Troops at Fort Smith had tried to suppress conflict between the Osages and Western Cherokees, and protect the white and Indian settlers of western Arkansas since 1817. By 1824 it was obvious that the garrison would have to move farther west to be effective. In April of that year Colonel Matthew Arbuckle led five companies of the Seventh Infantry to the Three Forks region of present-day Oklahoma.
Arbuckle selected a site on the Grand (Neosho) River about three miles above its junction with the Arkansas. The new post was named Cantonment Gibson in honor of Colonel George Gibson, Commissary General of Subsistence.
The area protected by the fort was desirable for many reasons. In the 1820s, some felt that the region should be kept open for white settlement. Others wanted it set aside for relocating Indians from the Southeast. Indian resettlement prevailed.
A few members of the Creek nation came west voluntarily in the late 1820s. In 1828 the Western Cherokees agreed to exchange their Arkansas holdings for land in present-day northeastern Oklahoma. This placed the fort on the western edge of their new territory.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 marked the beginning of the forced removals of the Five Civilized Tribes. Fort Gibson was made the headquarters of the Seventh Infantry in 1831. Horse troops were added to the garrison with the arrival of the Mounted Rangers in 1832. The Rangers were replaced by the Regiment of Dragoons in 1833. In 1834 Fort Gibson was designated Headquarters of the Southwestern Frontier.
In its new role the post, renamed Fort Gibson in 1832, served as a staging area for several military expeditions sent to explore the western region and to seek peace between the Plains Indians and the resettled tribes. The most notable of the these were the Mounted Ranger Expedition of 1832 and the Dragoon Expedition of 1834.
Emigrant Indians received rations, supplies, and equipment at or near Fort Gibson. Those who traveled the "Trail of Tears” by water often disembarked at the fort. During the second half of the 1830s and into the 1840s, thousands of Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole stopped at the post on the last leg of their journey to the new lands.
The Army’s mission was largely accomplished by the early 1840s. Departmental headquarters was moved, but Fort Gibson continued as an active post until 1857, when the troops were withdrawn and the buildings and land were turned over to the Cherokee Nation.
At the start of the Civil War, the post was occupied by Confederate troops briefly, before they established Fort Davis across the Arkansas River. Federal troops reactivated the fort in 1863, renaming it Fort Blunt in honor of General James C. Blunt. It served as the Union Army’s key post in Indian Territory. It also became a haven for thousands of pro-Union refugees. Confederate forces moved to take the post in 1863 but were stopped near the present-day town of Checotah, at the Battle of Honey Springs.
The Army stayed through the Reconstruction period while the Indian wars were being waged in the western part of Indian Territory. Troops from Fort Gibson rebuilt Fort Arbuckle and established Fort Sill to provide the Army with more effective bases in the west. In 1871, most of the garrison was withdrawn and the post was redesignated a commissary supply post.
As railroads entered the Territory, a large number of outlaws, squatters and other undesirables followed. To keep order, Fort Gibson was reactivated in 1872, and troops remained throughout the 1870s and 1880s to help keep order and to guard against intrusions on Indian lands.
With the closing of the frontier, Fort Gibson was no longer needed. The post was forever closed in 1890, and its land and buildings sold.
Beginning in the early 1920s, local residents sought to preserve Fort Gibson’s History. In 1936, the stockade area was reconstructed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Works Progress Administration, and the Fort Gibson Stockade Commission. Today the Site is a National Historic Landmark, operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Courtesy of the Fort Gibson Historic Site Tour Guide
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