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Old Fort Supply

Chapter III - A Permanent Post

[Written by William Hankins Hughes, 1931 B. S., Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Submitted to Department of History, Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Partial fulfillment of requirements for degree of Master of Arts, 1941.]

Chapter III - A Permanent Post
Thoughts of abandonment ... Decision to continue and improve the post ... Difficulties with the new reservation system .. Further depredations ... The campaign of Colonel Nelson A. Miles in 1874.

Camp Supply was originally established for the purpose of supplying the troops in the field during the Washita Campaign. It is not unusual then to find records of recommendation to abandon the post. General Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri reported in 1870 in the following words:

"Camp Supply was first established as a depot of supply for General Sheridan's campaign against the Indians in 1868. It has been retained as a position half way on the road to Sill. It is in an entirely unsettled region, not even in the vicinity of the Indians, and seems to me to serve no purpose whatever. It simply invites travel into a part of the country where it would never go except for the existence constant temptation to the Indians to attack trains or small parties. If there were no post there would be no travel, and consequently no Indian hostilities. I recommend its abandonment in the early spring."

General Pope also recommended that all the smaller forts in the Department of Missouri be abandoned and the troops concentrated in larger posts. He reasoned that it would then be possible to operate summer field camps to patrol the plains region during the season when the Indians were on the move.

General Sheridan, on the other hand, hesitated to accede to the recommendations of General Pope concerning the abandonment of certain posts and voiced his opinion in these words:

"I do not fully agree with General Pope in the proposed concentration of troops. I consider that the necessity for active operations against Indians in his command -- except, perhaps, a small number of Apaches -- to be at an end. His duties will therefore be simply to give protection to the general line of the frontier and the commercial lines of travel, and to form here and there a nucleus for the youthful settlements constantly springing up. As soon as active operations against Indians cease, our duties change from administering punishment to giving protection."

Thus, the temporary camp became a permanent post and eventually attained the status of a fort.

The maintenance of an army post on the plains frontier was a difficult and expensive endeavor. In previous years, the frontier was a single line which moved westward at all points. In 1869, it was necessary to scatter the army over a wide expanse of territory. Furthermore, it was necessary to transport the supplies great distances in wagons which increased the cost of maintenance two or three times.

Camp Supply received the major portion of its supplies by rail to Dodge City, Kansas, and then by wagon train to the post, a distance of eight-six miles. The freight was hauled by private contractors. A contract with Edward Fenlon, dated June 23, 1876, stipulates a price of eighty-six cents per hundred weight.

The post, as originally constructed, was of the stockade type with logs which stood on end and enclosed log building within the stockade, but as the years passed, lumber was hauled and frame buildings constructed. One of the old log buildings is yet in use and, according to Dr. J. L. Day, probably dates from 1869. Many cedar logs have been found on the grounds and cedar trees are quite plentiful in the canyons to the northeast.

Since the post was situated on the tongue of land between Wolf and Beaver Creeks, both fresh water streams, a water supply was easily obtainable by sinking shallow wells in the immediate vicinity and it is apparent that such a supply was used until the later years of its existence.

The Cheyenne and Arapahoe agency, which had formerly been at Fort Larned, Kansas, was temporarily transferred to Camp Supply and, in 1870, permanently located at Darlington, where the Chisholm trail crossed the North Canadian River.

Since the Indians were now to be confined to reservations, it now became obligatory for the Federal government to furnish them with food especially during the winter season. Many times these rations were of poor quality and were distributed at unsuitable periods of the year. Mr. R. M. Wright of Dodge City, Kansas, who with his partner Mr. Anthony were working a hay contact near Camp Supply, describes such an issue in the following words:

"It was issuing day to the Indians; I think the first time that live beef was ever distributed to them. Several hundred big wild Texas steers were turned over to them, but the Indians didn't care for the meat; they could always get plenty of buffalo, which they infinitely preferred but they took great delight in the sport of killing them after their manner of hunting buffalo. They ran the frightened creatures on horseback, lanced them with their spears, and shot them full of arrows, until the last one was dead. The whole trail was strewn with dead steers, though scarcely one of them was touched for food. Occasionally, I would notice one whose skin was covered with pretty white spots, and this fact having struck the savage fancy, they had peeled off the most beautiful of them to make quivers for their arrows."

Thoughout these early years, the troops were concerned chiefly in watching the movements of the Indian tribes, to the south. Every effort was made to keep them on their reservations. General Pope, in his report of 1870, stated that "There has been little trouble with the Indians during this season ... these Indians have been fed and furnished with nearly everything they have asked for."

Camp Supply was garrisoned at that time by two companies of the Sixth Infantry, two companies of the Third Infantry and four troops of the Tenth Cavalry. A very serious obstacle confronted the troops in maintaining order. The regulations of the Indian Bureau stated that the troops could not enter the reservation in pursuit of the Indians. General Pope reported that it had become customary for the Indians to organize and carry out a raid and when danger of pursuit was eminent, rush back to the reservation. The commanders of the various military posts received much criticism from the public for the conduct of the Indians and it can readily be understood how their hands were tied.

