Old Fort Supply
Chapter I - The Establishment of Camp Supply
Chapter I - The Establishment of Camp Supply
Camp Supply, later to become Fort Supply, came into being as a result of an emergency campaign against various tribes of the plains Indians in the Fall of 1868. The site of the old fort is now occupied by the Western State Hospital of the State of Oklahoma and a number of the old buildings are in use at the present time. Geographically located at a point near the confluence of Beaver and Wolf creeks in Latitude 36°30' and Longitude 99°30', it was approximately fifteen miles northwest of the present city of Woodward, Oklahoma.
With the close of the Civil War, thousands of young men, especially of the Union Army, were mustered out of service only to find a scarcity of opportunities for securing a livelihood. Furthermore, they were now possessed of a feeling of unrest. The lure of buffalo-hunting and its remunerative possibilites brought thousands of them to the region of the Great Plains where began a wanton slaughter of these animals. Literally, millions were killed, the hides removed and the carcasses abandoned to the vultures.
What was the effect of this upon the Indian of the plains? The buffalo was his source of food, his source of shelter, his source of fuel and his source of clothing. In a word, this peculiar looking animal was the very foundation of his existence in that treeless region. It is not unusual then, that he should fight to retain that which he found so absolutely necessary to his existence.
More than this, the Indian regarded land as "free goods." Land was something common to all humanity as air and sunlight, and the aggressive manner of these settlers from beyond the big river was a cause for retaliation. So began a series of depredations, murders and robberies along our western frontier that to us seem terrifying yet did not long stay the poerful advance of that sturdy group of pioneers on the western fringe of our advancing civilization.
The extension of railway development in western Kansas and the resultant influx of settlers along the Arkansas and other rivers to the north added further impetus to the difficulties and soon the Federal government launched a new program destined to place these nomadic tribes of the plains upon permanent reservations. When that colorful gathering of soldiers, government representatives, and Indians met at Medicine Lodge in 1867, little did they realize the length of time required to convert these wild people to a sedentary life. The lodge fires of that meeting had barely cooled before many of the younger warriors evidenced their dissatifaction with the new arrangement and a new series of outbreaks brought death and detruction to the frontier settelments.
General Sheridan report, in a tabulated statement to the Secretary of WAr, a series of more than sixty depredations, murders and robberies that occurred during the year of 1868 in the Department of the Missouri. In one of these, which occurred at Spanish Fort, Texas, on September 1, 1868, four people were murdered, eight were scalped and three women were outraged. He reported that:
On September 8, 1868, General Sheridan reported the murder of seventeen white people at cimarron crossing a few miles west of Dodge City, Kansas. Fifteen of these people were burned to death by the Indians.
Perhaps the most notable engagement of that summer occurred a few days later early in the morning of the 17th day of September on the Arickares, a branch of the Republican River. The site of this bloody fight was a few miles west of the present Colorado-Kansas line. Colonel Geo. A. Forsythe was in command of a company of fifty scouts, who were endeavoring to overtake a band of the marauders. At the beginning of the Indian attack, the scouts, who had camped on the north bank of the river during the night, hurriedly made their way to a sandy island in the river, tying their horses to some trees growing on the island. Apparently the scouts had underestimated the number of Indians in the vicinity for hundreds of Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Sioux bore down upon them wounding many of the men and killing all the horses within the first hour. Many brave Indian chiefs were killed in this first encounter. The attack became disorganized when about ten o'clock in the morning the famed chief Roman Nose appeared, reorganized and renewed the attack. He was mortally wounded but the warriors held him upon his horse and he retreated from the field. At two o'clock in the afternoon, a new band appeared under Dull Knife and the attack was renewed.He was killed and fell from his horse, yet the braves advanced on foot under heavy fire and bore him from the scene of the battle.
At midnight, two scouts volunteered to attempt to reach Fort Wallace. They encountered almost insurmountable difficulties. The country seemed to be alive with Indians and they were forced to go in hiding during the day but successfully reached Fort Wallace, eighty-five miles distance on the 20th day of September.
In the meantime, another band of Indians, who were ignorant of the battle came down the Arickaree from the west and these were fired upon and repelled. After days of eating horseflesh, drinking brackish water from a dug pit and suffering from wounds, the men were rescued by a troop of cavalry sent to their relief. It is estimated that perhaps 700 Indians took part in this fight.
This demonstrates the fact that the pursuit and punishment of the Indians after these raids was a difficult problem, especially with the limited number of men available. In 1868, General Sheridan reported that he had 1400 foot troops and 1200 mounted troops east of New Mexico with which to attempt to control 6000 hostile Indians. Furthermore, it was estimated that htere were on the plains 3,000,000 head of buffalo which supplied the Indian his necessary subsistence.
It was with this thought in mind that General Sheridan transferred his headquarters to Fort Hays where he immediately inaugurated plans for a winter campaign against the Indians at a time when it would be very difficult for them to travel and "their ponies would be thin, and weak from lack of food."
It was the custom of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas and Comanches to establish winter camps along the rivers in the South Great Plains region and especially along those affluent to the Red River. General Sheridan was cognizant of the fact that the distance was too great to use any of the established forts of Kansas as a supply base and with this thought in mind, he planned the establishment of a supply base at a suitable place within the boundaries of the Indian country.
During the series of depredations which had occurred in recent months, General Sully had pursued a band of Comanches and Kiowas into this region but had been forced to retreat after three severe fights. He had crossed the tongue of land above the confluence of Beaver and Wolf creeks and had recognized its possibilities as a campsite. General Sully was, therefore, ordered to select and establish a temporary camp at a suitable point which would serve as a supply base for the troops in the field.
It is quite apparent that the establishment of Camp Supply was definitely a temporary procedure. There was no intention, at the time, of making this a permanent camp, yet it is interesting to note that all the forts of Oklahoma that have been abandoned, Fort Supply was the last to b e turned over to the Department of the Interior.
It should be further noted that the fort was occupied continuously from its inception in the fall of 1868, until a short time before its relinquishment by the War Department on November 5, 1894.