Fort Arbuckle

  

   The move to the new location was made in April 1851. Already almost every officer and man in the company had been ill with malarial fever, which gave an added reason for the change. Previous to evacuating Camp Arbuckle, Lieutenant Updegraff and Dr. Glisan went down and made a careful report on the topography of the proposed site, especially from the standpoint of sanitation and health. The location was carefully chosen on the slopes of the Arbuckle Mountains (these were so named from the fort), at an elevation of five hundred feet above the Washita River, and four miles from that stream, near Wild Horse Creek. A never failing water supply was furnished by a limpid spring that gushed from the mountain side with power enough to run a mill, Dr. Glisan said. This spring still flows from the mountains, but like so many others, has lost much of its volume since the forests have been cut away and the fields reduced to cultivation. The fort received its name from the veteran General Matthew Arbuckle, who had recently died of the cholera at Fort Smith.
   The new fort was constructed with considerable care. The buildings were erected in the shape of a rectangle, a line of barracks on either side, with commissary and quartermaster's quarters at one end, and the officers' quarters at the other. Outside of the rectangle there was another long one-story building, suitably divided, and used as dispensary and steward's room, hospital, and kitchen. One hundred yards north of the commissary was the sutler's store. The houses were all well built of hewn logs, chinked with wood and clay, and had stone chimneys.
   In June, 1851, Companies G. and H. of the Seventh Infantry arrived under the command of Major George Andrews, while Captain Marcy's company, which had been engaged in the work of construction, was ordered to Texas, where the remainder of the Fifth Infantry was being concentrated on the Brazos River. Major Andrews, however, was soon ordered back to Fort Gibson. The work on Fort Arbuckle was completed during the summer of 1851.
   During the summer of 1852, Captain Marcy, assisted by Lieutenant George B. McClellan (his son-in-law, and later the famous Federal general during the Civil War), led a party from Fort Belknap, Texas, to explore the headwater of Red River. He made the mistake of following the north fork of that stream instead of the southern or main channel. This later led to the controversy between Texas and Oklahoma, in which Oklahoma won the decision of the Supreme Court in 1896, which added what are now Jackson, Harmon and Greer counties to the territory of this state. There were one hundred and twenty men in the exploring party. During their absence the report reached the settlements that the party had been attacked and destroyed by the Comanches. However, they returned to civilization by way of Fort Arbuckle, arriving there July 28, 1852, where they had the pleasure of reading their own obituaries.
   Life at the fort must have been rather dreary in the earlier days of the post, if the number of desertions may be accepted as evidence. Sixteen desertions were reported for the month of March 1853. About the only excitement was killing rattlesnakes, which were very numerous in the neighborhood of the fort--and, for that matter, may still be found today in the Arbuckles. Dr. Glisan speaks of getting up on morning and finding a large rattler under his bed, while the same day a six-foot specimen was killed in the mess tent.
   In accordance with Captain Marcy's recommendation, travelers to California were beginning to use the shorter route across Texas, which brought an occasional emigrant party to Fort Arbuckle. In June 1853, a Colonel Lander from Kentucky passed the fort with seven hundred and twenty-five of the finest cattle that had ever been seen in that region. He was on his way to the new "Promised Land" in the Far West. People at the fort did not think that he would ever reach California with his cattle owing to the many difficulties that beset the long journey.
   A party of Mormons en route from Texas to Salt Lake City spent several days at the fort during this same summer. Dr. Glisan records the fact that he attended their sick during the time of their stay, and did not even receive thanks for his trouble, though their lack of gratitude should probably not be attributed to their peculiar religious beliefs. By request of the soldiers, who were curious to know something about Mormonism, the elder in charge of the party preached for the garrison.
   An important event in the early spring of 1854 was the visit made by Assistant Inspector General Edward R. Canby, of the United States Army. General Canby had risen to the rank of brigadier general during the Mexican War. He commanded the Union forces in New Mexico during the Civil War, attaining the rank of major general. He met a tragic death at the hands of the Modoc Indians in 1873 while attending a peace conference at Van Brennan's Ranch, California.
   When Fort Towson was abandoned in 1854, its garrison was sent to Arbuckle. Among the officers mentioned as being located here in September of this year were: Major George Andrews, D. P. Whiting, T. H. Holmes, and J. C. Henshaw; Captains S. G. Simmons, Franklin Gardner; Lieutenants S. B. Hayman, H. M. Black, R. M. Garland, N. B. Pearce, and Guerden Chapin. A number of these men became prominent during the Civil War. Guerdin Chapin, an uncle of the writer of this paper, was a Virginian and a graduate of the United States Military at West Point, N. Y. His experience illustrates one of the tragic phases of our great fratricidal struggle. His father was an intense Southern partisan, but when the war broke out young Chapin remained with the Union army where he rose to the rank of colonel. His father disowned him, and never allowed his name to be mentioned in his presence again. When the war was over, Colonel Chapin returned to the old home in Virginia to find that his father had died, and that his youngest brother, a Confederate soldier, was sleeping in the cemetery at Lexington, near his old commander, Stonewall Jackson, with a Federal bullet in his heart.
