The only active Army installation of the many frontier forts built on the Southern Plains during the Indian Wars, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, is designated as a National Historic Landmark and continues to serve as the home of the U.S. Army Field Artillery and the United States Army Field Artillery School.
The historic fort was first staked out on January 8, 1869, by Major General Philip H. Sheridan, who led a campaign into Indian Territory to stop hostile tribes from raiding border settlements in Texas and Kansas. Until the territory opened for settlement, Fort Sill’s missions also included law enforcement and, ironically, protecting the Indians from outlaws, squatters, and cattle rustlers.
Sheridan’s massive campaign that first winter involved six cavalry regiments accompanied by frontier scouts “Buffalo Bill” Cody, “Wild Bill” Hickok, Ben Clark, and Jack Stillwell. Troops from the 10th Cavalry, a distinguished unit of black “Buffalo Soldiers” who constructed many of the stone buildings still surrounding the Old Post Quadrangle, camped at the new fort.
At first, the garrison was called “Camp Wichita” and referred to by the Indians as “the Soldier House at Medicine Bluffs.” Sheridan later named it in honor of his West Point classmate and friend, Brigadier General Joshua W. Sill, who was killed during the Civil War. The first post commander was Brevet Major General Benjamin Grierson, and the first Indian agent was Colonel Albert Gallatin Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone.
Several months after the establishment of Fort Sill, President Ulysses S. Grant approved a peace policy placing responsibility for the Southwest tribes under Quaker Indian agents. Fort Sill soldiers were restricted from taking punitive action against the Indians, who interpreted this as a sign of weakness and soon resumed raiding along the Texas frontier. However, in 1871 General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived at Fort Sill to find several Kiowa chiefs boasting about a wagon train massacre. Sherman quickly ordered their arrest, and two Indians attempted to assassinate him.
The raiding continued; however, without a chance to graze their livestock and faced with the disappearance of the great buffalo herds, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Southern Cheyenne Indians went on the full warpath in June 1874. As the South Plains reverberated with the hoofbeats of Indian raiders, the U.S. Army retaliated with the Red River Campaign, which lasted a year. It would end in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians to reservations. Quanah Parker and his Quahadi Comanche were the last to abandon the struggle, and their arrival at Fort Sill’s Quartermaster Corral in June 1875 marked the end of Plains Indian warfare on the Southern Plains.
However, that would not be the end of Fort Sill’s history with the Indians. In 1892, Lieutenant Hugh L. Scott organized Troop L of the 7th Cavalry, composed of Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indians. They were credited with helping tribes on the South Plains to avert the bloody Ghost Dance uprising of the 1890s in which many died on the North Plains. Troop L, considered one of the best in the west, was the last Indian Troop in the United States Army until it was mustered out in 1897.
In 1894 Geronimo and 341 other Apache prisoners of war, captured in Arizona, were brought to the fort where they lived in villages on the range. Geronimo was granted permission to travel for a while with Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show, and he visited President Theodore Roosevelt before dying of pneumonia in 1909. The rest of the Apache remained on Fort Sill until 1913 when they were taught to build houses, raise crops, and herd cattle.
The last Indian lands in Oklahoma opened for settlement in 1901, and 29,000 homesteaders registered at Fort Sill during July for the land lottery. On August 6, 1901, the town of Lawton sprang up and quickly grew to become the third-largest city in Oklahoma.
With the frontier’s disappearance, Fort Sill’s mission gradually changed from cavalry to field artillery. The first artillery battery arrived at Fort Sill in 1902, and the last cavalry regiment departed in May 1907.
The School of Fire for the Field Artillery. was founded at Fort Sill in 1911 and continues to operate today as the world-renowned U.S. Army Field Artillery School. At various times Fort Sill has also served as home to the Infantry School of Musketry, the School for Aerial Observers, the Air Service Flying School, and the Army Aviation School.
The national historic landmark continues to boast many of its original structures, some of which are still used by the military and others which have become part of the Fort Sill Museum, established in 1934. The museum, the largest in the U.S. Army, features 46 historic buildings and 26 structures where its vast collections are stored and exhibited.
The Old Post Quadrangle features historic homes, museum buildings, and the Old Post Chapel, where services have been conducted continuously since its founding in 1875. The seven buildings that hold exhibits feature military memorabilia, the history of the soldiers and Native Americans on the Southern Plains, and a replica of the Post Trader’s Store and blacksmith shop. The Cannon Walk includes historic field artillery weapons from around the world. The fort also holds several events throughout that year demonstrating life in the 19th century and demonstrations of soldier engagements.
Fort Sill is located just north of Lawton, Oklahoma, west of I-44.
Fort Sill National Historic Landmark
437 Quanah Road
Fort Sill, Oklahoma 73503-5100