History of Fort Gibson Lake

Fort Gibson Lake draws its name from the nearby historic town of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Fort Gibson played a prominent part in the military history of early-day Oklahoma. It was the scene of many important events – from the first appearance of the relocated members of the Five Civilized Tribes through its contacts with the tribes of the western plains and the turbulent years of the Civil War.  Union and Confederate forces at different times occupied the post.

Founded in 1824 by Col. Matthew Arbuckle of the 7th Infantry and named for Col. George Gibson, this was the farthest west military outpost in the chain of fortifications stretching from the northern to the southern borders of the United States. Until 1857, it served as the chief military center for the Indian Territory and many treaties with the Indians were signed here.  It was the base for the establishment of the subposts of Forts Chaffee, Wayne, Holmes, Arbuckle and Washita. Jefferson Davis, later president of the Confederacy, served here under Gen. Zachary Taylor, who became president of the United Sates in 1849. Washington Irving, accompanying an exploring expedition in 1832, started the trip from Fort Gibson which he described in his book, “A Tour On the Prairies.”  It was also from Fort Gibson that George Catlin, renowned painter of the American Indian, set out with the First Infantry Dragoons on their expedition into the Kiowa and Comanche Country in 1834. The name of the first post office at the site, Cantonment Gibson, was changed to Fort Gibson in 1842.

Among the many famous Americans identified with Fort Gibson are Capt. Nathan Boone, A.P. Chouteau, Sam Houston, Gen. Henry Leavenworth, Robert E. Lee and John Howard Payne.  Fort Gibson National Cemetery – the only national cemetery in Oklahoma – is located ½ mile east of the town of Fort Gibson.

The old Texas Road, with its traffic of cattlemen, freighters and traders, passed near the fort, but the main communication for the troops and residents of the surrounding country was by steamboat on the Arkansas River.  French fur traders of the southwest made it a center for their business transactions, and supplies for a large area were imported and dispersed from this point.

Abandoned by the government in 1857, Fort Gibson was reoccupied during the Civil War.  After the war, it continued as an agency, aiding in the civilization of the west, before it was fully abandoned in 1890. Today at the Fort Gibson, a reconstructed log stockade stands on the site of the first log fort. Now a National Historical Landmark, the stockade is owned by the state of Oklahoma and is open to the public year-round.

Other communities near the lake, with the dates their post offices were established include: Wagoner, 1888; Okay, a trading post as far back as 1822, had several names before it officially became Okay in 1919; Mazie, 1905; Chouteau, 1871; Murphy, 1912; and Hulbert, 1903.


The Fort Gibson project was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1941 and incorporated in the Arkansas River multiple-purpose plan by the River and Harbor Act of July 1946. Designed and built by the Tulsa District, Corps of Engineers, the project was started in 1942, suspended during World War II, and completed in September 1953, at a cost of $42,535,000.