History of Fort Towson
2001 Tour Guide

Fort Towson
   In the wooded valley of the Red River, the Oklahoma Historical Society has preserved the remains of Fort Towson, Oklahoma's second oldest military outpost and an important site in the history of the U.S. Army's role in maintaining peace on the frontier.

Establishment of the Fort
   In 1824 Indian Territory was at a crossroads in history. Despite the proximity of warlike Indian tribes, American settlement was encroaching from the east and south, with settlers clearing land and establishing farms on the frontier in both southwestern Arkansas and northeastern Texas. Also, the federal government was in the process of removing the Five Civilized Tribes from the American Southeast to Indian Territory. Both Indian policy and white settlement forced the U.S. Army into the role of peacekeeper on the frontier.
   In January of 1824, confronted with these problems, General Winfield Scott recommended that a fort be established on the Red River near Arkansas. The following May Colonel Matthew Arbuckle chose a site on Gates Creek near the confluence of the Kiamichi River with the Red River. Arbuckle's men cleared the site, built temporary log structures, and named the outpost Cantonment Towson in honor of the army paymaster, Nathan Towson. From this strategic location on the cutting edge of the frontier, soldiers regulated trade between white settlers and Indians and helped maintain peace in the region by limiting raiding and open warfare.
   During this early period of the fort's existence, the federal government appropriated funds to build a road from Cantonment Towson to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and from Towson to Fort Jesup in Louisiana, an important link in the development of southeastern Indian Territory. Despite this progress, the fort was abandoned early in 1829. Settlers from Arkansas burned the remaining log structures.

Camp Phoenix
   In 1830 the federal government concluded the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek providing for the removal of the Choctaws to Indian Territory. In order to supply the immigrants and to protect them from white settlers as well as Plains tribes, the army reestablished the fort with the appropriate name of Camp Phoenix. One year later it was renamed Fort Towson.
   The fort was an active place, as more 12,000 Choctaws eventually moved into the region. Officials opened a sutler's store, built stables, and in 1833 built new log structures to house the enlarged garrison.

Renewed Importance
   By the early 1840's the army began reinforcing its southwestern forts due to instability in U.S. relations with Mexico. With the threat of war, a new detachment was sent to Fort Towson with orders to strengthen its defenses. In 1842 Colonel Gustavus Loomis began a reconstruction campaign which replaced many of the dilapidated wooden structures with stone and plank buildings. The stone was quarried from a bluff behind the officer's quarters.
   The new construction program located the buildings in a "U" shape opening southerly. The fort stood on a bluff overlooking Gates Creek to the north. All of the buildings were built upon foundations of locally quarried limestone, and the superstructures were built of walnut logs, sided over and painted sky blue. Along the north side of the parade ground were three officers' quarters. The commanding officer's quarters was in the center, flanked by barracks housing the officers of the garrison.
   On both sides of the parade ground running south from the line of the officer's quarters were storerooms. The east side of the parade ground was bounded by a storeroom, a guard house, and two barracks for enlisted personnel. The west side of the grounds was defined by a storeroom, a combination laundresses' quarters/school, and two enlisted barracks.
   Located on the parade ground were several broad walls and streets, as well as the flagpole and two wells. At the far south end of the parade ground, once approached by a broad avenue, was the hospital and post commissary. The fort's shop buildings, including bakeshop, carpenter and blacksmith shop, and the stable complex, were located in a line east of the officers' quarters. The post powder magazine, a large brick structure, was in the northeast corner of the parade ground between the east officers' barracks and the east storeroom.
   With construction of forts further west and the settlement of hostilities with Mexico, Ft. Towson's role became increasingly less necessary. The fort was officially abandoned in 1856. The fort however, remained locally significant. The Choctaw Nation utilized the buildings as its agency for tribal functions until a fire brought to a close the usefulness of the remaining buildings.
   None the less, during the Civil War Fort Towson served as the Confederate command post under General Sam Bell Maxey (CSA). General Stand Watie surrendered the last organized resistance of the war near here. After the war Fort Towson served as a dispersal point for Confederate veterans, bringing to a close its military role.

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