Monday, June 29, 2020

Invading Oklahoma

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

I really enjoyed my recent trip to Oklahoma.  Our book America Invaded ( discussed Invasions of Oklahoma from the first arrival of the Europeans to the present day...

"The Wichita tribe, far less nomadic than other Native Americans, were farming in Oklahoma long before the arrival of Europeans.

De Soto
C 1500 - 1542

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, Oklahoma’s first European visitor, came to the region in 1540 searching for gold.  The conquistador Coronado arrived the following year.

In 1594 or 1595, two other Spanish explorers, Umana and Leyba, led an expedition into what is Oklahoma today, also searching for gold. Neither would survive. Many years later, an Oklahoma farmer would uncover part of a steel breastplate, presumably from a conquistador.

As the Spanish moved north to Oklahoma, the French moved south from New France. In 1682, Robert de La Salle explored the Mississippi region and claimed this area, including Oklahoma, for the French king. Bérnard de La Harpe led two French expeditions into Oklahoma, in 1719 and 1721.  e French trappers left a legacy in Oklahoma in terms of geographic names, such as the Poteau and Grand Rivers.

In 1759, Diego Ortiz Parrilla organized a punitive expedition against Native Americans in Texas and Oklahoma. On October 7, the Battle of the Twin Villages was fought near what is today the Texas-Oklahoma border.  The Spanish were defeated by warriors from the Wichita and Comanche tribes.
France regained control (on paper) of the Louisiana territory, including Oklahoma, in 1800 from Spain. In 1803, the Jefferson administration negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon for the sum of $15 million. Most of the present state of Oklahoma was included in that deal.

The US Constitution specifically calls out Native Americans, declaring that Congress shall have power “to regulate Commerce ... with the Indian Tribes.” In 1825, the US government saw the Oklahoma Territory as the solution to their “Indian problem.” James Barbour, the Secretary of War, declared the establishment of Indian Country in order that “the future residence of these peoples will be forever undisturbed.”

Trying to put all Native Americans into one basket, though, created problems of its own. Numerous wars and skirmishes were fought in Oklahoma among Native Americans. In 1833, for example, the Osage tribe fell upon an undefended group of Kiowa in what became known as the Cutthroat Gap Massacre. Over 150 were killed, including many women and children.

Between the 1830s and 1850s, many of the defeated tribes of the Southeast, such as the Choctaw and Creek, were forcibly relocated to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  This became known as the Trail of Tears.

In 1842 at Webbers Falls, about twenty-five slaves rebelled in Cherokee territory and headed south toward Mexico. They were joined by more slaves escaping from Creek land.  The Cherokee militia were sent after them and recaptured them. Five were executed.

President James K Polk
Architect of Mexican-American War
Polk House, Columbia TN

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 that ended the Mexican-American War added the Oklahoma Panhandle, previously claimed by the Republic of Texas, to United States Territory.  is land remained an untamed no-man’s-land for many years until finally becoming part of Oklahoma.

In 1858, John “Rip” Ford led a party of Texas Rangers across the Red River and into Oklahoma Indian Territory. He earned his nickname during the Mexican-American War, after writing numerous death notifications with the words Rest in Peace at the top.  His “invasion” was a response to attacks against settlers. Ford’s men fought the Battle of Antelope Hills against two separate groups of Comanche on May 12, 1858.  The Rangers were armed with .45 caliber six shooters, which outclassed the bows and single-shot muskets of the Comanche.  Only two Rangers were killed versus over seventy-five Comanche, with many more Comanche taken prisoner.

In October 1858, troops of the 2nd Cavalry looking for Penateka Comanche chief Buffalo Hump clashed with Comanche warriors at the Battle of the Wichita Village.  The Comanche were defeated, but Buffalo Hump escaped.

But a much bigger war was coming.

During the American Civil War, Native Americans in the Indian territory of Oklahoma at first attempted to remain neutral. Ultimately, Oklahoma fought a mini-Civil War of its own. Four regiments of Indian Home Guard were raised to fight on the Union side. Many Creek warriors from Oklahoma would fight in Union blue. Nearly 8,000 Indians, mainly of the Five Civilized Tribes, would instead fight under the flag of the Stars and Bars.

Stand Watie
1806 -1871
In the bitter winter of 1861, Unionist Native Americans, under attack from Confederate forces, withdrew to Kansas, fighting a series of engagements en route, including the Battle of Round Mountain and the Battle of Chustenahlah. Among the pursuing forces was Stand Watie.
Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader who was born in Georgia, relocated to the Oklahoma Territory. In August of 1861, he chose to align his tribe with the Confederate cause. He led a force of irregular cavalry that conducted a number of hit-and-run raids on Union targets. Watie rose to become a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He was, in fact, the last Confederate general to surrender, on June 23, 1865, more than two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. After the war, he returned to farming in Delaware County, Oklahoma.

