Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
The Battle of Cabin Creek re-enactment is a historically accurate event that allows visitors to personally experience what occured here those many years ago. Please call for dates and times of the next trienial re-enactment. Until then you can visit the battle site which is open daily.
Take I-44 (Will Rogers Turnpike) to Vinita, Oklahoma exit. Turn right after paying toll and go to downtown area to first stop light (next to McDonalds). Continue on U.S. Highway 60 to edge of town and look for 4400 road - turn left. Take road 4400 to road 350 - turn left. Battlefield Re-Enactment & Memorial sites will be on the left side of the road.
Although Vinita wasn't founded until 1871, there was a great number of settlers in the area before then. Not far from Vinita, Cabin Creek, was the site of two Civil War battles. The first battle fought in early July of 1863, crediting the Buffalo Soldiers resulted in a Union victory. In 1864, Confederate forces captured over 100 wagons, about 720 mules and other goods valued at $500,000.
Cabin Creek Station was only one of the many stage station stops located all along the main north-south route known as the Osage Trace, The Texas Road, and the Military Road. The "Osage Trace" had been in existence for more than 1,000 years as the route most often used by migrating plains Indian tribes. The "Military Road" marked the far western frontier linking the many U.S. Army posts from Minnesota to eastern Texas. With the establishment of the Indian Territory, the area around Cabin Creek Fort became the property of the Cherokee Indian Nation. The area around the crossing was leased by Joseph "Greenbrier Joe" Martin. The Martin family is probably the second oldest established family in the Cherokee Nation and the State of Oklahoma. Joe Martin established his plantation home of nearly 17,000 acres near the present day Strang, Oklahoma. He in turn leased more than 100,000 acres from the Cherokee Government of which the crossing at Cabin Creek was a part. The area of the crossing served as the summer ranch home of the Martin family as well as a stage stop and small farm and ranch community located nearby. Joe Martin and his family were mixed blood. He owned more than 100 slaves and employed some 15 full blood Cherokee as personal and home servants. The Cabin Creek Ranch was quite extensive in operation and was called "Pensicola". The plantation home near Strang was known as "Greenbriar", from which Joseph Martin received his name, "Greenbriar Joe". The plantation home was said to have been the equal to any in the south.
Prior to the war, the "Military Road" was the communication and supply link between the far western army out-posts of Fort's Scott (KS), Gibson (IN), Smith (AR), and Towson and Washita in the Creek Nation. With the coming of the war, the army abandoned their forts in Arkansas and the Indian Nations. Fort Gibson had been de-activated just prior to the war and the facilities given over to the Cherokee Nations without U.S. Army protection. This situation allowed the Confederate government to make treaties with the various Indian tribes and secure the far western flank of the Confederacy. For the first half of the war, the Indian Territory was under Confederate control. Once the U.S. war department had consolidated their troops and resources in the department, plans were put into motion to re-establish Federal control of the Indian Territory. With the recapture of Fort Smith by Union forces and Fort Gibson once again occupied by the U.S. Army, the "Military Road" became the all-important communication and supply link from Fort Scott, Kansas. The U.S. military traffic up and down this road became prime targets for those Confederate forces operating in the territory. The U.S. Army established garrison outposts at all the major crossings along the route from Fort Scott through Fort Gibson.
The crossing at Cabin Creek saw at least two major actions fought there. The first battle fought in early July of 1863 resulted in a Union victory. The slavery issue was prominent in the Cherokees Nation that aligned itself with the South. It is not generally known that the first battle of Civil War pressing African-Americans into combat was in Big Cabin on July 1, 1863 -- ten miles and a stone's throw from Vinita. There the First Kansas Colored Infantry crushed Waite's Confederate warriors. On July 17, 1863, well outnumbered, the Colored troops engaged General Waite again, in the decisive Battle of Honey Springs near Ft. Gibson, completely rioting the Indian brigade -- making it possible to capture Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The first Civil War deployments of Colored infantry in what is now Oklahoma ended the South's presence in Indian Territory and cut the important Rebel supply line and halting reinforcements from Texas. The 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry, depicted in Denzel Washington's movie Glory was not organized until 1864. Many of the troops from the First Kansas Colored Infantry are credited with opening the west for white settlers and later became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
The second battle fought here on September 19, 1864 gave the Confederate forces their greatest tactical accomplishment in the nations. It is this battle that is reenacted.
As was said earlier, the Union supply trains were in constant threat of attack once they entered the nations from Fort Scott. What made this particular engagement so important was the number of wagons involved and the 1.5 million dollar cargo they hauled. There were some two hundred six-mule wagons filled with military stores and over one hundred civilian sutler wagons bound for Fort Gibson. In all some three hundred wagons, 1800 mules, and eight hundred Federal troops were encamped at the Cabin Creek Station crossing on the evening of September 18, 1864.
At 1:30 a.m., September 19, 1864, the Battle of Cabin Creek began. By dawn the Union defenses were crushed and Yanks were scattered in the woods, retreating to Fort Gibson. For the first time in years, food was plentiful and badly needed supplies were available. A total of 130 wagons, 740 mules, and tons of supplies were on their way south. What wagons were not brought were burned, wounded animals destroyed, and the southern dead buried. The Martin home was spared as it was being used as a field hospital for the wounded. This action cost the Confederate forces some 45 killed, wounded, or missing. The Federal losses amounted to 54 casualties. Gano and Watie had their victory and the prize of the wagon train. They now turned their attention to getting that prize and the men who won it, south to enjoy the spoils of their success and plan yet another raid. One that perhaps would help give them the southern independence they fought and suffered so long for. This victorious mood was not to last long, however, as the following spring General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House and Stand Watie and his brigade laid down their arms.
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