The Great Sioux War / The First Victory After Custer’s Defeat

Take a drive about seventy miles north of the Black Hills and you’ll reach a site where a decisive battle took place during the Great Sioux War of 1876 which followed the stunning defeat of Colonel George Armstrong Custer in June of that year. The battle that took place at this site in September of 1876 was the first cavalry victory over the Sioux since Custer’s defeat.

slim buttes south dakota

Slim Buttes

The actual battlefield in northwest South Dakota is now on private property. The area is between the towns of Buffalo and Bison. Today the visitor to this site will find an historical marker and memorial along the roadway. The memorial site is on State Highway 20 about three miles west of Reva South Dakota in Harding County.

So much has been chronicled about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including on this site, but the Battle of Slim Buttes was directly related to what happened to George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry in June of 1876.

The story of the army’s response to Custer’s defeat is often overshadowed by the debate over what exactly happened and who, if anyone, was to blame at the Little Bighorn including some of the investigations that ensued. The steps the army took immediately after Custer’s defeat is an interesting story.

little bighorn memorial marker

Little Bighorn Memorial

The U.S. Army troops in the area of Slim Buttes in 1876 were there because of the shocking defeat of Custer and his cavalry a few months earlier. They were there to end the Sioux War one way or the other. After the Little Bighorn battle the Sioux bands started to move eastward as a large group during July and August of 1876. General George Crook’s forces joined up with General Terry’s and started to move eastward as well.

After the Little Bighorn

The goal of course was to catch up with the hostiles and either to defeat them and/or drive them back to the Indian agencies. There was also concern that more Sioux didn’t leave the reservation and join their brothers. As a result, the army took over control of the reservations from the Indian Department. Any renegade Indians who did happen to show up at the agencies were immediately disarmed and had their ponies taken away.

What took place prior to the Battle of Slim Buttes could only be called the most rigorous and nearly impossible long march in U.S. Army history. What was to ensue over the following few weeks would try the most skilled soldier to the limits of human endurance. Both General Terry and General Crook reported directly to General Philip Sheridan who’s headquarters were in Chicago.

crooks march to slim buttes

General Crook's Horsemeat March, 1876

A March Like None Other

Instead of leading his troops toward a supply depot on either the Yellowstone River or further east at Fort Lincoln, Crook became concerned for the safety of Deadwood in the Black Hills. This was about 180 miles south of his current position. Crook’s concern was that Deadwood and other small mining camps around it would be attacked by the Sioux. As a result, he decided on a march to Deadwood while rations were almost exhausted.

Much of what took place during this arduous march would be chronicled by the journalists who were embedded in his command. Many rferred to this march as the “Horsemeat March of 1876“. The excellent book, Slim Buttes, 1876 by author Jerome A. Greene gives a detailed description of the long march, the slaughtering of cavalry horses necessary to feed the troops and the accidental Battle of Slim Buttes that took place during this journey toward Deadwood.

Captain Anson Mills

When the command was a few days ride out of Deadwood, Crook made the decision to send a detachment up ahead to Deadwood to both notify the town of their position and at the same time buy and bring supplies back to the camp where Crook decided to hold the troops for a while.The detachment sent to the Black Hills was commanded by Captain Anson Mills. Along with Mills was 150 select cavalrymen.

Crook ordered that the detachment avoid conflict with the hostiles during their journey. The detachment was sent for supplies to aid the larger group and were not sent out as scouts. While Mill’s detachment of 150 troops made their way toward the Black Hills one of their non Soldier scouts spotted Indians with game piled on their horses. When Mills heard of this he surmised correctly that there was certain to be an Indian village somewhere in the vicinity.

black hills south dakota

The Black Hills

Battle of Slim Buttes

At this point Captain Mills made the decision to locate the village. When they neared the area they dismounted. They wished to get closer and ascertain the size of the camp and didn’t want noise from their mounts to give them away.

When the village was located on the banks of the Moreau River which today is named Gap Creek, Mills and several others including their scouts approached on foot. They saw the village but could not figure out it’s size. One thing the troops in Crook’s command knew was that Custer’s attack on the Little Bighorn without first knowing the size of the enemy camp was a contributing factor to his defeat.

