For anyone interested at all in Indian Territory, frontier, or Native American history, Fort Sill is THE place to go. This bastion from the Old
West flourishes as the last remaining, active military post that was built during the Indian wars.

Established in 1869 by Major General Phillip H. Sheridan, Fort Sill's primary function was to halt border raids by the Plains Indians. The
Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches saw their way of life quickly disappearing by the onslaught of Texas settlers, the newly arrived Kansas
and Nebraska tribes (who had been expelled as part of the reconstruction treaties between Indian Territory's "Five Civilized Tribes"), and
the progress of the Chickasaws and Cherokees, who bordered the lands to the east. By 1870, the Plains Indians declared themselves in
open warfare against the Americans.

From Fort Sill, some of the most famous American frontier scouts embarked to battle the Native Americans, such as "Buffalo Bill" Cody
and "Wild Bill" Hickock. The 19th Kansas Volunteers and the 10th Cavalry, widely known as the African American Buffalo Soldiers,
conducted scouting expeditions of their own. The fort served as home to several displaced Indians tribes, and housed prisoners of war
from the Apaches and Kiowas tribes as well.

In 1871, Kiowa warriors, under Chiefs Satanta and Big Tree, ambushed and killed the Warren Wagon Train in Young County, Texas. Based
in Fort Sill, the Kiowas boasted of this coup when General William Tecumseh Sherman found out about it. Sherman (who had gained fame
and a reputation for remorseless warfare on his March on Georgia during the Civil War), had the Kiowas responsible for the assault  
arrested and sent to
Fort Richardson (Jack County, Texas) to stand trial. The accused men, the first Indians ever tried on criminal charges
in an American civil court, were sentenced to death, though Chief Satanta's eloquent speech about his people's suffering helped to spare
their lives.

Sherman understood that the only way to defeat the Indians was to wage a war of attrition, thus beginning a series of skirmishes now
known as the  
Red River Wars in 1871. Fort Sill became the headquarters for the American troops. In 1875, the Plains Indians surrendered
at Fort Sill, and made the fort and the land surrounding it their home. The Comanches, Kiowas and Apaches offered to let Geronimo and
his people, who had been expelled from their own homelands in Arizona, stay at the fort, too.

Though considered a prisoners of war, the Native Americans did not spend time in cells. Instead, they took on life as farmers, though
they always longed for the buffalo hunt. Quanah Parker, the last Comanche Chief, built Star House west of the fort, which served as
the headquarters for the Comanche Nation. Geronimo lived out his life successfully farming pumpkins and squash, and made money on
the side selling autographs and momentos. All of these famous men, plus many more signers of the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaties
(1867), are buried at the Fort Sill cemetery.

Fort Sill is the last tangible link to frontier history in the United States, and is worth a lengthy visit. As it is an active  military post, you will
be subjected to a search upon entering the fort, but the grounds are free to tour. So enjoy the incredible history that is Fort Sill!
Many myths surround Geronimo's jail cell door. The most famous one claims that Geronimo purposefully bent the bars of his cell door while
angry. By all accounts at Fort Sill, however, Geronimo was a pleasant man who lived a relatively quiet life at the fort.
Fort Sill is located in the city of Lawton. To get there, take Interstate 44 (which is also US Highways 62, 277,
and 281) north from Lawton to the "Historic Fort Sill" entrance (you can't miss it). You will need to obtain a
security pass/ clearance to gain access through the Visitor Control Center.

Go to the
Fort Sill's website to learn more about access for this still-active military installation.

