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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Chronicles of Oklahoma
Vol. 6 No. 1 (March 1928), pp26‑34

The text is in the public domain,
the 1928 copyright not having been renewed
in 1955 or 1956 as then required.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p26  Fort Arbuckle

By W. B. Morrison

By the Treaty of Doaksville in 1855 the Chickasaws dissolved their union with the Choctaws and secured for themselves a separate and distinct allotment. Both tribes agreed to lease their holdings between the 98th and 100th meridians to the United States, so that the latter did not find itself compelled to remove from this Leased District the various bands of wild Indians that had long occupied these lands and claimed owner­ship of them. Anticipating the establishment of the separate Chickasaw Nation, the Government constructed Fort Arbuckle to keep order among the wild Indians, to protect the Chickasaws, and also to furnish assistance and protection to the stream of emigrants now pressing westward to California.

The construction of this post was entrusted to Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.R. B. Marcy, and he was directed to locate it somewhere near the 100th meridian and on the Canadian river road or trail leading from Fort Smith to Santa Fe. Captain Marcy in 1849 had conducted a large party of emigrants to California, and on the return trip had used a more southerly route along the Rio Grande, avoiding Santa Fe. This route he found to be about three hundred miles shorter. He, therefore, advised the Government to locate the new post farther south and not so far west. Upon the presentation of reasons for the change, Captain Marcy was given permission to follow his own idea. The first site selected was on the south side of the Canadian River not far from the present location of Purcell in McClain County. This post we may call Camp Arbuckle to distinguish it from the permanent fort of the same name.​a

A very interesting account of the establishment of both the temporary and permanent posts has been left us by an army surgeon, Dr. R. Glisan in his "Journal of Army Life." The work was done under the immediate supervision of Captain Marcy by soldiers sent from Fort Washita in the latter part of the year 1850. Dr. Glisan rode with Captain Marcy through the wilderness from Fort Washita to the proposed new post seventy miles away. After they had gotten well started on the ride, not a hut or other sign of settlement was to be seen. Captain Marcy was a pleasant traveling companion, but inclined to have as much fun as possible at the expense of the young physician newly arrived from the East. It was  p27 late at night on the second day before they reached the encampment where the main body of the soldiers had already preceded them.

The winter of 1850 was spent in Camp Arbuckle, located as above stated, and about a mile south of the river. The soldiers (Company D of the Fifth Infantry) lived in their tents until December, but were meanwhile engaged in erecting rude cabin barracks, with puncheon floors, and chimneys of the same materials, but daubed with clay. The main barracks was a long house two hundred feet by twenty-five, with bunks built in. Four separate huts were built for the officers. One of these cabins was occupied by Captain Marcy and his wife. Among the officers was Lieutenant Joseph Updegraff, who afterwards rose to the rank of major, and who is referred to in one of General Marcy's delightful "Border Reminiscences" as "General Up-to-Snuff." Nearly all the work of construction was done by the soldiers with the aid of a few carpenters.

The winter passed without many incidents of note. Once they were visited by a band of wild Indians. One of the chiefs was very much pleased with Mrs. Marcy, and made a proposition to the Captain for an exchange of wives, to his great amusement. There was an abundance of game in the country at this time, and the soldiers were kept well supplied by Captain Marcy and Dr. Glisan. The bill of fare for Christmas dinner, 1850, would sound tempting to any epicure of to‑day. It included such items as bear meat, buffalo tongue, venison, prairie hen, wild turkey, goose, duck, quail and pigeon. A winter sport in time of idleness was horse racing, using as steeds the half-wild ponies so plentiful on the plains.

A band of Delaware Indians under the leader­ship of the famous guide, Black Beaver, lived in the vicinity. These Indians took possession of the old camp buildings when the troops left for the permanent fort the following spring. Black Beaver had trapped and hunted on all the important streams in the West, even to the headwaters of the Columbia, and his services as a guide were much in demand. He had accompanied Captain Marcy on the trip to California, and the latter had always found the Delaware to be "brave, reliable and competent." Like many Indians — and some white men — Black Beaver was rather proud of his travels and his superior knowledge.  p28 On one occasion, in conversation with a Comanche from the plains, Black Beaver was telling some of the remarkable things he had seen and heard. Captain Marcy, who happened to be present, suggested that he tell the Comanche about the recently invented telegraph — how a man in New York could stand at one end of a wire, tap it a few times, and ask his friend in New Orleans what he had eaten for breakfast; and that in a few minutes back would come the answer, "Ham and eggs." This was too much for the credulity of Black Beaver, who said to Marcy, "I 'spect you try to fool me now, Captain; maybe so you lie."