Everyone in Mill’s detachment knew that this was a critical element and especially since their numbers were only 150. As for the Indians, they had no idea about Mills’ detachment. They were well aware that Crook was in the general area but not that one of his detachments was anywhere nearby.

general george crook

General George Crook

After discussing the situation with his officers, Captain Anson Mills decided that a daybreak attack would take place the next morning. The army had embraced surprise dawn attacks as the preferred method. This went all the way back to the Civil War days. In this instance, Mills would attack with three columns. The right and left would be on foot. The center column would be mounted and would tear through the village, stampeding the Indian ponies and shooting at whatever they could. Mills had hoped that the attack would be over in one clean sweep. The Indians would be killed or captured and any provisions they could find would be sent to Crook’s starved soldiers.

The Attack

What transpired was a bit different. The problem was that many warriors were able to flee south and west of the village and fired at the troops from the rocks and buttes above their former camp. The swift victory that Captain Mills anticipated didn’t materialize. What occurred was a sort of standoff where Indians in the rocks took shots at troops rummaging through the lodges in the village below. There was also concern that some of the warriors who fled would bring in reinforcements from Indian camps that were nearby. If that occurred, Mills attack against an undetermined size Indian village could have the same end results as Custer’s attack. The challenge Mills had was to hold out until Crook’s reinforcements could arrive.

Crook to the Rescue

Captain Mills sent a courier back to General Crook’s encampment further north. Fortunately Crook did not stay encamped as long as anticipated and was moving forward when the courier reached him announcing the Indian fight Mills’ troops were involved in.

Crook and his troops set out in the direction of the village to reinforce Mills. Crook’s command reached the Indian village, joined the fight and after a full day and the loss of several men took the village as well as some captives, mostly women and children who were hiding in the rocks above.

Below are links to additional trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

Garryowen and Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

The Start of the Western Indian Wars / The Grattan Massacre

indian warrior

Indian Warrior painting by Frederic Remington

The Aftermath

The Battle of Slim Buttes took place on September 9 and 10, 1876, about 2 1/2 months after Custer’s defeat.  Interestingly, while rummaging through and destroying the Indian lodges, Crook’s troops discovered several items taken from Custer’s command. Cavalry shirts, a Seventh Cavalry guidon and several other personal military effects were found.

The estimates of those killed in this battle were two cavalrymen and one civilian scout. After the battle ended and the dead were buried, Crook headed for Deadwood Dakota Territory where he would be welcomed along the way with supplies brought out by the citizenry. A courier had been sent to notify the town of Crook’s nearby position. When the troops eventually made it to Deadwood they were greeted with a great ovation.

Three excellent books on this subject include General George Crook: His AutobiographyA Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn by author James Donovan and The Slim Buttes Battle by author Fred H. Werner.

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

 

Texas Railroads and Historic U.S. Train Depots

When the American railroads were expanding during the latter part of the nineteenth century, Texas was in an ideal position. It was also growing rapidly and had plenty of available land. The last half of our article lists several historic train depots in Texas and the west that make excellent trip stops.

waxahachie texas katy depot

Waxahachie Texas train depot

Historic Texas Train Depots

When you research the golden days of railroading you’ll come to recognize that the state of Texas might of had the largest number of different railroads crossing it’s borders.

Texas railroads were numerous as were the train depots servicing them. Just as with the case of railroad towns all across the country, railroads came and went and many merged together. Fortunately, a good number of these historic train stations still exist in Texas as they do around the entire country.

The Katy Flyer

One of the historic railroads that came down from the north into Texas was the MKT, commonly referred to as the Katy. This was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. In fact the Katy was the first railroad to come down into Texas from the north. Waxahachie Texas was on the main line of the Katy Flyer, a very popular named rail route which ran from St. Louis Missouri to Galveston Texas. The entire journey was made in thirty-seven hours.

mkt caboose

M-K-T Caboose

The Katy Flyer offered buffet sleeper cars for those passengers who chose to have meals aboard the train. The other option was to take meals at the MKT eateries located in some select stops such as Dallas. In some ways this mirrored the arrangement Fred Harvey had with the Santa Fe Railroad. The MKT Katy Flyer operated over this route for decades lasting all the way to 1961.

