Cabin Creek Battlefield
During the Civil War, Native Americans living in Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) were drawn into the conflict and fought for both the Union and Confederacy. Indian Territory held strategic value for both sides, and the region was plagued with military campaigns and raids throughout the war. Two raids in particular culminated in battles at Cabin Creek. In July 1863, Confederate raiders under Cherokee officer Stand Watie attacked a Federal supply train headed for U.S. occupied Fort Gibson, hoping to ensure the garrison's starvation. The Confederates were defeated. In September 1864, raiders again under General Watie and Texan General Richard Gano attacked another train yet again at Cabin Creek, this time proving victorious and securing supplies worth $1.5 million. Although the raid bolstered Rebel morale, it did not change the strategic outlook, and in June 1865 Stand Watie became the last Confederate general to surrender. The battlefield is today preserved by the Oklahoma Historical Society and features a number of monuments to the two engagements and various units which fought there.
Backstory and Context
During the American Civil War, Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) and its Native American denizens found themselves trapped between the United States and the nascent Confederacy. Unable to remain neutral, the major tribes of Indian Territory—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole—were drawn into the conflict and served in both Union and Confederate armies. Indian Territory itself held strategic value itself. The Confederacy hoped to secure Indian Territory as a buffer to protect North Texas and Western Arkansas, while the United States needed to secure Indian Territory to allow protect friendly Native tribes. Thus, throughout the war armies marched, camped, and fought throughout much of eastern Indian Territory.
Of especial strategic importance was the north-south Texas Road, a vital transportation artery which ran from Fort Scott, Kansas down to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory and on south into Texas. The Texas Road passed numerous creeks and river crossings along its route, and the crossing at Cabin Creek in northeastern Indian Territory was the site of two Civil War battles.
In 1863 the United States occupied Fort Gibson, which stood on the north bank of the Arkansas River. An outpost nearly a hundred miles in advance of the Union army’s main positions, Fort Gibson’s small garrison was isolated and relied upon a regular supply train from Fort Scott to stay armed, equipped, and fed. If the Confederacy could capture the Federal supply train or force it to turn back, the Union garrison at Fort Gibson would be forced to retreat or starve. Confederate Colonel Stand Watie (a Cherokee) and Colonel William Cabell struck north in June with the intention of catching the Union supply train.
On July 1, 1863, the Federal wagon train arrived at Cabin Creek, only to find their way south blocked by Stand Watie’s 1,400 Confederates, including Cherokees, Creeks, and Texans. (Colonel William Cabell’s forces never reached the battlefield.) The U.S. force included Native-Americans from several tribes, white and black Kansans, and Coloradoans. The Federals promptly used their artillery to bombard the Rebels on Cabin Creek’s southern bank; the Confederates, lacking artillery, were forced to endure the bombardment without response. As one Confederate private recalled, “It hardly looks like twenty men could stand there under fire as we did, but everyone had a tree and if it had not been for that we could not have lived.”
The Federal artillery failed to dislodge the Confederates, however, so on the morning of July 2, Col. James Williams led white, black, and Native United States soldiers in an attack across the creek. Initially repulsed, a second charge across the creek succeeded. Having lost their defensive position along Cabin Creek, Stand Watie’s Confederates were forced to retreat.
The Union victory at the First Battle of Cabin Creek allowed for the resupply of Fort Gibson, thus maintaining a Union foothold in Indian Territory. Later in the month, the United States scored a decisive victory at the Battle of Honey Springs, which ended Confederate hopes of recovering territory north of the Arkansas River. By 1864, Confederate forces in the region were reduced to raiding and guerrilla strikes, and one such raid once again brought Stand Watie and Confederate forces back to Cabin Creek.
In September, Generals Stand Watie and Richard Gano swept north of the Arkansas River on a raid with 2,000 men. They first struck a small Federal detachment collecting hay near Flat Rock Creek on September 16. Confederate raiders overwhelmed the small party, massacring black soldiers once the fighting ended. Learning that the Federal supply train was nearby at Cabin Creek, the Rebels advanced on that position on September 18. The wagon train enjoyed an escort of 600 men, and they formed into a strong defensive position using a small stockade and the train itself as protection. In a reversal of the 1863 battle, Confederate forces now enjoyed a decisive artillery advantage. Confederate forces attacked the Federal position throughout the night of September 18-19 and eventually outflanked the Union escort. The Federals were forced to flee.
Having won the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, Stand Watie, Richard Gano, and their troopers were rewarded with a captured wagon train valued at 1.5 million dollars. It was a spectacular haul, as the train contained food, clothes, liquor, government stores, and more. The Confederates managed to escape south with much of their booty. The raid was pr, the Second Battle of Cabin Creek did little to change the bleak strategic outlook for the Confederacy in the region. In 1865, Brigadier General Stand Watie became the last significant Confederate command to surrender to U.S. forces in June 1865.
In 1961, the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) purchased ten-acres of the battlefield for preservation, which they later donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Cabin Creek Battlefield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The Friends of Cabin Creek Battlefield continue the site’s preservation, and it is accessible to visitors. A number of monuments stand at the site commemorating both the battles and the position of units who fought there, most notably to the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry which was placed in 2007.
1. "Cabin Creek Battlefield." Oklahoma Historical Society. Web. https://www.okhistory.org/sites/cabincreek
2. Steven L. Warren. "Battles of Cabin Creek." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Web. https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CA001
3. Steven L. Warren. The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
4. Zachery C. Cowsert. "The Civil War in Indian Territory, 1861-1865." PhD dissertation, West Virginia University. 2020. Web. https://researchrepository.wvu.edu/etd/7553/