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Civil War In the Indian Country by Charles Evans

Lights On Oklahoma History
Charles Evans

Civil War In the Indian Country

The Indian country, or Oklahoma land, was tossed like a ball between the northern and southern forces for the four years of the Civil War. The Confederates had driven the Federal forces, in 1861, out of the Indian Oklahoma country, but in June, 1862, the Federal soldiers invaded the Indian Territory and re-occupied part of it for a time.

They fell upon Colonel Stand Watie's Cherokee regiment at the mouth of Spring river, but that ableCherokee escaped in the night. It might be well to say that no character of early Oklahoma deserves closer study than does De-ga-ta-ga (meaning “Stand”), the son of Ou-watie. He was the fourth man picked to die by the slayers of his uncle, of his cousin, John Ridge, and his brother, Buck Watie, or Elias Boudinot, in 1839. He had, with these, signed the treaty in Georgia which was fought so hard by the Ross party. He lived from 1829 to 1860 on Honey creek, at the edge of the Cherokee land, in that region now included in Delaware county. Modest, gentle and true in peace, he was a lion in war. He made one of the Confederacy's strongest leaders. He fought many battles within and without the Indian Territory, and always with keen insight, dashing courage and unflagging zeal. He gave all to his people and to his cause. Though he nobly won a generous commission, the close of the war found his herds, farm and fortune gone and he was penniless. He settled at Webbers Falls at the close of the war. He died in 1871 on a visit to his old home at Honey creek, in Delaware county. It is to be regretted that Oklahoma has not found a way to mark with a fitting monument the grave in Delaware county of this noble leader in its early history.

When Colonel Stand Watie's forces had been pushed aside, the northern army, being increased, moved on down the valley of the Grand and halted about fifteen miles from Ft. Gibson while some troops were sent on to Forts Gibson and Tahlequah, which were seized on or about July 12, 1862. A force made a journey to Park Hill, the home of Chief John Ross, and arrested him, but he was paroled in a little while. Chief Ross now knew that the day when he could aid his Cherokee people had passed, so when, in a little while, the northern army left the Indian Territory as quickly as it had come into it, Chief Ross went out with it. He did not return again until after the close of the war. He resided for the rest of the war period in Washington, D. C.

At the outbreak of the war, Albert Pike, a prominent and influential citizen of Arkansas, had been appointed by the Confederate secretary of war as a special commissioner to negotiate treaties of friendship and alliance with the Indian tribes of the Indian Territory. After he had successfully performed the duties thus assigned, he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate army and was assigned to the command of the military district of the Indian Territory. In the spring of 1862 he was ordered to march his command to join the army of General Earl Van Dorn, which was then moving to attack the Federal army at Pea Ridge. The Indian soldiers said they were promised by the Confederacy they were not to be taken outside of the Indian Territory. Besides, they had not been paid as other soldiers. General Pike, with his eloquent words and a little money, overcome this objection and Colonel Stand Watie and Colonel Drew, with their Cherokee regiments, fought furiously and well in the battle of Pea Ridge. They charged right through the Federal foot soldiers, fighting hand-to-hand. A battery was before them doing deadly work in their ranks. Colonels Stand Watie and Drew ordered the men to take it. Right up to the mouth of the guns they clubbed their way, put the gunners to flight and the battery was taken.


Back came the Federals to take from General D. H. Cooper, now in command of the Confederates in eastern Oklahoma, what they had given up to General Albert Pike. General J. G. Blunt, the Federal commander, struck Colonel Cooper's army at old Ft. Wayne. It was a fight to the finish. The reports given by the two generals afterward were as laughable as the battle was stubborn. Blunt said Cooper had 5,000 to 7,000 troops. Cooper said he had only 1,500, and that Blunt had 10,000. Blunt said Cooper's loss in killed and wounded was from 100 to 150; Cooper declared he lost only six killed and fifty wounded, and that he killed seventy-five or 100 of Blunt's army. Blunt denied this, saying that he lost only one man and nine wounded. Blunt reported the complete battery, horses, guns and caissons of Cooper were captured; Cooper claimed that all the horses were destroyed and that Blunt only got the guns. Anyway, the Confederates retreated to Ft. Gibson, by way of Tahlequah.

