Home History Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson

by Tatiana Sandlewood
Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson

The town of Fort Gibson began as a small village that grew up beneath the watchful gaze of a wooden stockade, earning it the title of oldest community in Oklahoma from the Fort Gibson Chamber of Commerce.

Under Colonel Matthew Arbuckle’s direction, Cantonment Gibson was created in 1824, and now it is known as Fort Gibson Historic Site. It was built to uphold peace on the border and served as the United States’ westernmost military outpost at the time.

In 1832, Fort Gibson replaced Cantonment Gibson. By this time, the ancient stockade, which was situated just 200 yards (182 meters) from the river, had been progressively replaced by the campus. The previous location had been adjacent to insect-infested swampy areas in addition to being prone to flooding.

The fort gains notoriety for a lot of things over time. The first meteorological observatory in what would later become Oklahoma was established at Fort Gibson.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
Fort Gibson, Powder Magazine, view from the northeast. Photographed by Fred Q. Casler, March 2, 1934. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Gary K. Grice stated in a 2005 report for the Midwestern Regional Climate Center that US Army medics made the first weather observations at the garrison hospital in July 1824. The record continued after that, with a few gaps, until September 1890.

It was situated near the Three Forks, where the Grand, Arkansas, and Verdigris rivers confluence, on the east bank of the Grand River. Due to its strategic position near the territory that would later be formally recognized as Indian Territory by the Indian Intercourse Act in 1934, Fort Gibson became one of the most significant military outposts on the American frontier.

Fort Gibson was crucial in the movement of eastern tribes to the area west of the Mississippi after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act on May 28, 1830.

Some of these migrants had agreed to give up their native countries in exchange for federal land grants, but others had been transported against their will. Regardless of how they got there, the newcomers had to integrate into the Plains Indian tribes’ territories, which they sometimes did not appreciate.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
The Commandant’s Quarters at Fort Gibson, March 2, 1934. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

For 17 years, Colonel (later General) Arbuckle oversaw Fort Gibson. Amazingly, he was able to remain composed during the turbulent time of Indian Removal.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
The Officer’s Quarters in 2015. Author: Valis55 – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Stokes Commission met at Fort Gibson, where it was “dedicated to… the settlement of several difficulties stemming from the new combination of Indian tribes,” according to historian and novelist Grant Foreman. The Life of Montfort Stokes in the Indian Territory, a journal article by Foreman, appeared in The North Carolina Historical Review Vol. 16, No. 4. (October 1939).

A series of military expeditions were arranged to establish contact with and negotiate peace treaties with the Plains tribes in order to hasten the peaceful resettlement of so many thousands of displaced people. Fort Gibson functioned as a staging area for western Territory exploration beginning in 1832.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, such exploration expeditions were viewed by the troops as “nearly a death sentence,” even if the death toll was brought on by illness rather than combat.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
The entrance to Fort Gibson Historic Site, Oklahoma. This was on the edge of Cherokee lands.

Along with building roads, troops were also entrusted with creating Fort Wayne and Camp Holmes as military outposts.

Fort Gibson established itself as a depot for both commercial items and military supplies due to its location at the end of the Grand River’s navigable portion.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
Fort Gibson hospital in 2007. Author: JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD – CC BY-SA 3.0

The Texas Road, a crucial land route linking Texas and the Missouri River Valley, was also close by. The fort would have provided the pioneers with a much-needed break as they moved west in search of their own piece of the New World.

Up until the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad reached the Three Forks in 1872, the fort continued to serve as a major hub for trade and transportation.

The fort was turned up to the Cherokee Nation after the US Army abandoned it in 1857. When the Civil War broke out, it was once more under military occupation, this time by Confederate forces until Union forces seized it in 1863.

Fort Gibson, now a Federal bastion, was firmly established during this time at the summit of the hill with the construction of seven significant stone buildings, some of which are still in use today as private residences, and other timber frame buildings. In the summer of 1890, the fort was permanently abandoned.

Keeping Order on the American Frontier: Fort Gibson
The Post Adjutant’s Office. Author: Valis55 – CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1960, the Fort Gibson Historic Site received the designation of National Historic Landmark.

The early log fort and stockade have been recreated, and visitors to the site can also see authentic structures from the 1840s through the 1970s, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, which now oversees the location. The Commissary Visitor Center on Garrison Hill has exhibits tracing the fort’s history. Additionally, throughout the year, the location hosts a number of unique living history events and programs.

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