Stand Watie’s forces took part in a number of other Civil War clashes in what is now Oklahoma, including the Battle of Old Fort Wayne in October 1862.

The most significant battle of the Civil War fought in Oklahoma was the Battle of Honey Springs on July 17, 1863. Major General James Blunt of Maine, armed with superior artillery, defeated a Confederate force that outnumbered him two to one.  The battle was notable for the courageous performance of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.  This Union victory secured most of the Oklahoma Indian Territory for the duration of the Civil War.

Less a battle than a Massacre
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK

After the Civil War, tensions between American settlers and Native Americans continued. Most of Oklahoma was occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes—Cheyenne, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. Pressure was mounting for the construction of railroads through Indian lands. Perhaps the most notorious battle to ever be fought in Oklahoma took place on November 27, 1868, on the banks of the Washita River. US Army forces led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked a Cheyenne encampment led by Black Kettle. Black Kettle had been a signatory of the Medicine Lodge Treaties of 1867, which granted money and equipment in exchange for relocation onto two reservations in western Oklahoma and access for the railroad workers.

Massacre at Washita
Washita Battlefield Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK

In the early morning hours of November 27, Custer’s 7th Cavalry attacked the sleeping Cheyenne camp from four directions.  The engagement remains controversial to this day, with some historians terming it a massacre while others argue that it was a one-sided battle. Twenty-one American soldiers were killed and probably over one hundred Indians, including many women and children. Black Kettle and his wife were among the slain.

Some further clashes between Native Americans and US forces would occur, and 1882 also saw the Green Peach War as Cherokee clashed with Cherokee.

In addition to the land occupied by the Five Civilized Tribes, there was also a section of Oklahoma that was designated Unassigned Territory by the federal government.  These areas, including the Panhandle, became subject to a series of land runs starting in 1893.  The “Sooners” were the settlers who moved most expeditiously to take advantage of the federal government’s largesse.

Teddy Roosevelt
Added Oklahoma to the Union
Museum of the Panama Canal, Panama City, Panama

In 1905, Indian tribes in Oklahoma held a constitutional convention that proposed the admission of an Indian state called Sequoyah.  at same year, President Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed a wolf hunt in the Oklahoma Territory with Comanche Chief Quanah Parker. In 1907, Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state to join the Union, utilizing the Sequoyah constitution.

In April of 1917, Woodrow Wilson led the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies against the Central Powers. Conscription soon followed. Opposition to conscription broke out in Oklahoma with the Green Corn Rebellion in Pontotoc County. Tenant farmers, along with Creeks, Seminoles, and some African Americans, rioted, and three people were killed.  A manifesto issued by the rebels declared that World War I was a “Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”  This rhetoric could, of course, be applied to many American wars.

Oil was first discovered in Oklahoma in 1859.  The state was a crucial producer of oil in both world wars, which brought increased wealth to the state. Today it remains the fifth largest oil-producing state in the United States.

In 1931, the Red River Bridge War erupted. Well, sort of. Briefly. An argument over a bridge jointly built by Texas and Oklahoma led to Texas building barricades on the bridge and Oklahoma tearing them down, and the governor of Oklahoma declaring martial law before the problem was resolved.

Battleship Oklahoma

The Battleship Oklahoma, nicknamed Okie, was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft and sunk on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor. Over 420 of her crew were killed.  She was later refloated and repaired, serving in the war until 1944. Oklahoma, unlike many of its neighboring states, was not apparently struck by Japanese balloon bombs. Astonishingly, Oklahoma did not escape bombing during World War II. On July 5, 1943, a B-17 squadron operating out of Dalhart Air Base in Texas accidentally dropped about four practice bombs on Boise City in the Oklahoma Panhandle. One bomb struck the local Baptist church. No one was killed or injured in the only World War II bombing of a city in the continental US. One of the B-17 crew members returned after the war and married a woman from Boise City."  (Source: Oklahoma chapter of America


Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
Cheyenne, OK

Washita Battlefield Historic Site (, Cheyenne, OK.  This is hallowed ground for all Americans.  Great film on what happened at Washita in 1868.  Friendly helpful staff
Tom Stafford
Stafford Air and Space Museum
Weatherford, OK
Stafford Air and Space Museum (, Weatherford, OK.  This museum, named in honor of the American astronaut Tom Stafford who grew up in Weatherford, offers a glimpse into the US Space program and much more.

Mahogany Steakhouse (, Tulsa, OK.  Absolutely nothing to do with Invasions or Military History but an excellent place to restore the tissues after seeing the sites in Oklahoma!  Great steaks and wine selections.

Bread Pudding at Mahogany Steakhouse
Tulsa, OK

You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...


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