According to the Fort Gibson Chamber of Commerce, Fort Gibson is the oldest village in Oklahoma. It began as a little colony under the watchful eye of a wooden stockade.
Cantonment Gibson, now known as Fort Gibson Historic Site, was erected in 1824 under the command of Colonel Matthew Arbuckle. At the time, it was the United States’ most western military outpost. It was built to keep the peace along the frontier.
In 1832, Cantonment Gibson became Fort Gibson.
By this time, the university had been gradually relocated upward from the original stockade, which had been just 200 yards (182 meters) from the river. The original location was not only prone to flooding, but it was also next to a wetland that was full of bugs.
Over time, the fort became notable for a variety of things. The first weather station in the area that would become the state of Oklahoma was at Fort Gibson.
Gary K. Grice reported in a 2005 report for the Midwestern Regional Climate Center that in July 1824, US Army surgeons made the first meteorological observations at the garrison hospital. The record then continued with some gaps until September 1890.
It was situated on the east bank of the Grand River near the confluence of the Grand, Arkansas, and Verdigris rivers. Because of its location, Fort Gibson was one of the most important military posts on the border between the United States and the area that would become known as Indian Territory after the Indian Intercourse Act of 1934.
After President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830, Fort Gibson played a crucial part in the evacuation of eastern tribes to the region west of the Mississippi.
While some of these migrants had signed agreements relinquishing their homelands in exchange for federal land grants, others were relocated against their will. Regardless of how they got there, the newcomers were forced to merge with the Plains Indian tribes, who did not always welcome this intrusion.
For seventeen years, Colonel (later General) Arbuckle commanded Fort Gibson. Throughout the highly heated period of Indian removal, he remarkably maintained his composure.
Fort Gibson hosted the meeting of the Stokes Commission, which, according to historian and novelist Grant Foreman, was “dedicated to… the resolution of several problems stemming from the new alliance of Indian tribes.” The Life of Montfort Stokes in the Indian Territory by Foreman appeared in The North Carolina Historical Review, volume 16, number 4 (October 1939).
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In order to hasten the peaceful resettlement of tens of thousands of displaced people, a series of military missions were planned to make contact with the Plains tribes and sign peace accords. From 1832 on, Fort Gibson was used as a place to start exploring the western parts of the Territory.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, these kinds of exploration trips were seen by the men as “almost a death sentence,” even though most of the men who died did so because of disease rather than battle.
In addition to building roads and other military outposts, such as Camp Holmes and Fort Wayne, troops also had to build roads and set up Camp Holmes and Fort Wayne.
Fort Gibson became a military and commercial hub because it was near the end of the Grand River’s navigable part.
It was also adjacent to the Texas Road, a major land route that connected Texas to the Missouri River Valley.
The fort would have been a pleasant break for the pioneers who were heading west in pursuit of their own piece of the New World.
Prior to 1872, when the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad reached the Three Forks, the fort served as a trading and transit hub.
In 1857, the United States Army abandoned the fort and turned it back to the Cherokee Nation. But when the American Civil War started, the military took over again, at first by Confederate troops until 1863, when it was taken by Union forces.
Fort Gibson, which is now a Federal stronghold, was firmly established atop the hill during this time period, with the construction of seven big stone buildings—some of which are still standing as private dwellings—and several timber-framed structures. The fort was abandoned permanently in the summer of 1890.
In 1960, Fort Gibson Historic Site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the site is managed by the Oklahoma Historical Society, whose website states, “Visitors to the site can view a replica of the early log fort and the stockade, as well as original structures from the 1850s through the 1870s.” The Commissary Visitor Center on Garrison Hill contains exhibits that describe the history of the fort. Throughout the year, the site also organizes a number of special living history events and programs.
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