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Fort Coffee


   In 1834, because of illegal whiskey and other contraband coming into Indian Territory from Arkansas along the river, the Choctaw petitioned the U.S. War Department for a fort to stop the influx of spirits. Fort Coffee, where the town acquired its name, was commissioned and was built on Swallow Rock overlooking the Arkansas River. The name honored Gen. John Coffee, who had fought in the Seminole War and had died in 1833. Although the fort was only used for four years, its garrison stopped most of the illegal flow of whiskey and built roads between Fort Smith and Fort Towson and Fort Gibson. These roads formed the foundations for the later Butterfield stage line and overland mail roads.
   The old Fort Coffee buildings were abandoned in 1838 with the reestablishment of Fort Smith. However, in 1843 the Choctaw Nation allowed the Fort Coffee Choctaw Boys Academy to be established by the Methodist Episcopal Mission in the old fort buildings. The school educated Choctaw boys until the Civil War. The mission also ran the New Hope Girls School in Skullyville.
   When the Civil War erupted, Fort Coffee was strategically located to control the Arkansas River, and Southern troops, under the command of Gen. Stand Watie (although he is not recorded as having stayed at the site), were stationed there until 1863. In 1863 Union forces captured the fort and Skullyville and held them until the end of the war. Most, if not all, of the fort buildings were burned, and later several small houses were constructed using some of the foundation stones.


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