Divisions in the Indian Territory

November 20, 1861 – The war threatened to divide the Native American tribes just as it divided North and South, with Unionist Natives fleeing toward Kansas and Confederate allies of the Five Civilized Tribes in pursuit.

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Indian Territory | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By this month, Confederate agents had secured peace treaties from the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). However, Confederate Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, an agent to the Choctaws who had been adopted by the Chickasaws, received intelligence that a band of Creeks under Chief Opothleyahola officially broke with Chief John Ross to join the Unionists. Rumors abounded that the Cherokee were dividing as well.

Cooper raised a force of about 1,400 men that included Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles, and the 9th Texas Cavalry. After asserting that he could not resolve the dispute peacefully, Cooper announced that he would drive the Unionist “hostiles” out of the territory. Opothleyahola’s “hostiles” consisted of about 1,000 civilians, freed slaves, and a few Creek warriors, seeking to flee from their pro-Confederate tribes. They had few provisions.

Cooper discovered where they were camped and advanced up the Deep Fork of the Canadian River, where they briefly skirmished with the Creeks as they retreated north toward sanctuary in Kansas. Some Unionists taken prisoner informed Cooper that the band was building a fort on the Red Fork of the Arkansas River in case they received no support from Federal forces in Kansas.

The Confederates crossed the Red Fork at 4 p.m. on the 19th and saw the smoke of a camp in the distance. Cooper’s men charged, with the Unionist Creeks making a stand until the civilians could withdraw. Both sides traded fire into the night, until the Creeks returned to their camp. The clash continued the next day, with the Unionists gradually abandoning their camp to flee toward Kansas. The Confederates advanced and found the camp abandoned, as the Unionists crossed the Arkansas River that evening from the Creek Nation to the Cherokee Nation.

Although the Confederates controlled the Indian Territory for now, many Native allies deserted the ranks to protest this pursuit of Opothleyahola’s Creeks. Many of them had joined on the premise that they would be fighting white Federals, not their fellow Natives. The Confederates tried strengthening their grip on the region by appointing Brigadier General Albert Pike to command the new Department of the Indian Territory.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 381; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 83-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 142

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