A brief history of Ft. Sill

Reservation life didn’t come easy to the Native American tribes accustomed to the freedom of living a nomadic life on the Plains and hunting buffalo for their livelihood. Defiant raids continued into Kansas and Texas and the U.S. government responded by sending in the cavalry.

Camp Wichita was established at the junction of Medicine Bluff and Cache creeks and was intended to serve as the military headquarters for the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, which was created with the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867.

“More than any other part of the United States, Oklahoma was the product of military intervention,” wrote Michael A. Hughes for the Oklahoma Historical Society at okhistory.org.

Frontier forts such as Camp Wichita near Mt. Scott had a dual mission. Part of the goal was to reassure territorial non-Indian settlers, but a large part of the mission was also to keep the peace between already established Indian nations in the area and tribes that had been moved in under the U.S. relocation policy. Wars erupted among tribes over established hunting grounds. The first roads in Oklahoma were a system of military roads created to connect the frontier posts that were popping up around the territory.

Col. Benjamin H. Grierson and Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry, which was comprised of white officers and black enlisted men, established Camp Wichita on top of a plateau beside Medicine Creek in 1868. Col. Grierson was dispatched to the area by General Philip Sheridan, who was noted as a highly successful calvary officer during the Civil War.

The plateau was reported to have plenty of water, forage, timber and other building materials for the new military camp. Temporary log quarters were built by four units of the Tenth Cavalry and two units of the Sixth Infantry under the supervision of Col. Grierson. The log quarters would suffice until permanent limestone structures could be built. Gen. Sheridan renamed the military camp Fort Sill in 1869 in honor of his friend and West Point classmate Brig. Gen. Joshua W. Sill, who had been killed during the Civil War. In 1862, Brig. Gen. Sill died in the Battle of Stone Rivers, Tennessee.

Col. Grierson became the first post commander of Fort Sill, which assumed the missions of policing Indian Territory and participating in Indian wars, including the Red River War of 1874-75. As the territory began opening up through land runs, units from Fort Sill served in law enforcement roles by helping to police the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

Indian tribes called the military installation “The Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs.” The first Indian agent assigned to the area was Col. Albert Gallatin Boone, a grandson of famed woodsman Daniel Boone. In addition to troops camped at the post were famed frontier scouts, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Ben Clark and Jack Stillwell.

During the winter of 1870-71, about half of the soldiers on post suffered from malaria. A severe windstorm in 1887 took most of the roofs off buildings on post and ripped up all the wooden structures from the stone corral. In 1898, the strength of the post was reduced to one lieutenant and 20 men, due to all other troops participating in the Spanish-American War.

After the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 and the end of the frontier in the 1890s, the importance of Fort Sill was questioned, and talk began of giving the land to the Chiricahua Apache. Before this happened, however, a transition began when cavalry units began to be replaced by artillery units in 1905. This saved Fort Sill from one of the first closure talks.

The artillery regiments required more facilities and more land to train. Secretary of War William Howard Taft scrapped plans to replace the original post for new construction because he liked the history of the old buildings, wrote Lance Janda at okhistory.org. It was at this time that the post began to grow to the south and to the west.

Expansion continued. The School of Fire was established in 1911 and the Infantry School followed in 1913. The first aircraft were added to the post in 1915, just prior to World War I, and Fort Sill was considered the first home to military combat aviation when the 1st Aero Squadron put together their own JN-2 airplanes.

In 1917, the Army Air Service built Post Field. More than 50,000 soldiers trained at Fort Sill during World War I. Also in 1917, an introduction of the first Balloon Company led to the introduction of the first Balloon Corps Training School on post in 1918.

From its early beginnings as a frontier cavalry post to the world-renowned artillery installation it is today, Fort Sill has a rich history. It is home to the Field Artillery Training Center, which is the largest field artillery complex in the free world.

Sources for this article also include: The Oklahoma Historical Society, okhistory.org; The Lawton Constitution, Jan. 7, 1962, page 3; Britannica.com; Wikipedia.org/Wiki_Fort Sill; and fortsillhousing.com/history.