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Oklahoma Journeys

Battle of Round Mountain, November 19, 1861


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The Civil War came to Oklahoma or Indian Territory relatively early in the time frame of the war. Less than eighteen months after the war began, the lives of territorial residents were in chaos. Most historians agree that the first Civil War battle to occur in Indian Territory was at Round Mountain, and that's the topic of this week's Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

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

Although they were technically not a part of the United States at the time, the residents of the Indian Territory in the 1860s were just as affected by the Civil War as anyone else in the country. The nations of the Creeks, Cherokee, Chickasaws and others divided and split themselves between the choices of the northern or southern causes. Most of the larger tribes in Indian Territory were splintered from the conflict, and their homes and lives were thrown into a chaotic state of anarchy, death and destruction. The first Civil War battle to occur in Oklahoma took place as a band of Creeks and Seminoles remaining loyal to the Union and under the command of Creek Chief attempted to make their way to Kansas and safety. As the group and the federal forces made their way north, they were being pursued by a Confederate Cavalry force made up of members of the various tribes and Texans led by Confederate Colonel Douglas Cooper. The two groups played a cat-and-mouse game until the middle of November 1861.

It was in this week of 1861 that Southern forces finally caught up with the Creek group, engaging them in a skirmish near Round Mountain. That fight started late in the afternoon of November 19th and ended at nightfall. In the morning the pursuing Confederates found the northern faction had vanished in the night making their way further north. These two groups chased each other their way north, engaging in two other fights, none, however, as large or substantial as the action at Round Mountain.

In an interesting side note, not long after the war, Oklahoma historians attempted to locate the site of the Battle of Round Mountain, but they could never reach a consensus. Two groups emerged from this investigation; one claiming that the Round Mountain Site lay a few miles east of Stillwater, and the other group emphatically arguing for a site closer to Tulsa and the present-day Lake Keystone dam. This debate raged on through the 1950s and '60s, and a number of friendships were ended because of it. Archaeological evidence emerged from both sites, and the official war records leave the issue in an inconclusive state. Eventually it appeared that the majority of opinions sided with the location near Stillwater; however, the issue to this day still raises a bit of contention.

Most of the material relating to the Battle of Round Mountain resides in the collections of the Archives Division of the Oklahoma History Center and is open to the public to do the investigation. Perhaps you could look at the material and unravel the mystery of where Round Mountain really was. Next year the Oklahoma Historical Society will kick off the 150th anniversary of the first Civil War battle in Oklahoma with a number of events. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.