About this time a strange and frightful thing took place at the Confederate Indian agency on the Washita, now in Caddo county. It will be remembered that when the southern forces drove out the northern armies from Ft. Washita and Ft. Cobb, most of the dozen Indian tribes living on the Washita took to their heels and did not stop until they were in Kansas or Colorado. The Tonkawas alone remained, with a few Penateka Comanches. On the night of October 23, 1862, like a whirlwind, a band of Indians came riding down upon the Tonkawa village, on Tonkawa creek, south of Anadarko. They spared neither women nor children. The whole tribe would have been destroyed, had it not been that a part of its people was away on a hunting trip. Matthew Leeper, who was the Indian agent there, saw that neither the agency house nor himself would be spared. Jumping from his bed, clad only in his night robe, he skulked in the shadows until a deep ravine hid him from view and the yelling Indians fled away into the night. Toshewa, a kindly Penateka Comanche, found him next day, more dead than alive from cold, and nursed him back to health. 

While it can never be definitely known, still it is believed that the attacking party was made up of Wichitas, Wacos, Towakonies, Caddos, Keechis, Delawares, Shawnees, Cherokees, Creeks and Seminoles, and that not a white man was with them. It is generally accepted that this massacre of the Tonkawas grew out of the opinion among the other tribes that the Tonkawas were cannibals. This has been disputed, but it is known that many Indians believed the Tonkawas guilty of this practice.

The Tonkawas never recovered from this blow. Those who were left fled through the night to Ft. Arbuckle in Garvin county, and from there, in time, went on to Texas. In 1884, the few survivors were brought to lands in what is now Kay county, where today they are a perishing race.


Ft. Gibson, in Muskogee county, now, from 1862 to the close of the Civil war, was the center of the activities of the Federal army. It had been chosen as the strongest center from which to control all Indian activities by the Federal government. Great breastworks had been erected, strong batteries had been planted; large shops and stores built and filled with supplies, and no force the Confederates had in that region could take it. 

In the spring of 1863 there marched by night from Ft. Gibson a large number of Federal soldiers to surprise Colonel Stand Watie and his daring band. He had brought his troopers to Webbers Falls, located in Muskogee county, in order to defend a Confederate Cherokee council which was to meet there on April 25th. The Federals boasted they would just surprise the “swamp fox,” but like the first one, Francis Marion of old, the wary fox of the Cherokees was not to be caught. Instead of sleeping they found Stand Watie and his men ready, and a hard fight ensued. The Indians, at last outnumbered, had to retreat.

After the fight was over, it was told the Federal officer who had captured Webbers Falls, by two ladies, that a brave Confederate soldier was dying at a certain house two miles below the town. If a doctor could be had, they believed the soldier would be saved. Doctor Rufus Kirkpatrick, who was with the federal troops, hearing this, desired to go and give aid to the man, though an enemy. Colonel Phillips, his commander, asked if he would not need a soldier escort. He replied, “No, no man would need a defense on a mission of mercy like that.” So away rode the doctor to ease the pain of the dying Confederate. Just before reaching the house of the dying soldier shots rang out from the roadside and gallant Dr. Kirkpatrick fell from his horse dead. So moved by the affection they had for the doctor were the soldiers of his command that they did the unwise and terrible deed of set ting fire to the village and Webbers Falls was burned to the ground.


The little village of Oktaha, in the southern part of Muskogee county, was the scene of a severe battle in the Civil War. General James Blunt marched out of Ft. Gibson, crossed the Arkansas river, and moving down the Texas road, threw his 3,000 men against General Cooper's Confederate camp of about the same number. This took place on July 17, 1863. There was a running fight; the forces of Cooper retiring toward the central camp, were pushed back until Honey Springs, a mile south of Elk creek, was reached. About 120 men were killed on both sides, while the Confederates lost most of their stores and wagons.

Both armies rested for awhile, but in August General Blunt came out again from Ft. Gibson with a Federal force of 4,500 men to drive the Confederates from that region. The Confederates scattered on learning of his coming. McIntosh, with the Creek regiments, marched up the Canadian valley westward; Cabell’s brigade moved toward Ft. Smith; the troops of Cooper and Stand Watie retreated toward Boggy Depot and Red river. These last were pursued by the Federal cavalry, and at Perryville now, about four miles below McAlester, in Pittsburg county, a stubborn fight took place. Large supply stores of the Confederates were burned there.

It should be made clear that the defeat of the Confederate forces in the Indian country in the Civil War did not occur because of a lack of skill, courage and bravery on the part of the Confederate soldiers. No braver men ever carried on war. But the troops were not well paid, often not at all; had little clothing, no good food, and their arms and ammunition were of the poorest sort and scant in supply.


