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Established in October 1859, Fort Cobb offered protection to the nearby Wichita and Tonkawa Indians living in the "Leased District," a reservation in southwest Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). At the start of the Civil War, local commander William H. Emory used Fort Cobb as a staging ground for the evacuation of United States troops from Indian Territory. After the war, the fort saw brief use in operations against the Kiowa Indians before being abandoned in 1869. Today, a stone monument and state historical marker acknowledge the role of Fort Cobb in western Oklahoma history.

An illustration of Fort Cobb, circa 1859

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Fort Cobb Monument

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Fort Cobb State Historical Marker

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William H. Emory, who evacuated U.S. troops from Fort Cobb at the start of the Civil War, ended the war a general

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In the mid-19th century, what is now the State of Oklahoma constituted Indian Territory, an area reserved for Native American tribes who had been removed for their homelands. Eastern Indian Territory was famously home to the Five "Civilized" Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. The United States viewed these tribes as "civilized" due to their embrace of agriculture, chattel slavery, representative government, and more. These tribes (also referred to as "nations") maintained a degree of sovereignty over specific stretches of territory. Western Indian Territory, however, was home to nomadic Plains Indian tribes, who constantly passed through the region while on the hunt or during raids.

The United States government constructed a series of forts throughout Indian Territory. These forts generally had two purposes: to protect the Five Tribes from their aggressive Plains neighbors, and also to offer sanctuary to those Plains tribes willing to peaceably settle in the region. Once such tribe were the Wichita, a regional tribe which the United States had placed in reservations along the Brazos River in Texas. Vulnerable to attacks by the Comanche and Kiowa, in the late 1850s the United States leased a far western portion of Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations north of the Red River (known as the "Leased District") upon which the Wichita could settle. The Wichita settled into the Washita River Valley in the Leased District, and in 1859 the government established the Wichita Agency for political and trade purposes. That same year, the Tonkawa Indians were relocated near the Wichita Agency.

To protect the Wichita Indians and the Wichita Agency from further attacks by the Comanche and others, local commander Major William H. Emory ordered the construction of Fort Cobb in October 1859. The post was named in honor of Secretary of Treasury Howell Cobb. Located three miles from the agency on the banks of the Washita River, the fort sat astride several local roads to nearby Fort Arbuckle and Fort Belknap. The post consisted of a number of wooden and stone buildings, though there was no stockade wall. Four army companies garrisoned the fort.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, promoted Lieutenant Colonel Emory found himself in command of the scattered U.S. garrisons at Forts Cobb, Arbuckle, and Washita. Realizing the vulnerability of these small detachments, Emory ordered all his forces to rendezvous at Fort Cobb in early May. On May 9, 1861, Emory marched his entire 750-man command north for the safety of Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Texas militia (soon to be Confederate soldiers) quickly occupied these abandoned posts, including Fort Cobb. Texan militiamen recalled that “everything was in a bad fix” upon arriving at Fort Cobb.[4] The Texans skirmished with local Comanche Indians in June and July. In late summer, Confederate commissioner Albert Pike arrived and used Fort Cobb as a base for securing peaceful treaties with the Wichita, Comanche, and other Plains tribes.

Too remote to be occupied by either army for most of the war, one notable incident did occur near Fort Cobb during the Civil War. The Tonkawa Indians, nominally allied to the Confederacy, were intensely disliked by many other Native tribes, in large part due to rumors that the Tonkawa practiced cannibalism. In October 1862, a party of Delaware, Shawnee, Osage, and other U.S.-allied Indians attacked the Tonkawa near the Wichita Agency and Fort Cobb. The tribe was virtually wiped out; the few remaining survivors were relocated to Texas following the war.

The U.S. Army reoccupied Fort Cobb in 1868 following the Civil War. It saw brief use during conflicts with the Kiowa, but the construction of nearby Fort Sill negated its use and it was abandoned in March 1869.

Today, only a few small trenches mark the site of the old fort. A stone monument placed by the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1960 acknowledges the role of Fort Cobb in western Oklahoma history, as does a roadside state historical marker.

1. L. Davis Norris. "Fort Cobb." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Web. Accessed December 9, 2020.

2. Odie Faulk, Kenny Franks, and Paul Lambert, eds. Early Military Forts and Posts in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1978.

3. Carolyn Garrett Pool. "Wichita." The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Web. Accessed December 9, 2020.

4. James Lemuel Clark. Civil War Recollections of James Lemuel Clark. Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press, 1997.

5. Jon D. May. “Tonkawa Massacre.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Web. Accessed December 10, 2020.

6. L. David Norris. “Emory, William Hemsley.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Web. Accessed December 10, 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Oklahoma Historical Society:

"Fort Cobb," FortWiki:

"Fort Cobb," FortWiki:

Library of Congress: