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FORT SILL APACHE HISTORY

 

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe was moved to Oklahoma in 1894 after nearly a decade of imprisonment and exile at U.S. Army installations in Florida and Alabama. Today’s tribal members are survivors and descendants of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, whose original territory covered much of what is now the American Southwest including eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, along the United States border with Mexico.  The Tribe’s current location is the result of direct action by the United States Congress, which passed a special provision enabling the federal government to relocate the Chiricahua prisoners of war to southwestern Oklahoma.  The Chiricahua were the last American Indian group to be relocated to Indian Territory.

Upon their arrival at Fort Sill the Apache prisoners of war were told that the fort would become their permanent home and the military reservation was enlarged to accommodate that purpose. Following the allotment of surrounding Indian lands, local non-Indian politicians, business leaders, and U.S. Army officials agitated to continue the presence of the military near Lawton. By 1910 these individuals began the final orchestration to remove the Apache prisoners of war from the military reservation. The Chiricahua were pressured to leave Fort Sill as a condition for their freedom, but many held out for return to their homeland or allotment at Fort Sill. Eventually, leaders of the Mescalero Apache Reservation (in New Mexico), urged by government agents, invited the Chiricahua to relocate to their reservation (a move that strengthened their own efforts to preserve their reservation lands from non-Indian encroachment).

Despite the efforts of government and military officials, about one-third of the Tribe continued to demand the lands they had been promised.  A compromise between the Indian Bureau and the War Department led to the settling of those Fort Sill Apache who had declined joining the Mescaleros in 1913 on unused (dead) allotments from the old Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation lands near Fort Sill. These prisoners of war, numbering approximately eighty-one individuals in about twenty families, were eventually released in 1914 and resettled on small allotments of farmland scattered around Apache and Fletcher, Oklahoma.

The Tribe, seeking reparations and justice, remained organized with no written constitution.  They opposed organizing under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1937. In the aftermath of a multimillion dollar land and resource claim settlement from the Indian Claims Commission in 1973; the Fort Sill Apache Tribe adopted a Bureau of Indian Affairs constitution in 1976. Funds reserved from the land claim settlement have been used to provide a land base for the Tribe and to provide services for the tribal members.

Chairpersons of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe during the twentieth century include Benedict Jozhe, Jr., Mildred I. Cleghorn (two of the last Chiricahua Apaches born under "prisoner of war" status), the late Ruey Darrow, and Jeff Houser.  The Fort Sill Apache Tribe maintains a tribal headquarters north of Apache, Oklahoma with small parcels of land in New Mexico and Arizona.  The tribal population is 667 individuals as of February, 2011.