Ask for a map at the security check point, so you'll know where to find the original fort, the famous guard
house, the Apache cemetery (with Geronimo's grave), and Fort Sill's cemetery, where Quanah and Cynthia
Ann Parker are buried. The fort has also excellent signs to guide you as you drive around.
The cemetery at Fort Sill is a treasure trove of Plains Indian history. Here is the grave of Black Beaver, a Delaware man who helped to forge the
pioneer trails in northern Oklahoma that would later become the
Chisholm Trail.
Sitting Bear is better known as Satank, one of the raiders of the Warren Wagon Train. On his way to stand trial for the raid in Jacksboro,
Satank gnawed his wrists to undo his cuffs, sang his death song, and commenced to wrestle with the American soldiers, who shot and killed him.
Kiowa Chief Satanta, who fought to preserve his people's way of life, was also one of the planners of the Warren Wagon Train Raid. He
committed suicide while imprisoned in Huntsville and was at first buried there, but his body was subseqently repatriated at Fort Sill.
The oldest barracks at Fort Sill date to 1870
Fort Sill holds some very important historical relics in its collection, like this original flag for the 10th Cavalry Soldiers.
In many ways, Fort Sill serves as the end of history for the Plains Indians. This Library of Congress photos remind us of what was lost when the
Americans took over the Great Plains. Geronimo slaughtered one last buffalo before having to farm like the white man.
Fort Sill: The Western Frontier
Geronimo of the Apaches went on the reservation reluctantly. He started to farm pumpkins, which he felt was beneath him, as farming, for his
culture, was women's work. Instead, he made a better living traveling with Wild West shows and selling his autographs. The Apaches still call
Fort Sill home. The Apache group, originally from the arid lands in what is now Arizona, are kin to the Chiricahuas (Geronimo's group). Their
website,
Fort Sill Apache Nation, can tell you more. (Library of Congress photo, 1895)
One of the more interesting "stories" at western forts is the graffitti that soldiers left behind. Sometimes, the graffiti just shows names and
dates; other soldiers drew impressive and detailed art of what they encountered out on the "wild frontier." Most of the soldiers hailed from
more settled areas like New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. They either joined the army during the Civil War and remained in service, or
enlisted after 1865 to assist in the next great, but undeclared action - the wholesale expansion and exploitation of the American West.
Fort Sill in 1889 (Library of Congress).
Questions or comments? E-mail me: robin@redriverhistorian.com
Comanche and Kiowa school children attend recess at the Baptist orphanage school at Fort Sill in the 1890s. Not all children remained at the
post, however. Most were sent to far-off boarding schools back east in order to "kill the Indian and sae the man." THis resulted in subsequent
generations losing language and cultural knowledge, which most Indian tribes were unable to regain.
The 10th Cavalry was called the "buffalo soldier regiment" by the Plains Indians during the Red River Wars (1871-1875), as the hair of the
black soldiers "resembled the woolly bison fur." The cavalry, organized in Kansas at the beginning of the Civil War, was made up of abolitionist
volunteers. After the war, the cavalry remained as a special, volunteer unit that worked predominantly in the southwest. The 10th cavalry built
Fort Sill in 1869. (Oklahoma Historical Society).
Chief Kicking Bird, a signer of the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (1867), was the leader of the peaceful Kiowa band who sought diplomacy over
war. His willingness to negotiate with the whites brought him status, but not amongst the Kiowa war bands. Many of his followers believed he
was poisoned for taking sides against the Plains Indians during the Red Rivr Wars.
Quanah Parker, the son of Comanche chief Peta Nocona and the Anglo-American Cynthia Ann Parker, was himself one of the last Comanche
chiefs to surrender to the U.S. government after the Red River Wars. After imprisonment at Fort Marion and his return to Fort Sill, Quanah
Parker became a rancher, horse racer, and leader of the Comanche tribe.
Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah, was  kidnapped in a Comanche raid and then married Peta Nocona, with whom she had Quanah and
Topsannah. She was "rescued" by white troops, led by Charles Goodnight, after the Battle of Lost Creek. However, Cynthia was not happy she
had been "found." She had acclimated to the Comanche way of life and believed them to be her family. She remained in mourning for the rest
of her short life, especially after her daughter, Topsannah (Prairie Flower) died within a year of their capture.
The grave of Chief Geronimo lies in the Apache cemetery at Fort Sill, surrounded by his wives. There are rumors that Geronimo is not actually
buried here - his skull is supposedly in the possession of a notorious, exclusive club at Yale University.
Quanah Parker's abode on his ranch was called the "Star House" due to the four white stars he had painted on his roof - this was supposed to
denote his status as a warrior and leader. The house sits inside an abandoned amusement park in Cache, Oklahoma, south of Fort Sill, and is
slowly decaying.
How to
get there