   At the outbreak of the Civil War there were two companies of cavalry stationed at Arbuckle, while Colonel W. H. Emory at Fort Smith was in command of all the troops of the Territory. Fort Arbuckle was evidently not considered of much importance at this time, as Fort Cobb had already been constructed farther west, and Fort Washita commanded the lower reaches of the river of the same name. Even before the Government had decided to evacuate the entire Territory, the Assistant Adjutant General had written the Secretary of War that "Arbuckle will no doubt be broken up under the discretionary orders given Colonel Emory." While not broken up, it was hastily abandoned May 3, 1861, when Colonel Emory marched north accompanied by the garrisons of all the posts in this section. It was temporarily occupied by Texas troops who were pursuing Emory. Arbuckle played no part of any importance during the war, but was generally occupied by a portion of the Chickasaw forces. A section of the Chickasaw Battalion, one of the best known troops of cavalry furnished to the Confederacy by that Indian tribe, was stationed here in 1862.
   At the close of the Civil War, Federal troops again occupied this post. In 1867 two companies of the Sixth Infantry and two troops of the Tenth Cavalry were stationed here, all under the command of Captain James W. Walsh. Not far from the fort was a settlement of Chickasaw freedmen a few miles up Wild Horse Creek. There were also a few Caddo scouts connected with the garrison. Quite a large portion of the infantry troops located at Arbuckle at this time were Irishmen recruited from the Bowery district of New York City. Though so far removed from that center of civilization, they seemed able to secure an abundance of liquid refreshments, and the guardhouse was generally filled with those who had become incapacitated by too frequent potations.
   It was General Phil Sheridan's plan to make Fort Arbuckle the supply center for his Indian campaign begun in 1868. The supplies were to have been shipped to Fort Gibson by water and thence overland by wagon to Arbuckle. This plan did not prove very successful, however, owing to bad weather and various delays. But a great many stores were collected at Arbuckle, notably large quantities of grain and hay. In the early spring of 1869, when the trails were in such condition that wagons could be moved only with great difficulty, Sheridan sent a large number of his horses and mules down to Fort Arbuckle to be fed. "Little Phil" himself made a visit to the post this same spring, guided by California Joe, a famous scout of that day. The latter must have gotten on familiar terms with some of the Bowery Irishmen of the Sixth Infantry, for the General relates that Joe got on a prolonged drunk and finally had to be placed in an ambulance and hauled back to Camp Sill.
   The construction of Fort Sill meant the death knell of Arbuckle, and most of the latter's garrison was moved to Sill in the fall of 1869. One of the last commanders of the post was Lieutenant Richard T. Jacob, who with a detachment of one hundred men, guarded the stores at the fort during the summer of 1869. He was then barely twenty years of age, and was probably the youngest post commander in the United States at that time. In the late fall of 1869 four companies of the Tenth Cavalry were sent to Fort Arbuckle under command of Major James E. Yard. It was thought to be more economical to bring the horses to Arbuckle to feed them rather than to transport the stores over the almost impassable trails. These troops remained until most of the supplies were consumed, when the fort was finally abandoned in the early spring of 1870.
   In 1851, Ft. Arbuckle was on the fringe of the civilized world in the west. It was used for several purposes. Although there were no major Indian battles at the fort, it was the deployment point for the army to points south and west. These troops garrisoned at Ft. Arbuckle were sent on to Texas, Mexico and New Mexico to fight the Comanche. It had a good hospital where the seriously wounded in these battles were brought to recover. The post was also used for the re-supply of troops in the field and as a station for the immigrant trains traveling to the west.
   Ft. Arbuckle was originally a post that measured 12 miles by 12 miles. Later, at the request of the Chickasaw government, it was reduced in size to 9 miles by 12 miles. The reason for the large size of the post was to have adequate space for the friendly tribes to camp in the protection of the army post. At one time there were two camps near the fort that contained 400 Kickapoo Indians. Those tribes, among others, were the Delaware, Wichita, Caddo and some of the Peneteka band of Comanche who were a little more friendly that the Quohada band..
   During the less than 20 years it was in operation, Fort Arbuckle was occupied by the U. S. Army, Confederate troops including the Chickasaw Brigade during the Civil War, then reoccupied by the U. S. Army's 10th Calvary or "Buffalo Soldiers".

  

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Copyright - Trails to the Past - Monday, 01-Sep-2014 05:57:21 MDT