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. They 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 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Andrews,  p29 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 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.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 one 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.

 p30  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 Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.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: Majors George Andrews, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. P. Whiting, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.T. H. Holmes, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. C. Henshaw; Captains Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.S. G. Simmons, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Franklin Gardner; Lieutenants Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.S. B. Hayman, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.H. M. Black, R. M. Garland, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.N. B. Pearce, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Guerden Chapin.º A number of these men became prominent during the Civil War. Guerdinº Chapin, an uncle of the writer of this paper, was a Virginian and a graduate of the United States Military Academy 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, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stonewall Jackson, with a Federal bullet in his heart.

Dr. Glisan relates the story of the punishment of a deserter who had been captured and tried during the early part of the year 1854. The whole military force was marshalled  p31 in parade formation, the unfortunate culprit led out before them and given fifty lashes with a cowhide whip, applied to his bare back. Then his formal dismissal from the service was read, and to the music of drum and fife he was conducted to the limits of post grounds, or literally "drummed out of the service."

There were a few young women, relatives of the officers, at the fort during this period, but their numbers were so limited that the arrival of the two daughters of Major Whiting was recorded as a special event. In a community where young women were so few in number, it is not surprising that they were extremely popular. In this connection Dr. Glisan records a tragedy that took place at Fort Arbuckle during the summer of 1854. A certain one of these young ladies had lived for a time at Fort Washita, and there had received much attention from a young man named Hinckley, editor of the "Chickasaw Intelligencer." Evidently she did not reciprocate his devotion, but he followed her to Arbuckle, and upon being again rejected he became mentally unbalanced and stabbed himself to death.

During the later years of this decade not many troops were kept in the southwestern posts, and most of these were in Texas, where the Comanches were giving some trouble. In the early fall of 1858 bands of Comanches had come over into the Territory and stolen quite a number of horses from the Wichitas. The latter made an effort to secure the return of their property without resorting to bloodshed, and invited the Comanches to come over the Red River to a conference about this and other matters. While the authorities at Fort Arbuckle were aware of the purpose of the Comanches in coming north again, they failed to notify Major Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Van Dorn, who was watching these Comanches from his camp on Otter Creek, south of the Wichita Mountains. He, thinking these Indians were on another hostile raid, followed and attacked them near the Wichita village, and killed sixty of them in the battle. The Comanches believed they had been betrayed by the Wichitas, and threatened the latter with dire vengeance. The frightened Wichitas at once left their village and came in a body over into the Chickasaw country and camped around Fort Arbuckle. The post adjutant at once notified the Indian agent, D. H. Cooper, and also the commander of the  p32 Government forces in Texas. Evidently there was not a garrison at the post large enough to furnish protection to the Wichitas in case of an attack. Agent Cooper did not wait for the arrival of more troops, but immediately brought a company of mounted Chickasaw rangers over to Arbuckle. Within a few days, however, Lieutenant Powell, with a company of the First Infantry, arrived. Cooper did not return at once to his station near Fort Washita, but went on farther over into the Leased District and investigated a site for a proposed new agency and military post. For thus continuing his Indian scouts in arms after the arrival of white troops, Agent Cooper received a sharp reprimand from the Department of Indian Affairs. The Indian trouble soon blew over and the Wichitas returned to their village.

At the outbreak of the Civil War there were two companies of cavalry stationed at Arbuckle, while Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. H. Emory at Fort Smith was in command of all the troops of the then 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  p33 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 well filled with those who had become incapacitated by too frequent potations.

It was General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.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.

To‑day, with the exception of a few chimneys, and portions of some of the old stone foundations that have been used in the construction of a barn and other outhouses of a  p34 modern Oklahoma farm, there is little left to show that so much busy life once pulsed and throbbed here. But there is one reminder of the former importance of old Fort Arbuckle that will serve to call it to the minds of Oklahomans whenever they open a map of the state before them. On a rocky hill just one mile south of the site of the old fort is a stone pillar marking the initial or zero point, called the "Indian Base," from which all lands in Oklahoma, (except the three Panhandle counties) are measured. So, in one sense, this old deserted army post is still the center of Oklahoma.

W.B. Morrison,
Southeastern State Teachers College, Durant, Oklahoma.


Abel, Annie H., The Indian as a Slaveholder and Secessionist

Buchanan, J. S., and Dale, E. E., A History of Oklahoma

Glisan, R., A Journal of Army Life

Heitman, F. B., Historical Dictionary of the Army

Jacob, Richard T., Military Reminiscences, Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. II, No. 1

Marcy, R. B., Border Reminiscences

Ibid., The Prairie Traveler

Official Records of the Rebellion, Ser. I, Vol. I

Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1859

Sheridan, Philip H., Personal Memoirs

Thoburn, J. B., A History of Oklahoma, Vol. I

Thayer's Note:

a The brief occupation of Camp Arbuckle and its faint traces in local memory are covered in another Chronicles of Oklahoma article (in Vol. XXVII No. 3), also onsite: The Site of Old Camp Arbuckle.

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Page updated: 18 Apr 16