Arrival In Indian Territory—Fort Washita

A Chickasaw Storytellers' Series

The Chickasaws were the last of the five Native American nations to be forcibly removed from their southeastern homelands by the U.S. government and established in the newly designated Indian Territory. While the Chickasaws made the arduous journey with an optimistic spirit and immediately set to work rebuilding their communities, they soon faced hostile encounters with southern Plains tribes, Texas militia and other intruders. The closest U.S. troops were 80 miles away at Fort Towson in Choctaw territory. So Chickasaw leaders began advocating for the federal government to honor its promises in the removal treaties, which provided for peacekeeping forces. Eventually a site for a new fort was approved by Gen. Zachary Taylor (later to become president), and in 1836 Col. George Blake took a detachment from Fort Townson to begin construction. Fort Washita was established in 1842 at what was then the most southwestern U.S. frontier bordering the Republic of Texas. Over the next two decades, temporary structures were replaced and permanent buildings began to spring up, from multiple barracks to agency offices and a hospital. The new fort established a higher level of security that promoted growth and prosperity, and it became a major market and trading hub. In late April 1861, following the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Washita was abandoned due to its vulnerable position near Confederate Texas. The Chickasaws, who joined the Confederacy for various reasons, including economic ties and mistrust of the federal government, suffered terribly during the war and saw their position weakened in its aftermath. The government renegotiated treaty agreements in 1866 and removed many rights and protections from the Chickasaw Nation, notably permitting railroad companies to begin developing on its land. After the war, the Dawes Commission allotted Fort Washita to the prominent Charles Colbert family. The Colberts rebuilt the west barracks, but it burned down in 1917. Multiple structures have been consumed by fire over time, including the reconstructed south barracks that tragically burned in 2010. Fort Washita is currently a protected historical site, in the hands of the Chickasaw Nation on whose behalf it was founded.