claimed that Davis eloped with Taylor's daughter, married her, resigned his commission in the army and returned to his home in Mississippi. Gen. Sam Houston was located there for a while and other military men, who afterward acquired fame, were stationed there for a longer or shorter period of time, some of them merely on tours of inspection. Soon after the M. K. & T. railroad had completed the laying of its track as far as Gibson Station, James G. Blaine came down and traveled. by stage from Gibson Station to Fort Gibson, to visit his daughter and her husband, Colonel Coppinger, who was then stationed at the Fort. Mr. Blaine suffered quite a spell of sickness while there, and was also detained at the home of Capt. George Shannon at Gibson Station for several days by illness.

News correspondents have been fond of rehearsing the story that Henry M. Stanley, the African explorer, taught school at Fort Gibson, and that Admiral George Dewey was at one time stationed there, but these statements are not correct. The Stanley who taught school there was a Scotchman, and Admiral Dewey's wife, who was formerly the widow of General Hazen, visited there many years prior to her becoming Mrs. Dewey.

For forty-eight years after Fort Gibson was established there were no railroads in Indian Territory and nearly all of the supplies were brought by boat and unloaded at the confluence of the Grand, Verdigris and Arkansas rivers, and for many years, thousands of tons of freight were unloaded from boats at the point now called Hyde Park, four miles northeast of Muskogee, and from there, hauled by caravans of ox teams to points as far as 150 miles westward. This trade increased from year to year as various outposts of civilization were established in Western Oklahoma and New Mexico and reached its highest point soon after the numerous prairie schooners joined the overland procession to California, and Arizona in search of gold. About the year 1870, twenty steamboats were plying the rivers between Fort Gibson and New Orleans, and 25,000 tons of freight were annually landed at Hyde Park, in addition to the Government's supplies brought to Fort Gibson. In those days it was thought nothing unusual to load cargoes of freight on boats at New York, Cincinnati or St. Louis, destined for Fort Gibson. In view of the fact that railroad freight rates are excessively high at the present time, it might not be amiss for shippers to remember that history may repeat itself.

When Arkansas River Was Navigable

The following advertisement was published regularly in the Cherokee Advocate prior to the Civil War:

At the approach of the Civil war, the United States War Department displayed very bad judgment by withdrawing troops from Fort Gibson to perform service in Missouri and Kansas. By thus weakening and for awhile practically abandoning the Fort, the emissaries of the Southern Confederacy were left free to exert their utmost efforts to induce the Indians to align themselves with the South. Many Indians, who at the outbreak of the war were opposed to taking up arms against the Government, were left at the mercy of the Southern invaders, and for their own protection were compelled to favor the side of the Confederates. Those, who refused to do so, were subjected to severe punishment, many being compelled to abandon their homes and live stock and flee to Kansas for safety, thus being very poorly rewarded for their loyalty to the Government. For some time- during the war the Confederate army had possession of the Fort, and at other times the Confederates scoured ;the surrounding country at will, the garrison at the Fort being too, weak to attack the enemy. After the mischief had been done, after the Indians had been induced to form alliances with the South and the loyal ones driven from their homes, the war department dispatched reinforcements to the garrison and the Confederates were driven back toward the South.

 After the Civil war was ended, a small garrison of Federal soldiers was stationed at the Fort until 1891 when it was abandoned by the Government and the buildings donated to the Cherokee Nation. About 1901 the property. was sold at public auction, the principal buildings converted into private homes, the older buildings torn down, so that now there is but little left to indicate the site of the old historic Fort Gibson.

The Town of Fort Gibson, surrounding the old garrison, is now a quiet little city of 1,500 inhabitants, in the midst of an excellent agricultural section of the country. The Arkansas River Valley, adjoining the town on the west, contains the best land in the state. Two crops of Irish potatoes per year are produced here and shipped by train loads to Northern markets. The country- east of the town is rolling, much of which is in cultivation, the rougher portion being well adapted to fruit culture.

Fort Gibson has two railroads, the St. Louis & Iron Mountain road, a branch of the Missouri Pacific System, extending from Kansas City to Fort Smith, Ark., and a branch of the St. Louis & San Francisco line extending from Okmulgee to Fayetteville, Ark. An interurban line also connects Fort Gibson with Muskogee. The Farmers' National Bank and The Citizens' National Bank, both substantial institutions, supply the town with good financial facilities. Fort Gibson maintains a good public school system in which a corps of ten teachers is employed, and church organizations are maintained by the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations.

Among its pioneer citizens, Mr. F. H. Nash, who died but a few years ago, was one of the foremost. He was a native of Louisiana, but came to Fort Gibson in 1853. After clerking in a store for several years, he purchased a stock of dry goods and groceries and began business for himself. His store was looted by Confederate soldiers during the Civil war and he was compelled to go North. After the war closed he returned to Fort Gibson, .again engaged in the mercantile business, married a Cherokee wife and reared of family of very estimable children. He was widely known and highly respected as a citizen and Christian gentleman.

Mr. J. S. Holden, editor of the Fort Gibson Post and New Era, for many years was a man of very striking personality. He was a constant student, a versatile writer and a very entertaining conversationalist. He was familiar with every incident of any importance connected with the history of the old Fort. He was born in Ireland, came to America with his parents during his early childhood and devoted the greater part of his life to the newspaper business. He died in Fort Gibson about two years ago at the age of seventy-eight years.

Connell Rogers, a ,Cherokee by blood, has resided in the vicinity of Fort Gibson, for the past forty years or more. During Territorial days he held numerous positions of honor in the Cherokee Nation, and several years after statehood he was elected as treasurer of Muskogee County. He was fortunate in securing for himself and the members of his family a fine body of Arkansas River Valley land lying between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, and for several years past, has specialized in raising potatoes for Northern markets. Several years ago he purchased one of the stone buildings which had been officers' headquarters during the ante bellum days, and converted it into a model modern residence. It is located on the highest point on the old Fort reservation and from that eminence he can survey his fertile farms in the valley below.

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