The Rock Island

The last of the Rock Island passenger trains to travel through Waxahachie and utilize the depot was the Sam Houston Zephyr. This was the BRI route connecting Fort Worth Texas and Houston which started service in 1936. The year 1936 also saw the large Texas Centennial celebrations throughout the state. Travel time on the new streamlined Sam Houston Zephyr was originally five hours with only four stops along the way, Waxahachie being one of them. Because of declining profits and competition from automobiles and airlines the Sam Houston Zephyr discontinued service in 1966.

gallup train depot interior

Gallup train depot interior

Texas Railroading Heading West

Anyone who has spent time researching the history of specific railroads will understand that mergers and acquisitions were commonplace. There were a great number of situations where very small lines were chartered to build rail lines over perhaps a few hundred miles. Over the years and in some cases in only a few years these lines merged with other larger railroads and these as well were acquired by even larger railroads. The southern branch of the Katy Railroad was primarily made up of several of these smaller lines being acquired.

Geographically, Texas, by reason of it’s size, was a crossroads for railroads for two main reasons. The state was growing steadily and passenger service was in demand to cities such as Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The second reason was that efforts were made from Texas to build a southern transcontinental route to either Los Angeles or San Diego. Such an effort was begun by the old Texas Pacific Railroad which ultimately ended with the Southern Pacific route from Los Angeles to New Orleans via El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.

train depot lamy new mexico

Lamy New Mexico train depot serving Santa Fe

As you travel around Texas you’ll have the opportunity to explore many historic train stations from railroad’s golden age.

While the Denver and Fort Worth Railroad put Amarillo on the map,other railroads were building into Amarillo Texas. Mergers and acquisitions took place and eventually the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad was completed.

By 1910, a rail line was built from Amarillo west to the New Mexico border. The Rock Island would eventually run to Tucumcari New Mexico where it would join up with a Southern Pacific line and offer through service from Chicago to the west coast. This line would be in direct competition with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad at that time.

santa fe railroad amarillo train depot

Old Santa Fe Railroad depot, Amarillo Texas

Eventually the transcontinental routes to the west coast comprised the southern route with the Southern Pacific Railroad at the helm, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe (Santa Fe Railroad) with it’s general southwest route from Chicago through New Mexico and northern Arizona into Los Angeles. The Union Pacific route from Chicago through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada ending in the San Francisco Bay area and the northern route which ran out of Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seattle and built by the Northern Pacific Railway.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

Railroads in Texas / The Frisco

A Tour of an Historic Pullman Car

The Famous U. P. Big Boy Steam Locomotive

Visit Luling Texas / Railroads, Oil and Watermelons

Surviving Historic Trail Depots Around the U.S.

Many of the old train depots today that have survived have been taken over by historical societies and cities and towns themselves. Some serve as excellent museums with artifacts and photos of the old passenger trains that visited. Some others are a combination of both, serving as museums and trains stations served by Amtrak.

tucson arizona train depot

Old Southern Pacific train station, Tucson Arizona

Below is just a small sample of historic train stations that have survived the decades since the days when passenger railroading was in it’s golden years. They make good additions to trip planners and most are filled with large historic collections.

Amarillo Texas

Amarillo was put on the map thanks to the railroad and ranching. The Texas Panhandle was a natural crossroads to the west and Amarillo benefited. Although there is no passenger service today and hasn’t been since 1970 the Amarillo rail yard is very busy with BNSF freight traffic. The old Santa Fe Amarillo train depot, built in 1910, and the surrounding six acres are now owned by the City of Amarillo. The train station is located just east of the downtown area.

Waxahachie Texas

The Waxahachie Texas old passenger train station built in 1886 served the Katy Railroad, also known as the M-K-T. The station is located just south of the town square and today. Waxahachie itself is known to many as the Gigerbread City because of the historic homes still standing built prior to 1900. The train depot closed when the Katy merged with the Union Pacific. Today Waxahachie sees a good amount of Union Pacific freight traffic. The old Katy depot is also across the street from the old Santa Fe Railroad depot which gives you a good comparison of the different architecture. Waxahachie Texas is located off Interstate 35 about 30 miles south of Dallas.

Temple Texas

The Temple Texas train depot is a museum and a working passenger train station. It is the third stop heading south from Fort Worth on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle which operates between Chicago and San Antonio Texas. Temple Texas is located along Interstate 35 about 35 miles south of Waco and about 65 miles north of Austin.