It is quite apparent that the military authorities were far too optimistic concerning the reservation system. General Pope, in his October report of 1871, remarked that, "The danger from these tribes may be considered substantially at an end." Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Davidson, commanding Camp Supply, proved very capable in forestalling any hostile action of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Kiowas who ranged in the country around the post during the year. He was highly commended by General Pope for his succdessful supervision of the area.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Indians were quite peaceful during this period, it was necessary that the military be constantly on the alert to prevent minor depredations and murders. In March, 1873, three surveyors were murdered on the Cimarron by a party of Cheyennes. In the late fall, a party of some two hundred Cheyennes left their reservation and passing far to the west of the military posts went as far north as the Kansas Pacific railroad at Riverbend, Colorado. They killed a few cattle and stole some cooking utensils.

By March, 1874, the depredations became more numerous. Several persons were killed along Medicine Lodge Creek. A small detachment under Major Compton, Sixth Cavalry, returning north from Camp Supply was attacked but the Indians were soon dispersed. General Pope was of the opinion that the difficulties were dcaused by white traders at Adobe Walls, who had been secretly selling the Indians whiskey, arms and ammunition.

Other serious depredations occurred. The agent at Darlington was compelled to abandon his post and many lives were lost in the vicinity of the agency. A determined attack was made on the traders at Adobe Walls but after several days fighting, the Indians were repulsed.

In the meantime, the military had urgently requested permission to enter the reservations and punish the marauders. This authority was received on teh 21st of July, 1874, and soon an expedition was in the field under the command of Colonel N. A. Miles. He organized his campaign and proceeded southward from Camp Supply. Major W. R. Price moved down the Canadian from Forts Bascom and Union to join Miles near the Antelope Hills on the Washita. Colonel Miles encountered the Indians on the Washita and after a series of running fights, drove them out across the Red River on the Staked Plains.

He was then forced to return to the Washita for supplies which were to be conveyed from Camp Supply by Captain Lyman and Lieutenant Lewis with a small train-guard of about sixty men. This train was attacked before reaching the Washita. Their plight is well described iin the following letter from Captain Lyman to Lieutenant-Colonel in the following letter from Captain Lyman to Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Lewis, the commandiing officer at Camp Supply.

"In the field, near Washita River
3 o'clock P.M. Sept. 10, 1874

I have the honor to report that I am corralled by Comanches two miles north of the Washita, on General Miles' trail. We have been engaged since yesterday morning having moved since the first firing about twelve miles. I consider it injuridious to attempt to proceed farther, in view of the importance of my train and the broken ground ahead. It was nearly stampeded yesterday. Communication with General Miles is closed. My scout very properly will not return.
     Lietutenant Lewis is dangerously wounded through the knee, and I think will die if he had no medical assistance. The assistant wagoner, McCoy, is mortally wounded. I fear Sergeant de Armon, Company I, Fifth Infantry, is killed. A dozen mules are disabled.
     I think I may properly ask quick aid, especially for Lieutenant Lewis, a most valuable officer. I have only a small pool of rainwater for the men, which will dry up today.
     I estimate the Inidans vaguely at several hundred (as Lieutenant Baldwin did,) whom we have punished soemwhat. Scout Marshall, who left Camp Supply, I am told, has not reached me.
     I have but twelve mounted men. West made a pretty charge with them yesterday.

Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
W. Lyman
Captain Fifth Infantry,
Commanding Train-Guard

To the
Commanding Officer,
Camp Supply.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis immediately responded to the request of Captain Lyman and ordered out all the available men at the post. The following letter in which he made his report to the Department of Missouri demonstrates the ready response.

Hdqurs. Camp Supply, Ind., T.,
September 12, 1874

At 8:30 A.M. this morning a courier from Captain Lyman, Fifth Infantry, who was in charge of Colonel Miles' supply-train, reached me, bringing a letter from him stating that he was 'corralled' by a stong force of Comanche Indians in the vicinity of the Washita River, and asking for assistance. I got together all the mounted men at this post, from the cavalry and scouts, and started to his relief at 12 M. The command sent consists of one Lieutenant and acting assistant surgeon, and fifty-one soldiers and scouts, and seven quartermaster's employees, making a total of fifty-eight armed men in the party. I should have sent a larger force had it been possible to mount it, but to get this together required that all the serviceable horses, both from the cavalry and Quartermaster's Department, should be used.
     I understand, unofficially, that Captain Lyman's command consisted of two officers and thirty-six infantry, and one officer and twenty cavalry, a total of fifty-six enlisted men. He had, besides, thirty-six quartermasters teamsters, then of these being armed. This would make his total of armed men sixty-six.
     I have intrusted the officer in charge of my party to reach him as soon as possible, and, if necessary, to accompany him to Colonel Miles' command. Oweing to this delay, the expedition will be out of rations before Lyman's train reaches it, and I presume that Lyman's command will meet Colonel Miles before reaching the Red River.

