By this month, most Native American tribes in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) had opted to side with the Confederacy. Lieutenant Colonel William H. Emory, commanding the Federal forces in the territory, had too many forts to defend with too few troops. Fort Arbuckle was seized “by a large force of Texans… in the name of the Southern Confederacy.” The Federals evacuating the fort were allowed to join Emory’s main force on the east bank of the Washita River.
Fort Cobb, Emory’s westernmost fort, was also abandoned, and Emory withdrew his combined force to Fort Washita in the eastern Chickasaw Nation. Emory soon learned that holding Fort Washita was untenable as well, so he led his troops across the Arkansas River and into Kansas on the 19th. The Federals reached Fort Leavenworth at the end of May. Because one of the guides on the march had been Jesse Chisolm, the path became known as the Chisolm Trail.
For Natives who had sided with the Confederacy, Emory’s retreat validated their decision. For those undecided, the retreat showed that the U.S. would not honor its treaty obligations or do what was needed to defend the territory. The Confederates tried to take advantage of this resentment by showing that they would be dependable allies.
Brigadier General Ben McCulloch was assigned to command Confederate forces in the territory. His main support came from Stand Watie and his followers, but he knew that the Cherokee Nation led by Chief John Ross had declared neutrality because many leaders favored the U.S. The two sides were “kept apart by bitter feuds of long standing,” making it “possible that feelings of animosity may tempt one party to join the North, should their forces march into the Indian Territory.” This, according to McCulloch, raised “more vexatious questions for solution than any other in the Confederate States.”
Despite these deep divisions, Confederate Brigadier General Albert Pike managed to negotiate treaties of alliance with the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole). The Chickasaw and Choctaw, whose nations bordered Texas, quickly agreed mainly out of self-interest. Douglas H. Cooper, a Confederate operative who had been a U.S. agent in the Indian Territory, became a member of the Chickasaw Nation, which declared its independence from the U.S. For now, the Indian Territory would stand with the Confederacy.
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1 – Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1902.