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’s Indian brigade of about 1,100 troops included men from each of the Five Civilized Tribes. When these troops were joined by 500 troopers of the 9th Texas Cavalry, Lieutenant Joseph Bates recalled that they greeted the Texans with “whoops and yells and screams.” Cooper resolved to lead this combined force in driving the Unionist “Tory Indians” out of the territory. Opothleyahola’s “Tories” consisted of about 1,000 civilians, freed slaves, and some Creek warriors in the Antelope Hills. They had few provisions.
Cooper discovered the location of Opothleyahola’s camp and advanced up the Deep Fork of the Canadian River. By the time the Confederates got there, the camp was abandoned. The Creeks hurried north toward sanctuary in Kansas, leaving many of their necessities behind. But their withdrawal was slow because they were hauling livestock and other foodstuffs, and many were on foot. Cooper’s men caught up to the rear guard and captured some stragglers. They told Cooper that the Creeks were building a fort on the Red Fork of the Arkansas River in case they received no Federal support in Kansas.
The Confederates crossed the Red Fork at 4 p.m. on November 19 and saw the smoke of a camp at Round Mountain, in the Cherokee Nation. Troopers of the 9th Texas charged in the twilight, but the Creeks had set up an ambush. A fierce fight ensued, and the Creeks bought enough time for the refugees to withdraw. Both sides traded fire into the night, until the Creeks returned to their camp.
The following day, Cooper’s men advanced and found the camps abandoned. The Creeks had burned anything that may have been useful to the Confederates. They also mutilated the prisoners taken in the previous night’s engagement. Cooper planned to continue the pursuit, but he received orders from Brigadier General Ben McCulloch in Arkansas to send some of his men there to defend against a possible Federal invasion from Missouri.
With the Confederates now in control of the Indian Territory, Brigadier General Albert Pike was given command of the new Provisional Army of the Department of the Indian Territory. Cooper would be second-in-command. However, many Indian allies deserted the ranks to protest Cooper’s pursuit of Opothleyahola’s Creeks. Many of them had joined the Confederates with an understanding that they would be fighting white Federals, not their fellow Natives. This made the Confederacy’s hold on the territory tenuous at best.
- 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.
- Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.