The Civil War in Indian Territory

Oklahoma underwent a rapid transformation in the first sixty years of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of that century only the Wichita, Caddo, Kiowa-Apache, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, and Osage lived here.  Some people from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes moved here in the early decades of the 1800s, but they were not numerous. That changed with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1832.  The region now called Oklahoma was then referred to as the Indian territories and would eventually be named Indian Territory by the U.S. Government.  With this one single act Oklahoma became a region set aside strictly for the residence of Indian tribes.  The United States government with the help of relevant states removed through force or coercion the Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations.  The removals often caused deep divisions among the tribes as one socio-political faction would favor removal while another would not. In the case of the Cherokee Nation, these divisions led to assassinations and reprisals over four or five years. Eventually, those troubles were put aside for the good of the people and each nation rebuilt what had been lost. Schools, universities, courthouses, newspapers, churches, plantations, mills, and mercantile stores arose across the eastern half of the Indian territories.

In 1861 the tribes residing here were faced with dangers from every direction.  To the east and south were the secessionist states of Arkansas and Texas.  To the north and east were the extremist states of Kansas and Missouri.  Most leaders in the Indian nations strove to maintain their people’s neutrality. Confederate leadership in Arkansas and Texas saw this neutrality as a threat; if the Indian nations were not with them in their fight with the United States, then they must be against them.  Lawyers and politicians from Arkansas used their family relationships with Cherokee leadership to push for an alliance with the Confederacy.  The new Confederate government sent Albert Pike, a prominent Arkansan politician and lawyer, to secure treaties with any or all of the Indian nations here.

The Confederate threat from Arkansas and Texas also compelled newly appointed Indian agents to remain in Kansas along with the annuities guaranteed by treaties which had removed the southeastern tribes from their original homeland.  Simultaneously, Federal military commanders at Forts Washita and Cobb abandoned their tenuous posts and marched north to Kansas.  These events combined together and compelled tribal leadership to sign treaties of alliance with the Confederate government.  In return, each nation was given representation in the Confederate Congress, would be sent annuities to replace those withheld by the U.S. Government, and would be provided with uniforms and equipment for their own military.

Creek leader Opothleyahola (oh-poth-lay-ya-ho-la) became a beacon to anyone striving to stay out of the coming war.  As the number of people, wagons, livestock, and slaves at Opothleyahola’s home grew, Confederate authorities began plans to forcefully compel them to join the Confederate cause or leave the territories.  The resulting battles between the Confederate military and Indian civilians at Round Mountain, Chusto-Talasah, and Chustenahlah began the Civil War in Oklahoma.