Historic Fort Washita, owned by the Chickasaw Nation, officially placed in trust with the U.S.

This article appeared in the September 2023 edition of the Chickasaw Times

An August signing ceremony between the Chickasaw Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has formalized Fort Washita being placed in trust with the U.S. government.

The Chickasaw Nation-owned site, in Bryan County, Oklahoma, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Governor Bill Anoatubby executed the document on behalf of the Chickasaw Nation.

“This is an historic occasion for the Chickasaw Nation to take this historic property in trust,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “Its history and our history are intertwined. It was a time when there was substantial change for the Chickasaw people and the Chickasaw Nation. Its history dates back to the beginnings of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory.”

Fort Washita was built 1842. It was the country’s southwestern-most military post. “There were several outside threats and the fort needed to be in place,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “The Chickasaw people were brand new in Indian Territory and it was important that we have peace as we, as a nation, began to establish ourselves in Indian Territory.”

Fort Washita served its purpose as a U.S. military post until the start of the Civil War. During that year, 1861, the fort was occupied by Confederate forces for the duration of the war.

“In 1865, the Confederates, when they were leaving the area, set fire to the fort as they fled at the end of the war and the fort was nearly entirely destroyed,” Gov. Anoatubby said.

After the war, Fort Washita was granted to the Chickasaw Nation. With Oklahoma statehood in 1907, the Dawes Commission allotted the fort and its surrounding land to Charles and Abbie Davis Colbert and their family.

In 1962, the property was acquired by the Oklahoma Historical Society. That organization began restoration of the fort as a historic site and museum. Unfortunately, a restored barracks was later destroyed by vandals.

“In 2017, the Chickasaw Nation was fortunate enough to acquire the fort from the Oklahoma Historical Society and we’re going to continue the restoration efforts,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “We are very fortunate to have this property and we welcome thousands of visitors for tours, reenactments and events.

“Placing this land in trust is important for us,” he said. “It will ensure that it is preserved for our children and grandchildren. We appreciate the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and all involved in the process. We appreciate those who have overseen and protect it.”

Diane Jobe, Chickasaw Agency superintendent of Eastern Oklahoma Region Bureau of Indian Affairs, was present for the signing.

“On behalf of the Eastern Oklahoma Region and the Chickasaw Agency, we want to congratulate the Chickasaw Nation on this historic acquisition,” Superintendent Jobe said.

The land was formerly in fee status and therefore under state jurisdiction. Gov. Anoatubby said the numerous arduous steps of placing it in trust now gave the Chickasaw Nation jurisdiction.

Putting property in trust means it is actually in the name of the United States of America, held in trust for the Chickasaw Nation. That action transitions it to federal property in the same way Tinker Air Force Base, Fort Sill or the Chickasaw National Recreation Area are.

In the case of Fort Washita, the U.S. government leaves it in the hands of the Chickasaw Nation to manage.

Fort Washita is located within the Chickasaw Nation 13 miles east of Madill, Okla., or 16 miles west of Durant, Okla., at 3348 State Road 199.