Many dates in Oklahoma are not remembered

By David Dary
Norman, Oklahoma (AP) 8-07
One hundred and seventy-two years ago this summer, thousands of Plains Indians gathered in what is now southern Cleveland County. Their chiefs signed their first treaty ever with the United States and representatives of the Five Civilized tribes.

The date was August 24, 1835. It was an important date in American history as well as that of Oklahoma, but has been forgotten by many people.

At the time, the U.S. Army considered the Plains Indians, namely the Comanche, Wichita, Kiowa, Apache and a few other tribes, as “wild Indians,” unlike the American Indians in eastern Indian Territory.

The Plains Indians roamed freely following their commissary, the wild buffalo, on the southern plains west of the Cross Timbers region.

About 1829, Sam Houston – the future president of Texas but at the time an American Indian trader near Fort Gibson – urged the military to send a delegation and establish peace with the Plains Indians. The military did little until some Osage Indians destroyed a Kiowa village in the Wichita Mountains in 1833 and took a few prisoners.

The military was waiting for such an opportunity.

In 1834 Gen. Henry Leavenworth and Col. Henry Dodge organized an expedition and returned the Kiowa prisoners to their home in what is now southwest Oklahoma. The military then opened dialogue with the chiefs of the Plains Indians, who accepted an invitation to visit Fort Gibson to talk peace.

After a party of Plains Indians traveled east through the Cross Timbers region to Fort Gibson, they said they would negotiate a treaty, but only in buffalo country when the grass next grows after the snows have melted.

When the new year arrived, the War Department in Washington ordered Major R.B. Mason and a detachment of dragoons to travel west to the headwaters of Little River near current-day Holdenville and establish a post and prepare a campground for the meeting.

The post was named Fort Holmes but it did not exist for long. Conditions in the area were unhealthy for the soldiers and the post was abandoned.

It was just as well that the military gave up the post because the Plains Indians opposed it as the meeting place. They demanded that the meeting be held in buffalo country.

They feared their enemies would attack them if they traveled into the Cross Timbers – the stretch from modern southeast Kansas, across central Oklahoma, and into central Texas.

Black jacks, post oaks, hickory and elm trees, along with undergrowth including grape vines and green briars, provided too many hiding places for wild animals and enemies.

Mason selected another location just east of the Canadian River, a few miles northeast of what is now Purcell and just northwest of present-day Lexington. Mason sent word of the new location to the Plains Indians, who said it was acceptable.

Whether the military knew it or not, the new location was a favorite camping ground of the Comanches on their buffalo hunts. Mason and about 50 soldiers went to the new location, established Camp Holmes – named after the abandoned Fort Holmes on the Little River – and made preparations to receive the American Indians.

In late July 1835, perhaps as many as 7,000 Plains Indians began arriving setting up their camps a few miles from Camp Holmes. Soon Gen. Matthew Arbuckle and Monfort Stokes, a commissioner appointed to negotiate treaties, arrived at Camp Holmes with two companies from the Seventh Infantry.

With them was a delegation from the Creek, Choctaw, Muscogee, Osage, Seneca and Quapaw tribes to sign the treaty. When they arrived, there was a force of 250 soldiers at Camp Holmes.

The meeting lasted six weeks.

On August 24, 1835, representatives of the Five Civilized tribes, government representatives and the chiefs of the Plains Indians signed the treaty. The Kiowa and Apaches missed the meeting but later signed the treaty containing the usual clauses of amity and friendship and granting passage through American Indian country for citizens of the United States heading for Santa Fe and Mexico.

The treaty also permitted the American Indians to hunt and trap beyond the Cross Timbers region to the western limits of the United States.

By the time the meeting ended, Col. A.P. Chouteau had constructed a small stockade and trading post on what is now Chouteau Creek, west of the Canadian River. During the next few years Chouteau carried on a considerable trade with the Comanches and other Plains Indians.

Experienced in peacemaking, Chouteau gained the confidence of the Plains Indians.

About 1837, a Comanche war party came to Chouteau’s trading post and released three white women and children.

While Chouteau’s post apparently continued for many years, Camp Holmes, sometimes called Fort Mason, was occupied for only a short time. The government, however, kept the post on its books and occasionally stationed a few soldiers there until just before the unassigned lands were opened to settlement in 1889. Camp Holmes was then abandoned.

Today nothing remains of Camp Holmes or of Chouteau’s stockade and trading post. But in a roadside park on U.S. Highway 77 just north of Lexington, a traveler will see a large brown stone historical marker erected by the National Society of Colonial Dames in Oklahoma. It serves as a reminder to passers-by of the rich history that occurred nearby in 1835.