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Soldier and explorer of the American West, Randolph Barnes Marcy was born in Greenwich, Massachusetts, on April 9, 1812. He graduated from West Point in 1832. Assigned to the Fifth Infantry as a brevet second lieutenant, he advanced to the substantive rank of second lieutenant in 1835 and rose to first lieutenant in 1837 and to captain in 1846.

Marcy served during the early stages of the Mexican War but missed the conflict's conclusion due to an assignment. In 1848 he was given the command of Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. With the discovery of gold in California, he was ordered to provide protection for emigrants moving west through Indian Territory and to survey a potential railroad route from the Mississippi River to California. In April 1849 he departed from Fort Smith for Santa Fe, laying out the Marcy Trail, a route later adopted by the Butterfield Overland Mail.

With the growing influx of gold seekers, the Plains Indians became hostile along the Marcy Trail. To protect emigrants as well as Creeks and Chickasaws from Comanche and Kiowa raids, Marcy was ordered to construct a fort farther west along the trail. Leaving Fort Washita on June 30, 1850, with a company of the Fifth Infantry, he located a site for the new post where the trail approached the Canadian River. There, near present Byars, Oklahoma, he established Camp Arbuckle, named in honor of Brig. Gen. Matthew Arbuckle. The following spring he established Fort Arbuckle near the confluence of the Washita River and Wild Horse Creek, west of present Davis, Oklahoma, and laid out a road to Fort Smith.

In March 1852 Marcy led an expedition in search of the source of the Red River. From May 2 until July 28, 1852, his party crossed previously unexplored Texas and Oklahoma territory and discovered the sources of both forks of the Red River. The expedition also found mineral deposits and new species of wildlife, and it encountered and documented the Wichita Indians. On this mission Marcy also recommended the establishment of what was to become Fort Sill. This expedition has been called the most significant of Marcy's career and his published report, Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, In the Year 1852, became a Western Americana classic.

In summer 1854 Marcy led another expedition from Fort Smith through Fort Washita en route to survey Indian reservations in Texas. In 1857 he served in Florida against the Seminole Indians and campaigned against the Mormons in Utah. Promoted to acting inspector general of the Department of Utah, Marcy was recalled to Washington, D.C., to prepare a guidebook for emigrants heading west. The result was The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions (1859).

In August 1859 Marcy was promoted to major and stationed in the Pacific Northwest. With the start of the Civil War he was promoted to colonel and became inspector general of the Army of the Potomac. Except for a few weeks during 1862, Marcy served as acting brigadier general of volunteers from September 23, 1861, until March 4, 1863. He was breveted brigadier general in the regular army and major general of volunteers in March 1865.

Between 1863 and 1878 Marcy was inspector general of various army departments, and in 1871 he participated in the fact-finding tour of the Texas frontier that led to the Red River War. In December 1878 Marcy was promoted to the regular rank of brigadier general and became inspector general of the army. He also prepared the two volumes, Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border and Border Reminiscences, which contain much Oklahoma material. He retired from the army in 1881 and died on November 22, 1887, in West Orange, New Jersey.

Thomas W. Cutrer


Grant Foreman, ed., Adventure on Red River: Report on the Exploration of the Headwaters of the Red River by Captain Randolph B. Marcy and Captain G. B. McClellan (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937).

Grant Foreman, Marcy and the Gold Seekers: The Journal of Captain R. B. Marcy, with an Account of the Gold Rush Over the Southern Route (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939).

W. Eugene Hollon, Beyond the Cross Timbers: The Travels of Randolph B. Marcy, 1812–1887 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955).

Randolph B. Marcy, Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border (1866; reprint, with an introduction by Edward S. Wallace, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1963).

Randolph B. Marcy, Border Reminiscences (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1872).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Thomas W. Cutrer, “Marcy, Randolph Barnes,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=MA021.

Published January 15, 2010

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