Pleasant Bluff Action

Five thousand Federal Indian refugees from Kansas arrived at Fort Gibson on June 15, 1864, swelling the total under the protection and care of the post to sixteen thousand. Since it was late in the growing season, these refugees could not raise crops to feed themselves during the winter ahead, and were already experiencing shortages.

On the same day that the last group of refugee Indians reached Fort Gibson, a three gun battery of artillery and a cavalry party operating with Colonel Stand Watie’s command, attacked and captured the Federal supply steamer, the J.R. Williams at Pleasant Bluff (sometimes known as Pheasant Bluff) on the Arkansas River, just below the mouth of the Canadian River. The vessel was enroute from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson with quartermaster goods and food for the Indians. The Federals grounded the ship on the opposite side fo the river from the Confederates, and then its military guard, consisting of Lieutenant Horace A.B. Cook and twenty-five men, hastily fled. Watie’s men steered the boat across the river and unloaded its cargo on a sandbar.

The next morning Colonel John Ritchie and a detachment from the Federal encampment (guarding a salt works and lime kiln) near the mouth of the Illinois River drove the Confederates from the J.R. Williams, but not until she had been set afire. Ritchies’ men also kept Watie’s force from removing most of the cargo from the sandbar until a sudden rise n the water washed it away. Even the flour and bacon Watie’s men had carried to higher ground could not be transported for lack of wagons.

Although the Confederates did not gain substantial resources from their exploit, they were encouraged, and the supplies were kept from the Federal forces and refugee Indians at Fort Gibson. Watie complained that the greater portion of the Creeks and Seminoles in his command immediately broke off to carry their booty home, and with the men remaining he could no longer adequately protect his artillery.

From Civil War Sites in Oklahoma by Muriel H. Wright and LeRoy H. Fischer