A History of Fort Sill
Fort Sill was officially established by General Philip H. Sheridan on January 8, 1869 in the Indian Territory or present day Oklahoma. Its purpose was to control the Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa and other tribes that had roamed the Southern Plains hunting buffalo or making frequent raids on settlements in Texas and Mexico in search of captives and horses.
Some of the most famous military leaders and units in American history have served at Fort Sill over the decades. The first military occupation of the site was in 1834 when the 1st US Dragoons arrived to establish “Camp Comanche” and begin negotiations with the local tribes. Several individuals important in American history such as General Henry Leavenworth, Jefferson Davis, George Catlin, Nathan Boone were included in this expedition.
In 1852, Captain Randolph Marcy arrived to explore the Red River and made the first recommendation that a permanent fort be established at this place. This was followed by a company of Chickasaw Indians scouting the Medicine Bluffs in 1858 under the command of Colonel Douglas Cooper. He also made a recommendation that a fort be established in this area.
In late December 1868, General Phil Sheridan arrived with the 7th US Cavalry under Colonel George A. Custer; the 10th US Cavalry commanded by Colonel Benjamin Grierson; the 19th Kansas Volunteers and the 6th US Infantry. The new post was soon staked out according to Sheridan’s plans and construction began on the permanent stone buildings in 1869-70. The fledgling post was soon named Fort Sill after General Joshua Sill who was killed during the Civil War in 1862. All four of the Black regiments that were later referred to as the “Buffalo Soldiers” (9th & 10th US Cavalry, 24th & 25th US Infantry) served at Fort Sill during the late 19th century.
Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and the 4th US Cavalry occupied the fort during the Red River War of 1874-75. With the final surrenders of the Plains tribes in 1875, the mission of the army shifted toward maintaining law and order in the Territory. The protection of Indian lands from the illegal Kansas and Texas “Intruders”; patrolling the Chisholm Trail in pursuit of rustlers, murderers, whiskey peddlers; and generally maintaining the peace, became the priority of the day.
In 1894 the Chiricahua Apache Prisoners of War came to Fort Sill from their prisons in Alabama and Florida. For the first time since their surrender in 1886 they were able to regain their respect and warrior status by enlisting in the all Indian unit, Troop L, 7th US Cavalry at Fort Sill. One of the more famous warriors of this group was Geronimo.
Fort Sill was a pivotal installation during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century, yet it was almost abandoned around 1900. Faced with a changing mission from the Cavalry and Infantry to Artillery, Secretary of War William H. Taft visited Fort Sill in 1907 to determine the fate of the frontier army post. Even then, the history of the old fort was considered so significant that the future President decided to preserve it forever instead of rebuilding or tearing it down to render it more suitable for the new mission.
Thus, a “New Post” was constructed further west in 1909-11 to accommodate the Field Artillery. The last Cavalry unit departed in 1907 and in 1911, the new Field Artillery School of Fire Headquarters was established in the historic old teamster’s quarter on the Quadrangle.
In 1915 Fort Sill would come into the air age with the arrival of the 1st Aero Squadron, the first aviation unit in the American military. This unit trained at Fort Sill until receiving orders for Texas and the Mexican border. The move to Texas became the first squadron flight in aviation history. Fort Sill soon became the home of Army aviation and continued until 1954 when that mission shifted to Fort Rucker, Alabama.
The establishment of the airfield represented a clash of cultural priorities and remains the watershed event that nearly lead to the demise of the final burial ground of at least 114 Comanche Indians.