Fort Sill is a United States Army post near Lawton, Oklahoma, about 85 miles southwest
Today, Fort Sill remains the only active Army installation of all the forts on the South Plains built during the Indian Wars. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark and serves as home of the United States Army Field Artillery School and well as the Marine Corps' site for Field Artillery MOS School, United States Army Air Defense Artillery School, the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the 75th Fires Brigade and the 214th Fires Brigade. Fort Sill is also one of the five locations for Army Basic Combat Training.
The site of Fort Sill was staked out on 8 January 1869, by Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, who led a campaign into Indian Territory to stop hostile tribes from raiding border settlements in Texas and Kansas.
Sheridan's massive winter campaign involved six cavalry regiments accompanied by frontier scouts such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Ben Clark and Jack Stilwell. Troops camped at the location of the new fort included the 7th Cavalry, the 19th Kansas Volunteers and the 10th Cavalry, a distinguished group of black "buffalo soldiers" who constructed many of the stone buildings still surrounding the old post quadrangle.
At first the garrison was called "Camp Wichita" and was 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 American Civil War. The first post commander was Brevet Maj. Gen. 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 Grant approved a peace policy placing responsibility for the Southwest tribes under Quaker Indian agents; the first Quaker agent assigned to the Kiowa and Comanche agency was Lawrie Tatum. Fort Sill soldiers were restricted from taking punitive action against the Indians, who interpreted this as a sign of weakness. The Indians resumed raiding the Texas frontier and used Fort Sill as a sanctuary. In 1871 General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman arrived at Fort Sill to find several Kiowa chiefs boasting about a wagon train massacre. When Sherman ordered their arrest during a meeting on Grierson's porch two of the Indians attempted to assassinate him. In memory of the event, the Commanding General's quarters were dubbed Sherman House.
In June 1874 the Comanches, Kiowas and Southern Cheyennes went to war, and the South Plains shook with the hoof beats of Indian raiders. The resulting Red River War, which lasted a year, was a war of attrition involving relentless pursuit by converging military columns.
Without a chance to graze their livestock and faced with a disappearance of the great buffalo herds, the tribes eventually surrendered. Quanah Parker and his Kwahadi Comanches were the last to abandon the struggle and their arrival at Fort Sill in June 1875 marked the end of Indian warfare on the south Plains.
In 1877, the first African-American to graduate from West Point, Henry O. Flipper, was assigned to the 10th Cavalry Regiment, the famous Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Sill. In addition to his leadership duties in the cavalry, he directed his men to dig a ditch to drain a swamp ... this is still called Flipper's Ditch and a landmark is on Upton Road by the Fort Sill Golf Course.
Unlike other U.S. territories, Indian Territory had no organized government, so Army posts like Fort Arbuckle, Fort Supply and Fort Sill found themselves the most significant federal and legal presence in a near wilderness. They provided protection to Indians and civilians alike, sometimes dealt as mediators between the Indians and the Indian agents, and somehow found time for baseball games between the cavalry troops, the infantry soldiers, the Chickasaw Indians, the forts Indian Scouts and other Indian tribes.
At one point in the 1880s, the post was nearly deserted when gold was rumored to be found in the nearby Wichita Mountains and officers and soldiers alike rushed to stake claims.
In 1894 Geronimo and 341 other Chiricahua Apache prisoners of war were brought to Fort Sill where they lived in villages scattered around the post. After a couple of years, Geronimo was granted permission to travel with Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show and he joined the Indian contingent at several annual World Expositions and Indian Expositions in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Geronimo and other Indians leaders rode in the inaugural parade of President Theodore Roosevelt and met the president himself during that trip. Geronimo and the other Apache prisoners had free range of Fort Sill. He was a member of Fort Sill's Native Scouts, but he did make at least one documented attempt to escape the fort, though not in the dramatic fashion of jumping off the steep Medicine Bluffs on his horse in a hail of bullets as popularized in the 1939 movie, Geronimo (which was the inspiration for parachutists of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment to yell his name when they jumped out of aircraft.)
Once, after visiting the off-post home of Chief Quanah Parker, Geronimo decided to escape to his homeland in Arizona late one night rather than return to Fort Sill. He was captured the next day. He died of pneumonia in 1909 and is buried at Fort Sill.
The rest of the Apaches remained on Fort Sill until 1913. The Chiricahua had been promised the lands surrounding the fort by the US government; however local non-Indians resisted their settlement. In 1914 two-thirds of the tribe moved onto the Mescalero Apache Reservation and the remaining third settled on allotments around Fletcher and Apache, Oklahoma. They became what is known today as the Fort Sill Apache Tribe.
Lt. Hugh L. Scott commanded Troop L of the 7th Cavalry, a unit consisting entirely of Indians and considered one of the best in the west. Indian scout I-See-O and other members of the troop are credited with helping tribes on the South Plains avert the Bloody Ghost Dance uprising of the 1890s in which many Indians were brutally murdered by the US Army on the North Plains.
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 6 August the town of Lawton sprang up and quickly grew to become the third largest city in Oklahoma.
With the disappearance of the frontier, the mission of Fort Sill 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. In 1917 the Henry Post Army Airfield was constructed, for artillery observation and spotting.
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 Artillery Officers Candidate School (Robinson Barracks), the Air Service Flying School, and the Army Aviation School.
Nearly all of the original buildings constructed and utilized by the early units survive today, comprising the most complete fort from the Indian Wars period still in existence. Designated at the Fort Sill National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior, the 50 original buildings in and around the Post Quadrangle include historic officer's family quarters; infantry and cavalry barracks; quartermaster warehouses; forge house; granary and corral; guardhouse; bakery; and a hospital complex. All of these structures house exhibit galleries, historic property storage areas and research collections - comprising the largest museum in the US Army system.