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Fort Sill, Still Active

Fort Sill in 1889 (LOC).

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

Established in 1869 by Major General Phillip H. Sheridan and built by the volunteer soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry, Fort Sill's primary function was to contain the Southern Plains people, who had been relegated to the reservation in the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty. The reservation for the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches, carved from the Chickasaw nation in 1866, surrounded the fort, which also served as home to several displaced Indians tribes and housed prisoners of war from the Apaches and Kiowas tribes.

A cross section of white and black Americans interacted with the Native Americans at the fort, including "Buffalo Bill" Cody", "Wild Bill" Hickok, the 19th Kansas Volunteers, and the 10th Cavalry, widely known as the African American Buffalo Soldiers. The fort also saw plenty of bison hunters, who were decimating the grand herds of the Southern Plains. The vast majority 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.

In 1871, Kiowa warriors under Chiefs Satanta and Big Tree ambushed and killed seven men of the Warren Wagon Train in Young County, Texas. The Kiowas at Fort Sill boasted of this coup. General William Tecumseh Sherman, Chief of the U.S. Army, ordered the Kiowas responsible for the assault arrested and sent to Fort Richardson to stand trial. The accused men were sentenced to death, though Chief Satanta's eloquent speech about his people's suffering helped to spare their lives when the Texas governor commuted their sentence.

Sherman believed 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. After the resounding defeat at the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in 1875, the Plains tribes returned to Fort Sill. The army arrested the native men who participated in the war and sent them to Fort Marion, Florida where many became ill. A petition, generated by concerned whites, was signed and presented to the U.S. president, who released the Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and Apaches to Fort Sill.

The fort became the center of their new homelands. A mission was established nearby to convert people. Some adapted to the new belief system, like Chief Gotebo of the Kiowas. Others refused to do this wholeheartedly, like Quanah Parker of the Comanches.

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!

"Buffalo Soldiers" from the Tenth Cavalry at Fort Sill in the late 1890s (LOC).
A poignant photograph: "Geronimo's Last Buffalo." This was taken in the 1880s.

Quanah Parker of the Comanches settled at a ranch near Fort Sill. There, he built a house that still stands but is not accessible (LOC).

Chief Satank of the Kiowas was killed in 1871 near Fort Sill after he was arrested for the Salt Creek Massacre. He sang his war band (Koitsenko) death song and attacked the soldiers, who then shot him dead.
Quanah Parker's grave was removed from the Oak Hill Mission to Fort Sill when the cemetery was removed to make way for a firing range.

Black Beaver, a Delaware man who worked with Captain Randolph B. Marcy on mapping the REd River Valley, and blazed part of what is now known as the Chisholm Trail, is buried at Fort Sill's post cemetery.
The oldest building at Fort Sill are stone barracks, erected in 1869.
Teacher and students
Native American children from the surrendered tribes were forced into American education at the Post Oak Mission School. Boys were forced to cut their hair and learn trades, and girls were forced to learn domestic skills. The schools prepared them for menial labor, not leadership. Memories are still vivid of harsh punishments meted out for speaking in one's own language or singing traditional songs. Sickness, death, and suicides happened to the children who lost not only their family connections, but their entire culture (LOC).

Wall display
Graffiti from the 1870s and 1880s has been preserved by the fort's historians.

Geronimo of the Apaches was not a chief, but his daring actions garnered much attention in the press. A hunter, he was relegated to pumpkin farming once at Fort Sill. He scoffed at this as "woman's work" and instead joined Wild West shows to make money, where he also sold autographs (LOC).

Geronimo's grave at Fort Sill is separate from the post cemetery. Erected out of native "cannonball" stone found in the Wichita Mountains, his grave stone is surrounded by his many wives' memorials.

Jail cell door
According to legend, Geronimo bent the bars of his jail cell during his frequent incarcerations at Fort Sill. Geronimo often slept in the jail voluntarily to rest from his alcoholism.

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