Fort Wayne was originally built in 1838 near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border for the defense of northwestern Arkansas and the Indian Territory to the west. In 1840, the fort was moved north to a spot about three miles southwest of present-day Maysville (Benton County). Although it was not in Arkansas, Fort Wayne played an important role in Arkansas-Cherokee relations following Indian Removal. After the Cherokee had settled in Indian Territory, political disagreements led to a three-way splintering of the Cherokee people: the Old Settlers who had moved west before the 1835 Treaty of New Echota was signed; the followers of John Ridge, who signed the treaty; and the followers of Chief John Ross, who had opposed the treaty outright. Fort Wayne served as a base for Stand Watie, leader of the Treaty Party, throughout the tribe’s post-removal turmoil in the 1840s. It was also used briefly during the Civil War when the Confederates gathered Cherokee volunteers. No permanent structures were built at either Fort Wayne site, and no ruins remain.
Originally called Camp Illinois, what became Fort Wayne was built on the south side of the Illinois River near present-day Watts, Oklahoma; it was named in honor of General Anthony Wayne, commonly referred to as “Mad Anthony,” a notable figure in the Revolutionary War. Construction was begun on October 29, 1838, by Company C of the Seventh Infantry of the U.S. Army, commanded by Captain John Stuart. After the death of Captain Stuart on December 8, 1838, four companies of dragoons were stationed there under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Richard B. Mason in summer 1839 to relieve Stuart’s infantry. By this time, it had supplanted Fort Coffee, which had been constructed farther south in 1834.
Lt. Col. Mason and companies E, F, G, and K of the First Dragoons arrived at Fort Wayne on June 16, 1839. Eighty men became ill, including Lt. James M. Bowman. At the same time, violence was breaking out on the frontier. In spring 1839, Isaac Wallace of Benton County had been stabbed by Indians near Maysville. In response, Captain George A. McCall was sent to Beaty’s Prairie on the Cherokee side of the border to keep Cherokee combatants from crossing the line again. On the Arkansas side, Archibald Yell of Fayetteville (Washington County) wanted the Cherokee who were responsible for Wallace’s murder to be put on trial and for men from Fort Gibson to be stationed on the border. General Matthew Arbuckle relayed Yell’s request to Chief John Ross for an investigation but denied Yell’s request for men from Fort Gibson. Arbuckle blamed citizens of Arkansas who operated liquor shops along the border. Fort Wayne proved unable to help the situation; the structure was incomplete, and the location had been deemed “unhealthy” by military authorities. Due to these circumstances, combined with the violence farther north, the fort was moved north by Mason’s troops to Spavinaw Creek on the southwestern edge of Beaty’s Prairie in the Cherokee Nation, four miles from Maysville, Arkansas.
The new Fort Wayne, constructed later in 1840, consisted of log cabins and an enclosure, also made of wood, defended on three points by three two-story blockhouses. South of the fort was a large horse lot with several huts to the northwest that were used for soldiers’ quarters. On August 25, 1840, Mason was ordered to leave Fort Wayne and take his men to Fort Gibson. After securing what public property was there, they were to relieve the Fourth Infantry, which had been ordered to Forts Towson, Jessup, and Smith on the Arkansas border. Until Mason’s departure on October 12, Fort Wayne housed about 240 men; afterward, only fifty men remained at Fort Wayne under the command of their captains.
The disruption of their farming operations, intrusion on their property through the building of military roads, and conflicts with people involved in the whiskey trade led to rising resentment for Fort Wayne by the Cherokee. To them, the military was a threat. In the summer of 1841, two soldiers killed a Cherokee citizen, prompting General Arbuckle to have the fort strengthened. The same month, complaints were made to General Zachary Taylor, who had replaced Arbuckle. A decision had to be made on the future of Fort Wayne. Taylor sought the opinion of the adjutant general, to whom he wrote that the sooner the fort could be abandoned, the better. Governor Archibald Yell of Arkansas opposed abandonment of Fort Wayne, arguing that if the fort were abandoned, the Cherokee would clash with citizens of both Benton and Washington counties. He recommended instead that the fort be moved again to appease the Cherokee. In November 1841, Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock was dispatched to investigate Fort Wayne.
On January 9, 1842, Hitchcock urged that the fort be abandoned. He wrote that the Cherokees had “not the slightest disposition to commit depredations upon the white settlements in Arkansas.” Hitchcock recommended that Fort Wayne be moved 100 miles south of Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, a site that became Fort Scott later that year. Fort Wayne was ultimately abandoned on May 26, 1842, and its improvements sold.
During the American Civil War, Stand Watie, then a Confederate general, used what was left of Fort Wayne when forming his group of Cherokee volunteers. The Battle of Fort Wayne took place there on October 22, 1862, with Union forces under the command of General James G. Blunt defeating Confederate forces under General Douglas H. Cooper. Fort Wayne remained an important strategic landmark for decades after its abandonment, but the changing American frontier made establishments like Fort Wayne obsolete.
For additional information:
Foreman, Grant. Advancing the Frontier, 1830–1860. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1933.
———. “Captain John Stuart’s Sketch of the Indians.” Chronicles of Oklahoma 11 (March 1933): 668–672.
Hoog, Wayne. “Fort Wayne: The Nomadic Fort and (Lieutenant General) Richard Stoddert Ewell.” Benton County Pioneer 43 (January–March 1998): 9–13.
Littlefield, Daniel F., Jr., and Lonnie E. Underhill. “Fort Wayne and the Arkansas Frontier, 1838–1840.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 35 (Winter 1976): 334–359.
———. “Fort Wayne and Border Violence, 1840–1847.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 36 (Spring 1977): 3–30.
May, Jon D. “Fort Wayne.” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=FO047 (accessed January 26, 2018).
Vaught, Elsa. “Some History Concerning Old Fort Wayne.” Benton County Pioneer 9 (July 1964): 58–59.
Cody Lynn Berry
Last Updated: 02/19/2020