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Oklahoma Journeys

Fort Gibson Abandoned, 1871


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Saying hello and goodbye to a grand old piece of Oklahoma's history this week on Oklahoma Journeys. It protected thousands of American Indians, served as a home to hundreds of soldiers and helped bring peace and order to the Oklahoma frontier, but after six decades of hard work, Fort Gibson called it quits this week on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

In the 1820s when the eastern tribes of American Indians began their migration into what is now Arkansas and Oklahoma, conflict erupted between the tribes that were already here, mainly the Osage and the various eastern nations. To keep the peace and to provide protection to the new arrivals, the U.S. Army initially relied on troops stationed at Fort Smith. It soon became apparent, however, that as the number of Americans Indian tribes moving into the area increased a fort would be needed that was further west of Fort Smith. To achieve that objective Colonel Matthew Arbuckle, along with several companies from the 7th Infantry, established Cantonment Gibson on the Neosho or Grand River several miles above the point that it flows into the Arkansas. Within a few years the name was changed to Fort Gibson, and Fort Gibson became the headquarters of the 7th Infantry and the Mounted Rangers in 1832.

The nation's first dragoon regiment called the fort home beginning in1833, and in 1834 Fort Gibson was designated as Headquarters of the Southwestern Frontier. For the massive waves of American Indians being forced to move into the region during the mid- to late-1830s, Fort Gibson was often the first stop in the Indian Territory and provided a distribution point for rations and supplies. By the 1840s the role of the fort as a protector from and for various tribes was largely over, and in 1857 the post was abandoned with the buildings and land being turned over to the Cherokee Nation.

Indian Territory experienced the destructive nature of the Civil War just as much as any other region of the country, if not more so, and the fort was reactivated in 1863. During the war the fort became a key defensive point for the Union in the Indian Territory. The fort continued on redesignated as a supply post until 1872 when it was reactivated to combat the rampant gangs of outlaws roaming the region. The fort remained active through the 1870s and 1880s, helping officials to keep the peace and maintain order in the territories, both Oklahoma and Indian. In 1890, with the winding down of the frontier era, a military outpost in eastern Oklahoma simply was no longer needed. It was in this week of 1890 that the U.S. Army officially and for the last time abandoned Fort Gibson, the one-time bastion of peace and stability on the American Frontier.

This spring the Oklahoma Historical Society announced plans to begin a million-dollar renovation of the fort, replacing roofs, rotten timber, chinking, and creating a drainage system for the fort. Today, the fort in a mixture of rebuilt and original components still stands. A fall encampment will take place the weekend of October 8th and 9th, with an education day for on October 8th and re-enactors from the 6th Infantry Division reliving the fort during the 1846 war with Mexico. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma Historical Society, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.