Lamy New Mexico

The Lamy New Mexico train depot serves Santa Fe which is about 15 miles to the north. The Lamy train depot was built in 1909 by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. At one time the railroad ran a spur line to Santa Fe where passengers would connect to. Today the depot is an active Amtrak stop for the Southwest Chief which runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. Lamy is an old historic spot outside Santa Fe and definitely worth a visit.

harvey house belen new mexico

Old Harvey House at Belen New Mexico

Flagstaff Arizona

Today’s Flagstaff Arizona train depot is an active passenger station for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. The current depot was built in 1926 by the AT & SF. It is just to the south side of Flagstaff’s historic district and serves as a Visitor Center as well as a passenger station.

Tucson Arizona

Tucson Arizona was on the old route of the Southern Pacific Railroad which offered service from the west coast east to Louisiana. Today the depot, built in 1907, is active as a passenger stop for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Service and the it’s Texas Eagle. The depot today has a restaurant, grocery and a fascinating museum with one of a kind railroad exhibits. Also an old Southern Pacific steam locomotive is on display outside as well as interesting sculptures. The depot is located to the east of the downtown area and quite close to a few historic hotels. If your trip takes you to Tucson it’s a worthwhile visit.

flagstaff arizona train depot

Train depot in Flagstaff Arizona

Belen New Mexico

Belen New Mexico has a beautifully restored Harvey House adjacent to the old train depot. The old Harvey House is now a fascinating museum featuring many artifacts and photos of both the AT & SF Railroad and the workings of a Harvey House eatery. There is also a three room model train exhibit which may be one of the largest. Belen is located along Interstate 25 about 35 miles south of Albuquerque.

Gallup New Mexico

The Gallup New Mexico train depot was constructed on what later became old Route 66. The depot building was built in 1918 as the El Navajo Hotel. This was one of the many Mary Colter AT & SF designed depots and hotels. This was also one of the Fred Harvey hotels serving the AT & SF Railroad. The hotel also adjoined a structure that was used as an area headquarters for the railroad. Renovations took place in 1996 and the Gallup Cultural Center opened inside the building at the same time. The depot is located at 201 East Highway 66.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

 

 

Garryowen and George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

George Armstrong Custer and “Garryowen” 

Countless books have been published about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. At the time the battle that took place along the Little Bighorn River in Montana represented the largest single Indian War military loss. An interesting side story about Custer’s 7th Cavalry was their unofficial regimental marching song “Garryowen“. Marching tunes have been used in the military for centuries. They are used today.

garryowen montana memorial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Peace Memorial, Garryowen Montana

All branches of the military are known to have cadence calls. The cadence call requires no musical instruments and sometimes the lyrics are composed of call outs and answers.

When you look back to the time before mechanized transportation, a marching song during a protracted hike helps build cohesion, keeps the troops in step and makes a long march a bit less weary. Essentially these tunes add rhythm to a march. A march is work and you could say these are “work songs”. In the U.S. these cadences are sometimes referred to as “jody calls”. The name Jody appears in many traditional military cadences thus the term “jody calls“.

Custer Adopts the Irish Garryowen

The story is that George Custer first heard the tune being sung among his Irish troopers. It was a old Irish tune going back to around 1860 with some believing it came directly from this neighborhood of Limerick Ireland. Some historians believe it was introduced to Colonel Custer by Captain Myles W. Keogh, one of his officers. Keogh’s father reportedly had been with the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers who had used this song. The Seventh Cavalry officially adopted the tune in 1867.

myles keogh of the seventh cavalry

Photo of the Seventh Cavalry. Myles Keogh seated furthest in front.

It originated just outside Limerick, Ireland and translates into “Owens Garden“. Custer liked it and started humming it himself. He also thought the tune matched up pretty well to a regiment of Cavalry horse soldiers on the march.

The tune actually was used by Irish regiments as a drinking song and some say it’s quick stepped  rhythm can be traced as far back as the early 1800’s. It’s first introduction among U.S. soldiers was in the early 1860’s during the Civil War.

In 1981 the Army’s First Cavalry Division made “Garryowen” it’s official song.

