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With the start of a new year, Bob Blackburn of the Oklahoma Historical Society looks at some historic dates

He journeyed back about 150 years to the Battle of Honey Springs, a climactic engagement of the Civil War in Indian Territory that was fought on July 17, 1863.
by Bryan Painter Published: January 26, 2013

The new year is a great opportunity for those such as Bob Blackburn to think about anniversaries.

Blackburn, the executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, recently sat at a table in his office at the Oklahoma History Center with a pen in hand and a yellow notepad before him.

His intent was to jot down dates and thoughts as he used 2013 for a starting point and traveled back in history.

He journeyed back about 150 years to the Battle of Honey Springs, a climactic engagement of the Civil War in Indian Territory that was fought on July 17, 1863, in what is now Checotah, about 120 miles east of Oklahoma City.

Blackburn traveled back 100 years to the January 1913 release from Fort Sill of Chiricahua and Warm Springs Apaches as prisoners of war. The Fort Sill Apache Tribal members are descended from former prisoners of war who received allotments in Oklahoma after their release. Blackburn focused on one of those families.

And then, the historian went back 65 years to when the Federal Communications Commission granted a construction permit for WKY-TV. The television station, Oklahoma's first, went on the air with programming in 1949. It broadcast for about two hours each evening, Sundays through Fridays.

The Civil War

“One of the most significant eras in the history of Oklahoma was the Civil War and the reconstruction from Civil War,” Blackburn said.

The battle at Honey Springs was the largest of the documented Civil War encounters in the Indian Territory, Blackburn said. The engagement took place between the 1st Division, Army of the Frontier, commanded by Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, and the Confederate Indian Brigade, led by Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper. Cherokee and Creek regiments were fighting on both sides, Blackburn said. About 9,000 men were involved, including other American Indians, veteran Texas regiments, and the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, one of the first black regiments in the Union Army, he said.

The state of Oklahoma today owns about 1,200 acres of the land where the engagement took place.

“We are now building a new museum to tell the story of those brave men on both sides who fought there, the impact, the consequences and connecting that with history today in Oklahoma,” Blackburn said. “Hopefully, the museum will include murals by Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen to tell the Honey Springs story visually.”

LeRoy H. Fischer wrote in “The Battle of Honey Springs,” that the incident “was in both size and importance the Gettysburg of the Civil War in Indian Territory, for it marked the climax of massed Confederate military resistance and opened the way for the capture of Fort Smith and much of Arkansas. Perhaps, in terms of results, Honey Springs was the Gettysburg of the Trans-Mississippi West.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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