October 10, 2017
National Historic Landmark Fort Washita Transferred to the Chickasaw Nation
OKLAHOMA CITY — On July 11, 2017, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS), met at the Chickasaw Nation headquarters in Ada to officially transfer ownership of Fort Washita Historic Site to the Chickasaw Nation.
“The transfer concluded negotiations that had been ongoing for about a year,” said Blackburn. “As with most state agencies, the OHS has been faced with budgetary challenges over the past ten years. These challenges led to the difficult decision that some of our properties might be better cared for under new ownership so, with the approval of our board of directors, negotiations began,” continued Blackburn.
Fort Washita has a history closely tied to the Chickasaw Nation. Established in 1842, the fort was located on the southwestern-most edge of the American frontier: to the east was the Choctaw Nation, to the west was the Chickasaw Nation, and the Republic of Texas was directly south across the Red River. The fort was constructed to promote peace between the recently removed Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations and the Plains tribes who previously called the area home. Furthermore, because Chickasaws had unsettled scores with some of the Plains tribes due to disputes concerning hunting grounds back in the Homeland, the fort was designed to resolve any new conflicts triggered from past encounters. Lastly, attacks by Texas militia seeking justice after raids by those same southern Plains tribes, and interference by unscrupulous intruders, traders and trappers, were yet another reason for the establishment of the fort.
At the start of the Civil War in 1861, the fort was abandoned by Union troops due to the proximity and vulnerability to Confederate Texas. Immediately, Fort Washita was occupied by Confederate troops and was used as a headquarters and hospital during the remainder of the Civil War. Following the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, most of the buildings were burned. The fort was granted to the Chickasaw Nation, and later the Dawes Commission allotted the fort and surrounding land to the Charles Colbert family, a prominent Chickasaw family. It remained in the family until the state purchased the property in 1962.
“We have every confidence that the Chickasaw Nation will be excellent stewards of this important piece of Oklahoma history,” said Blackburn. “The state of Oklahoma served as caretakers of the property for over 50 years, and now it has returned to the ownership of the Chickasaw Nation where it would have remained but for allotment.”
Jim Argo, manager of Fort Washita, remains at the site under the Chickasaw Nation and popular programs such as Ghost Stories and the Rendezvous will continue.
Governor Anoatubby said, “The Chickasaw Nation is very pleased to add Fort Washita to our cultural properties. It is an important historical resource not just for the Chickasaw Nation but for all of Oklahoma. We want to ensure that it continues to be available for the education and enjoyment of all.”
“The OHS and the Chickasaw Nation have enjoyed a long and successful partnership, working together to preserve and share cultural and historical resources,” continued Anoatubby.
This is the third property to be transferred from the OHS to the Chickasaw Nation. In 1993 the Chickasaw Nation assumed operations of the Council House Museum in Tishomingo and the home of Chickasaw Governor Douglas Johnston in Emet, known as the “Chickasaw White House.”
The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.