Original Garryowen Lyrics

“Garryowen”

[Verse 1]

Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
but join with me each jovial blade,
come booze and sing and lend your aid,
to help me with the chorus:

“Chorus”

 Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale
and pay the reckoning on the nail,
for debt no man shall go to jail;
from Garry Owen in glory

[Verse 2]

We are the boys who take delight
in smashing Limerick lamps at night,
and through the street like sportsters fight,
tearing all before us. (Chorus)

[Verse 3]

We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors,
the watch knock down by threes and fours,
then let the doctors work their cures,
and tinker up our bruises. (Chorus)

[Verse 4]

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
we’ll make the mayor and sheriffs run,
we are the boys no man dare dun,
if he regards a whole skin. (Chorus)

[Verse 5]

Our hearts so stout have got us fame,
for soon ’tis known from whence we came,
where’re we go they dread the name,
of Garry Owen in glory. (Chorus)

Visit the Custer Battlefield

The Custer Battlefield Museum is located in Garryowen, MT. The site is right along Interstate-90 a few miles south of the Custer Battlefield and about 55 miles northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming.

This museum offers a vast display of photos, weaponry, paintings, manuscripts and many many more interesting artifacts. Several events are scheduled including reenactments of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The museum also offers internships for interested students. If you are in the general area I think this would make an excellent stop.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

 The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

The Grattan Massacre in Wyoming and the Start of War

The Resting Place of the Heroes of the Alamo

little bighorn memorial

Little Bighorn Memorial on Last Stand Hill

Annual Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment 

This annual event is scheduled each June. Learn and experience the historic struggle for control of the West by visiting the amazing Little Bighorn Reenactment firsthand.

The Reenactment is located just south of Crow Agency, MT and between the historic points of Custer’s Last Stand Hill, Reno’s Charge / Retreat, and Reno – Benteen Battlefield. This battle has been called Custer’s Last Stand for over a century, with the National Park Service renaming of the Battlefield monument and park to Little Bighorn Battlefield.

For more information and for exact directions see website www..littlebighornreenactment.com

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in public domain)

A Visit to Fort Sill Oklahoma / A Frontier Army Post

Fort Sill Oklahoma is one of the country’s oldest military bases and is also a popular attraction for tourists traveling through southern Oklahoma. Before we give some information to help with your visit there we wanted to highlight some of Fort Sill’s  fascinating and long history.

henry flipper west point graduate

Henry O. Flipper, a former slave and West Point graduate

Fort Sill’s Colorful Past

Fort Sill Oklahoma is one of the most unique army installations in the United States. One very significant historical fact about  Ft. Sill is that it was the first posting of a 2nd Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper who was the first former slave to graduate from West Point. Flipper was assigned to the Buffalo Soldiers in 1877 while they were stationed in Oklahoma. Flipper served the U.S. Army from 1877 to 1882 and also was a civil engineer.

Another fact is that Fort Sill military base is the only fort still in operation today that was built during the southern plains Indian Wars. Fort Sill history therefore is quite extensive and interesting since it’s existence spans the old west frontier days to the present.

The fort was established at the direction of General Philip Sheridan in January of 1869. Sheridan was leading a campaign against the Comanches, southern Cheyennes, Kiowas and in some instances Apaches who were targeting white settlers in the area of western Oklahoma and Texas. The fort was established only one year after the Washita River Battle where George Armstrong Custer had destroyed the village of Black Kettle, killing he and his wife in the process.

general philip sheridan in the west

Harper's cover featuring General Philip Sheridan

Comanche Resistance

The Comanche unrest was going on for quite a long time. It was a significant part of the plains wars and had been going on as far back as to the early settlement days of Texas in the 1830’s and 1840’s and actually prior to that involving the Spaniards and Mexicans.

Like every other Indian conflict, the cause was the rapid western advancement of white settlements. Army forts as a rule were established along the western line of settlement and history of army action during this time was usually along that line.

In the case of Fort Sill, it was built within Indian Territory. This was the area of Oklahoma where reservations were established. The army’s goal was to resettle the Native Americans within the reservations and away from white settlers. Because of Fort Sill’s location it was very active during the latter part of the 1800’s.

The army outpost was first named Camp Witchita and later took the name of Sheridan’s West Point friend Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill.

comanche leader quanah parker

Comanche leader Quanah Parker

The Decisive Red River War

Fort Sill found itself in the spotlight during the 1874 Red River War. A Comanche named Quanah Parker was one of the most successful of the warrior leaders.  Parker was actually a half breed Comanche who was the son of a female white captive (Cynthia Ann Parker)  taken during a raid in central Texas in 1836. Most of her family was killed during the raid.