     I send enclosed with this a copy of Lyman's note which will give you the extent of his casualties at the time of his writing. I am somewhat short of men here and in order to do the ordinary guard-duty and labor of the post have been compelled to order in a small guard that I have heretofore furnished to the hay-contractors at their hayfield. The infantry companies are small, and taking out the guard at the mail-station and the mail-escort, a small number of men is left for duty.
     The scout "Marshall" referred to by Captain Lyman, is all right, having started with the command today.

Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
W. H. Lewis
Lietuenant-colonel Nineteenth
U.S. Infantry Commanding

To Asst. Adj-Gen.
Dept. of the Mo.
Ft. Leavenworth, Kans.

General Sheridan did not agree with General Pope concerning the causes of teh outbreaks. He expressed his conception of the difficulties in the following words:

"I attribute it to the immunity with which these tribes have been treated in al their raids into Texas for the past three years. Their reservations have furnished them supplies with which to make the raids, and sheltered them from pursuit when they returned with their scalps and plunder ... This outbreak does not look to me as being originated by the action of bad white men, or the sale of whiskey to Indians by the traders. It is the result of the restless nature of the Indian, who has no profession but arms and naturally seeks for war and plunder when the grazing gets high enough to feed the ponies."

From July 21, 1874, until February 12, 1875, the Indians were kept continually on the move. The troops were well supplied and kept the field. The Cheyennes under Stone Calf surrendered themselves in March, 1875, the Kiowas and Comanches went into Fort Sill and in June the Quahade Comanches surrendered to Colonel Mackenzie. Following an extended questioning of the leaders of the various tribes, about seventy-five Indian prisoners were sent to Saint Augustine, Florida.

It should be noted that the Cheyenne prisoners who were taken to Florida were returned to the agency in the spring of 1878, with the exception of a few of the younger men who wished to remain there and attend school.

Following this series of outbreaks, the Indians again settled down on their respective reservations and the troops at Camp Supply again returned to their routine work. They were, however, called upon to perform numerous duties. General Sheridan outlined the work to be performed in his report of 1874. The military were to protect the frontiers from the depredations of Indians, to assist the Department of the Interior in maintaining order on reservations, to explore and survey unknown territory, to aid civil authorities in outlying districts, to escort National boundary, State and Territory surveying parties and to protect the railways of the west.

Wm. H. Hughes' List of Credits...

  1. Report of General Jno. Pope, Department of Missouri, October 31, 1870, House Executive Document, I, p. 14.
  2. Report of LIeutenant-General P. H. Sheridan, Division of Missouri, November 4, 1871, House Executive Document, I, p. 24.
  3. Report of General Sherman to the Secretary of War, 1869, House Executive Document, I, p. 30.
  4. Report of the Quartermaster-General, 1877, House Executive Document, I, p. 304.
  5. Loc. cit.
  6. Dr. J. L. Day is the present superintendent of the Western State Hospital at Supply, Oklahoma, 1940.
  7. John Murphy, "Reminiscences of the Washita Campaign and the Darlington Indian Agency," Chronicles of Oklahoma, I, p. 269.
  8. Report of Wm. W. Belknap, Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1869, I, p. 5.
  9. R. M. Wright, "Address before the Kansas State Historical Society," January 15, 1901, Kansas Historical Collections, VII, p. 71.
  10. Report of General Jno. Pope, Department of Missouri, House Executive Document, 1870, I, p.. 61.
  11. Loc. cit.
  12. Ibid., p. 8.
  13. Ibid., p. 9.
  14. Report of General Pope, Department of Missouri, House Executive Document, 1871, I, p. 34.
  15. Ibid., p. 44.
  16. Report of General Pope, Department of Missouri, House executive Document, 1873, I, p. 42.
  17. Loc. Cit.
  18. Report of General Pope, Department of Missouri, House executive Document, 1874, I, p. 29
  19. Report of Lieutenant-General Sherman, House Execdutive Document, 1874, I, p. 26.
  20. Report of General Pope, Department of Missouri, House executive Document, 1874, I, p. 86.
  21. Loc. Cit.
  22. Report of General Seridan, Division of Missouri, House Executive document, 1874, I, p. 26.
  23. Report of Genreal Pope, department of Missouri, House Executive Document, 1875, I, p. 73.
  24. C. E. Campbell, "Down among the Red-Men," Kansas State Historical Society, 1928, XVII, p. 674.
  25. Report of Lieutenant-General Sheridan, Division of Missouri, House Executive Document, 1874, I, p. 23.
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