The Ghosts of Ft. Washita, Oklahoma: A Civil War Haunting Ground
Tonight would change her life - for eternity.
The azure moon hung low over Ft. Washita, its crescent shape casting faded shadows that snaked across the lawn like a wraith. Crouching in the shadows, she scanned the Fort for Confederate soldiers. Besides a couple guards posted at the guardhouse, the grounds were empty. The officers’ quarters were just across the parade grounds. Leaving the shadows of the south barracks, she rushed across the empty field, knowing that her black skin would help hide her from the enemy soldiers.
The officers’ quarters stood like a deserted fortress. Wiping the sweat from her palms, she grabbed the windowsill and hauled herself up. All was quiet, except the wild hammering inside her chest. The maps were inside, and if she was to thwart the Confederate attack, she must steal away with those coveted documents.
Just before her, the maps lay spread out on a roughly hewn table. Seven feet, steal the maps, and slip outside, unheard; it was possible.
The rock cut into her hands. Ignoring the pain, she quietly slipped through the window. The call of coyotes echoed in the distance, but the Fort remained quiet as a ghost. Three steps, pause, listen, another two steps. She pressed her hands against her sides to quell their trembling. Another step and the map was before her.
A stream of light stole across the floor. She turned towards the door. The whites of his eyes flashed in the pale moonlight. Faintly, she could hear footsteps fall behind her. She closed her eyes in defeat as she was thrust to her knees.
Two days later, “Aunt Jane” was beheaded for treason.
A Brief History of Ft. Washita
The ghost stories that surround the historic Ft. Washita in Oklahoma are numerous.
Established in 1842, under the command of General Zachary Taylor, the fort served as the southwestern-most military post of the United States. The primary purpose of the fort was to protect the recently immigrated Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians. Raids by the Southern Plains Indians disrupted the peace of the early settlers to the area, and Ft. Washita served as a buffer between these unruly Indians and the established United States.
When the Civil War came to Indian Territory in 1861, Union soldiers abandoned the area to seek a more secure location. On May 2nd, Confederate troops from Texas took occupation of the Ft. Washita. The Confederate forces would use the post as a headquarters during the remainder of the Civil War.
The Ghost of Aunt Jane
Of all the ghosts that haunt Fort Washita, Aunt Jane is the most popular.
For over a hundred years, Aunt Jane has been wandering through the old Civil War complex searching for her head. Wearing an 1860s style dress, this shadowy apparition appears during a full moon between the months of March and October. Evidence suggests that she was killed at the fort sometime between 1842 and 1861.
There are three stories that explain her death.
The first story suggests that Aunt Jane was a free Negro that had come to Ft. Washita during the Civil War to spy on Confederate troops. The tale has it that when the Confederates discovered Aunt Jane’s identity, she was quickly executed by beheading. The soldiers then buried her head and body in separate graves.
The second story directly contradicts the first. It is said that Aunt Jane was the white wife of an officer stationed at the fort. It was rumored that she always carried $20 dollars in gold with her at all times, which, during the late 1800’s, was quite a substantial amount of money. One day, after returning from town, thieves ambushed her and took her money. During the fight, one of the thieves allegedly cut off Aunt Jane’s head.
The third story involves a complex love triangle. Aunt Jane was the wife of an officer stationed at Fort Washita. Late one night, her husband returned from patrol to find his wife in bed with another soldier. Mad with rage, the husband rushed the two lovers and beheaded them both. After committing that violent act, the husband then threw the heads of Aunt Jane and her lover into the Washita River.
The real truth about her death will probably remain a mystery for eternity. Still, her presence is palpable, and she will forever haunt the grounds where she drew her last breath.
Beyond Aunt Jane the Mystery Remains
Several specters besides that of Aunt Jane also haunt the grounds at Ft. Washita. Because the fort was held by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War, it has become a favorite haunting ground for a great number of ghosts.
Tales abound of these specters. During one historical reenactment, a man tells of hearing footsteps frantically running up and down the main stairs. When he went to find the source of the footsteps, the area was deserted.
During another reenactment, several visiting high school students reported seeing a green apparition walk from the barracks to the stables.
Two female members of a living history group were spending the night in the Bonahan cabin. One of the women claimed that, during the night, she was suddenly awoken by the sensation that she was being strangled. The second woman awoke a few hours later. She stated that when she woke up, a strange presence was felt hovering over her bed. When questioned separately about the events, both women claimed that they had been plagued during the night by dreams of suffocation.
At Fort Washita, strange occurrences are expected. Locks that were secured the previous night will be found dangling open from their hinges the next day. Windows will inexplicably be open when one was positive that they were closed a short time before. Suddenly ice cold areas will waft across open hallways and courtyards during the heat of summer. Don't be alarmed, it's just the restless ghosts wandering about their old home, searching for things that are only known to them.
Post-Civil War: The Rebuilding of Fort Washita
Just before the Confederate army left Ft. Washita after the Civil War, they staged one final act of defiance. In a great frenzy, they set fire to the fort and watched as it burned. A good majority of the fort was left in ruins, and would never play host to another military unit.
In 1870, the Department of the Interior assumed control of the fort. Because of its poor condition, and the advancement of modern arms, they deemed the fort obsolete. The Department of the Interior deeded the property to a Chickasaw Indian named Charles Colbert. After rebuilding the barracks for use as a private residence, Charles, his family, and 32 dogs spent the night in their new home. When he awoke the following morning, he found that all 32 dogs had disappeared during the night. He spent the next day tracking them down and returning them to the fort. This continued for several days, along with numerous ghastly incidents in which Charles could not explain. Charles and his family only lived at the fort for a short time before moving away, in search of a more peaceful home.
The fort passed through several owners over the years, many with much the same experience as Charles had. Finally, in 1962, the Oklahoma Historical Society purchased the buildings and grounds of old Fort Washita. At the time of the purchase, erosion and vandals had taken their toll on the fort. While a number of ruins remained from the old fort, most were in a sad state of disrepair. Since its purchase, the Oklahoma Historical Society has worked to rebuild Ft. Washita as authentically and accurately as possible.
Visiting Ft. Washita
While rapidly falling prey to the vestiges of time, the ruins of Fort Washita are still a remarkable sight. The Fort tells a tale of days long past, of outlaws and Indians, and of a time when America was embroiled in Civil War. Besides the haunting that occur at the Fort, many quite lively events take place there as well. Everything from massive historical reenactments to cannon shows are held there several times a year.
This is a place where the past truly comes alive – in more ways that one.
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© 2010 Eric Standridge