Just prior to the Red River War Quanah Parker was leading a war party for a second assault at Adobe Walls located in the Texas Panhandle. The raid wasn’t successful mostly because buffalo hunters were present with their very long range Sharps Bison Rifles.

The story in this instance is that Quanah Parker had his horse shot out from under him at an amazing range of 500 yards. This was enough for the warriors to call off the attack. This attack on Adobe Walls caused the government to reverse their prior peace initiatives and essentially ignited the Red River War.

sharps rifle buffalo gun

A Sharps Rifle like this allowed buffalo hunters to kill hundreds of the bison per day

It should be noted that by the winter of 1873-1874 the Plains Indians were in a lot of trouble. They were having a difficult time even surviving. The reduction of the buffalo herds with the help of the Sharps buffalo rifle decreased the size of the herds to unbelievably low numbers. At the same time the buffalo hunters were decimating the herd and white settlement to the west continued. The Indians were really between a rock and a hard place and total capitulation was just a matter of time.

As a result of the Adobe Walls affair, General Sheridan sent five army columns to the Texas Panhandle. A Red River battle was imminent. Three of the five columns sent were under the command of Colonel Ranald MacKenzie who would go down in history as being one of the most effective army Indian fighters in the southern plains. At one time MacKenzie was commander of Fort Concho in present day San Angelo Texas.

general nelson miles during civil war

Nelson Appleton Miles photo taken during the Civil War

Another column in this expedition was commanded by Colonel Nelson Miles who also went on to be a key figure in the surrender of Geronimo during the Apache Warin what is now southern Arizona. There were more than twenty battle encounters during the campaign with the army being highly aggressive. The cavalry wanted to engage the Indians as many times as it took to win. It was purely an offensive operation and Fort Sill troops took a major part in this campaign.

The campaign was effective against the Indians. The main reason was that the Indians were in no position to engage in a full scale battle. Their supplies were very low or non-existent. They were tired of the running and in most cases fled rather than fought when chased by the cavalry. It was obvious that Sheridan’s troops were better armed than the enemy. Sheridan’s full scale assault plan was probably his best option. It was believed that he too recognized that the Comanches and Cheyennes didn’t have the resources to fight effectively and his massive show of force would conclude things relatively quickly.

The links below are to additional articles from our Trips Into History and Western Trips sites that you may enjoy…

The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

The Comanche Indians

A Visit to Fort Reno Oklahoma

Two excellent books on the subject of Fort Sill and it’s long history include Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill by author Wilbur Sturtevant Nye. Also, Lawton-Fort Sill: A Pictorial History by David Stevens.

old fort sill buildings

Old Fort Sill Infantry barracks

Today’s Fort Sill Oklahoma

Today, Fort Sill army base is an active military installation where the field artillery is joined by the air defense artillery and electronic warfare branches to create the Fires Center of Excellence. The Fort Sill Fires Center of Excellence trains, develops and educated soldiers and leaders.

Fort Sill is a 21st century modern base which has evolved considerably since General Philip Sheridan first chose this location for his base of operations during the southern plains Red River War.

The Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum, opened in 1935, is a real glimpse into past army history. It also presents a lot of information about Fort Sill field artillery history. The museum serves both the general public and the military with all aspects of Fort Sill’s historic past. The museum is a depository of artifacts, photographs and documents pertaining to Fort Sill’s colorful past. The museum collection and it’s exhibits are large.

geronimo grave site

Geronimo's grave site at Fort Sill Oklahoma

Admission is free and open to the public. Forty-six of the original Fort Sill structures are still in use and in excellent condition. Fort Sill is located in southwest Oklahoma in Comanche county and next to the city of Lawton. It is about 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and about 60 miles north of Witchita Falls Texas just west of Interstate-44.

Before you go it’s important to know that Fort Sill is a closed’ post. In order to gain access you must show a valid photo Identification Card (ID). If you are driving into Fort Sill you must show proof of your current driver’s license, state vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You must register your vehicle on post as soon as possible after you sign in. The registration form is provided to you at the Welcome Center during processing.

Fort Sill can be a fun and educational addition to your trip planner. The exhibits are very interesting and there’s plenty to explore both inside the museum and outside as well.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain)

The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Old Northwest

The Land of Western Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company

Much of the settlement of Western Canada had it’s origins in the old Hudson’s Bay Company.

