Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
The history of this fort differs considerably from that of most others on the frontier. Founded at the request of the Indians, it usually protected rather than fought them. It was also established much later and had a lesser role in Indian affairs than the majority of its counterparts.
Although the post was one of those on the "Permanent Indian Frontier," it was not activated until April 1842, long after all the others except Fort Scott, established the following month. Representing an advance from the Fort Gibson-Fort Towson line, it was founded by Fort Towson troops on the Washita River about 20 miles above the confluence with the Red River in response to Choctaw and Chickasaw demands for the security guaranteed them in their relocation treaties. Two of the Five Civilized Tribes, in the 1830's they had been removed from their homelands in Alabama and Mississippi to southeastern Indian Territory. There they had settled in the fertile valleys of the Blue, Washita, and Boggy Rivers. But they had grown fearful because of the continual raids of Plains Indians; the Kickapoos, Delawares, Osages, and Pawnees, whom they had replaced; and irate Texas settlers and roving outlaws.
As soon as the fort was constructed, traders began operating in the area, and before long steamers were running from the Fort Towson landing up the Red and Washita Rivers to within a mile of Fort Washita. The tempo of life at the post accelerated during the Mexican War (1846-48), during which it served as a staging area and communications link. Another stimulus came in 1849, when Capt. Randolph B. Marcy, from his base at Fort Smith, Ark., pioneered the Fort Smith-El Paso Route. Replacing in importance the Fort Smith-Santa Fe segment of the Southern Overland Trail, it came to be crowded by gold seekers on their way to California. Fort Washita was a way station and outfitting point for emigrants, stage operators, and freighters. Further enhancing its eminence as a transportation center was its location in southeastern Indian Territory at the crossroads to Texas and the Plains and not far from the Texas Road, which connected the Missouri River Valley and Texas.
By 1858 a network of forts farther west had been activated and the frontier had bypassed the fort, in a dilapidated condition and manned by a skeleton force. But in December that year increasing North-South tensions caused its regarrisoning. In the spring of 1861 the Army considered concentrating forces there to repel a threatened invasion of the area from Texas, but the pro-Southern sympathies of the Choctaws and Chickasaws and the fort's isolation from other posts and supply centers made the plan untenable. In April 1861 Federal troops departed, never to return. Moving in the next day, the Confederates used the fort as a headquarters, supply depot, and refugee camp for displaced Indians. After the war, settlers apparently burned the buildings to deny them to bandits. In 1870 the military reservation reverted to the Chickasaw Nation. Eventually vandals made off with most of the buildings and the surrounding wall, leaving only desolate ruins, later used as cattle pens.
The Oklahoma Historical Society, aided by private contributions, purchased the 115-acre site in 1962 and appointed the Fort Washita Commission to maintain it. The commission has stabilized and partially restored the ruins, erected markers to identify sites, and removed excess timber to restore the historical prairie environment. Extant are the remains of 48 shell limestone buildings, which replaced the original log and frame structures. They date back as far as the 1850's, when the stone wall was erected around the post. Included are the officers' quarters and adjoining utility structures, the west and south barracks, the commissary warehouse, and the quartermaster stables. The restored eastern end of the south barracks serves as a visitor center. Gravel pathways lead to the post cemetery, the well, an old log cabin reputedly the post-Civil War home of the Confederate Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, the Confederate cemetery, a spring, and the ruins of the ghost town of Hatsboro.
NHL Designation: 06/23/65
Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005