The noted Confederate guerilla, William C. Quantrell, left his mark upon the Oklahoma country during the Civil war. Quantrell had gathered about him many troopers who believed that they had received personal wrongs at the hands of Federal forces. They raised above them the black flag with skull and cross-bones thereon, saying: “We ask no quarter and give none.”

General Blunt left Ft. Smith October 4, 1863, to journey to Ft. Scott, Kansas. He and his cavalry escort of nearly a hundred men had reached Baxter Springs, Kansas, just a little distance from the Oklahoma line, when, like a cyclone, Quantrell’s band of 600 men struck them. The cavalry of General Blunt made a retreat, but not before eighty-five of the Federal troopers were struck down. General Blunt escaped.

Quantrell and his band, after the fight, moved into Oklahoma, or the Indian Territory region, for, he said: “At 5 p.m. (after the fight) I took up my line of march due south on the old Texas road. We marched fifteen miles and encamped for the night. From this place to the Canadian river, we caught about 150 Federal Indians and negroes in the Nation, gathering ponies. We brought none of them through.” 


The little town of Pensacola, on the borders of Mayes and Craig counties now, was the site of one of the most brilliant exploits of the Civil war in the Indian Territory. “General Sterling Price had started northward from the Arkansas river in Arkansas on his raid through Missouri, toward Kansas City and Leavenworth. The Confederate forces in the Indian Territory, which could aid him, were 1,200 men of General F. M. Gano’s Texas brigade and 800 men of General Stand Watie's First Indian cavalry brigade. These were ordered to make a demonstration up the valley of the Grand or Neosho river above Ft. Gibson. Crossing the Arkansas river about six miles above the Creek agency, this joint expedition of 2,000 men took a northeasterly course, crossed the Verdigris, and struck the valley of the Grand about fifteen miles above Ft. Gibson. There a Federal hay camp was found and attacked. Five thousand tons of hay were burned, together with wagons and mowing machines. From some of the prisoners taken at this town it was learned that a big supply train was expected in a few days.

Meanwhile the commander of the escort accompanying the train had learned of the presence of the enemy in superior force on the road between the train and its destination, and he hastened on to the Cabin Creek crossing, where there was a stockade post guarded by a force of 170 Cherokees of the Second Indian Home Guard. He had also been reinforced by another detachment of Indian troops, numbering 140 men, making a force of 600 men available for the defense of the train. Just about midnight on the 18th of September, the picket guards of the defenders were driven back to the stockade, and, an hour later, a battery of artillery opened upon them, the attacking force moving forward with loud yells at the same time. The Federal position was soon partially encircled, and its ranks given a cross-fire. Mule teams stampeded, breaking and overturning many of the wagons. Teamsters and wagon masters beat a hasty retreat.

Gathering up the spoils of their victory, Generals Gano and Stand Watie started southward on the road. They had captured the entire train with all its contents, valued at $1,500,000. After burning the disabled wagons and killing the crippled mules, they had 120 wagons and 740 mules, all heavily loaded, new clothing for every man of the two thousand in their force—a veritable God-send for many of them had been in rags—and an abundance of supplies. At Pryor Creek, now the county seat of Mays county, they met a strong force of federals, and a fight began which lasted until dark. Under cover of the night, the Confederate forces withdrew, going westward to a crossing over the Verdigris near Claremore Mound. From there, they turned southward, crossing the Arkansas river at Tulsa.

The Civil War in the Indian country was mainly local. While there were some severe struggles in the Indian Territory, they were given little attention at Washington and Richmond. The Indian, or Oklahoma region, was a buffer between Kansas on the north and Texas on the south. The territory was rich in cattle and horses and a good ground for recruiting, and both armies wanted all of this material they could get. It was so ravaged, torn and bleeding, that when the southern leaders, as Stand Watie, McIntosh brothers, Tandy Walker, the Folsoms and the Adairs, hearing of Lee's surrender said they would fight on to the bitter end, the people, though brave as ever a people were, thought they had done enough. They were in exile, want and misery. They deserved peace. So on July 14th, 1865, three months after Lee’s surrender, General Stand Watie surrendered the last Confederate forces of the Indian Territory and the war in the Oklahoma land was over.

Charles Evans, Lights On Oklahoma History (Oklahoma City: Harlow Publishing Company, 1920), 108-118.


Bruce Arnold said…
Very enjoyable, though I have to point out that the Southern Cherokee never actually surrendered. They argeed to cease hostilities, and kept their guns and went about their business as free men.

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