In the earlier years, the Hudson’s Bay Company was said to have published a study declaring that the land in western Canada was unfit for agricultural purposes. Perhaps the report was slanted to help keep out the farmer. The report of course was proven to be untrue. Regarding the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly, there was a contentious trial in 1849 against a trapper who was accused, by the HBC, of trading in illegal furs. The trader was found guilty of breaking the Hudson’s Bay monopoly, but because of an angry armed crowd present during the trial, the judge didn’t fine the defendant.

fort vancouver national historic site

Watchtower at old Fort Vancouver

This 1849 trial was most likely the key event that turned the tide against the HBC monopoly and, by 1870, the government dissolved the monopoly altogether and opened up trapping to anyone.

This was also an event that opened up the Canadian West to farming as well.  It was that year, 1870, in which the Canadian government purchased the rights to the Northwest from the Hudson’s Bay Company. This move in 1870 created opportunities for Canadians in the east who had been thinking of heading west. The completion of the western railroad first to Winnepeg, then on to Calgary and eventually into British Columbia accelerated settlement. To give you an idea of the railroad’s major role in settling western Canada, Canadian Pacific agents operated in many overseas cities. Immigrants were often sold a package that included passage on a Canadian Pacific ship, travel on a CP train, and land sold to them by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

fort vancouver exhibits

Weaponry exhibit at Fort Vancouver

Canadian West Ranching

The year 1870 was also a pivotal year for Canadian ranching. Just as in the U.S., the western ranching industry had the encouragement of government. During 1881 the Canadian government passed an act which allowed anyone to lease up to 100,000 acres at a cost of just one cent per acre per year. Granting or leasing acreage at a very low cost was something done by both the Spaniards and the Mexicans to help settle their territories in Texas, New Mexico and Alta California. The method proved successful for them as well as for the Canadian government decades later.

The ranch land was leased and the cowboy entered the western Canadian culture. While the Canadian cowboy and his American counterpart dressed similarly, there were a few distinctions. The history books point out that, unlike their American brothers, the Canadian cowboy seemed not to have the same negative baggage. Some might say that quite a bit written by the dime novelists of the era embellished the “negative’ exploits of the American cowboy. I think that when all was said and done both the Canadian cowboy as well as his brothers to the south put in a hard days work for their wages.

historic homes at fort vancouver

A home for Army generals built at Fort Vancouver

Visiting Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver in Vancouver Washington just across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon is one of the best ways to learn more about the Hudson’s Bay Company and it’s impact on the Pacific Northwest.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site today is a reconstruction of the old Hudson’s Bay fort as it would have appeared in the early 1800’s. Fort Vancouver at one time served as the headquarters for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia region.

pearson field museum fort vancouver

The Pearson Air Museum at Fort Vancouver

The reconstructed buildings within the Fort’s walls are on their original sites. Adjacent to the fort is Pearson Field which today is operated as a city owned small aircraft field but does have the distinction of being the oldest operating airfield in the United States.

An excavation of the old site of Fort Vancouver took place beginning in 1947. According to National Park Service information, some two million artifacts were discovered at the excavation site. During the years during and after the excavation there were those who desired to keep the area an archeological site. In  1954, the area was was officially designated a site to preserve the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1965 Congress gave the go ahead for a complete reconstruction.

Two additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy are found on the links below…

A Trip to Historic Portland Oregon

Visiting The Dalles Oregon

Two excellent books regarding the Hudson’s Bay Company and it’s impact on both Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest include…The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company by author George Bryce and Hudson’s Bay Company Adventures : Tales of Canada’s Fur Traders by author Elle Andra-Warner.

columbia river near bonneville dam

View of the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, located on the northern shore of the Columbia River, is easily accessible and makes a great addition to your Pacific Northwest trip planner.

The site is just across the Columbia River from Portland Oregon in Vancouver Washington. The two cities are connected by the Interstate 5 bridge.

When on Interstate 5, turn off at the Mill Plain Blvd exit and follow the signs to the fort’s Visitor Center which is on East Evergreen Blvd. At the Visitors Center you can obtain detailed maps which can be used for your walking tour. The Visitors Center is located on a hill just north of the fort. The walking tour map information contains details of each of the site’s structures.

The Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Visitors Center showcases interesting exhibits and offers visitors the opportunity to view several short films by request. It’s one of the best sites to learn about the settlement of the Pacific Northwest.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)