Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fort Gibson, Oklahoma

        One of the disasters in our treatment of the Native Americans was called the Trail of Tears when 46,000 members of the Five Civilized Tribes, which included the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole, over a number of years were removed from the southern US and marched to reserves in Oklahoma. Of the 13,000 Cherokee forced on the Trail of Tears 5000 died. Indian Territory did not have the welcome mat out as the Osage had gotten there first and they were not happy with the interlopers.
        Fort Smith in Arkansas was considered too far away to control the fighting between Indian tribes that was likely to take place. Fort Gibson was established in 1824 in preparation for the Civilized Tribes’ move into Indian Territory, and the Seventh Cavalry was charged with keeping the Osage and Cherokee from fighting with each other.

Fort Gibson’s role to referee between warring tribes

        The Fort Gibson in Oklahoma I visited was largely reconstructed during the depression by the Works Projects Administration and was intended to be as close as possible to an authentic reproduction Rooms have furniture, cots, desks and other objects to give visitors some idea of what the original was like.
        It would have been hard to find a worse place to build a fort. Colonel Matthew Arbuckle built it on the east bank of the Grand River just above where the Verdigris and Arkansas Rivers come together. The fort served as a supply point for materials intended for the Indians who arrived often at the point of starvation. The area was a bad one for disease, especially malaria, because it flooded regularly. In one period over 500 men of the troops stationed there died of various diseases.
        The problem was more than just Cherokee and Osage conflicts because the Indians in the area were from various tribes that did not get along partly because of different lifestyles, some being hunter-gatherers and some being farmers. Other forts took over the duties of controlling the Indian conflicts.
        Confederate troops captured the fort in 1861, but evacuated the post when a stronger unit of Union soldiers approached. This gave the Union Army control of the shipping of supplies on the three-river complex. The South was never successful in winning the fort back despite attempts. This is one place where they were outgeneraled.
        Fort Gibson was a base for troops moving south during the Mexican-American War in which the US gained much additional territory from Mexico. Later it became a jumping off point for gold seekers during the California Gold Rush. It was vacated in 1890, rebuilt in the 1930s and made a national historic landmark in 1960. It is now a museum that interprets its role in the history of the development of the American West.
        Because of the unhealthy conditions of the first fort, a second fort was constructed on a hill nearby, and here a barracks, magazine, hospital and bake house have been constructed along with a commanding officer’s quarters.
        Although I did not visit the fort during a Living History event, re-enactors do occasionally put on demonstrations involving camp life, the last one being a Mexican War Encampment in early October.

The rooms at the fort have period furniture.


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