Fort Washita before the Civil War
Located in the south-central part of Oklahoma are the ruins of Fort Washita. The fort was established in 1841 and was abandoned to Confederate forces in 1861. Sometime between those years, a murder took place which may have given the fort its resident ghost -- or at least one of them. The ruins and rebuilt barracks are still said to be haunted today by this restless spirit, the ghost of a headless woman who has been dubbed "Aunt Jane".
In 1841, the U.S. Army, under the command of General Zachary Taylor, constructed Fort Washita north of modern day Durant, Oklahoma. Though considered isolated even by frontier standards, Fort Washita was constructed in order to establish law and order in the southeastern territories and to protect the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes from rival Indian tribes. The fort contained a large stable and corral to support the cavalry and dragoons who frequently patrolled the plains to protect Indian and settler alike from raiding Comanche’s.
At the start of the Civil War, in 1861, Federal troops abandoned fort Washita. Confederate soldiers operating in the area later used the fort as a major supply depot and hospital facility during the war. After the war, the fort was burned to the ground and abandoned. When the Department of the Interior assumed control of Fort Washita, in 1870, it was considered obsolete. Instead of reactivating the fort, the Department of the Interior deeded the property to a Chickasaw Indian named Charles Colbert and his family. Charles rebuilt the barracks inside the compound for use as a private residence. The first night Charles, his family, and his 32 dogs spent the night at their new home. When Charles awoke the next morning, he found that all of the dogs had disappeared during the night. Charles spent the following day tracking down all 32 of the dogs and returning them to the fort. The next morning, Charles awoke again to find that all of the dogs had again escaped the house. Charles could not find any logical reason for the dogs disappearance. It is said that this series of strange events was the main reason Charles and his family moved away from the fort a short time later.
The next tenant of Fort Washita fared no better than Charles Colbert and his family did against the ghosts that inhabited the old post. A doctor named Steele and his sister moved into the renovated barracks formerly occupied by the Colbert’s. Dr. Steele’s sister was responsible for taking care of the house, and it was not long before she was reporting strange unexplainable experiences both in the house and on the adjoining grounds. Some people later alleged that Dr. Steele’s sister had encountered the forts spirit denizens while others attributed her experiences as figments of a fevered imagination. As a result of these other worldly encounters, Dr. Steele’s sister experienced a nervous break down. A short time later, the Steele’s moved away. Since that time, no one else has dared to take up official residence on the property.
In 1962, the Oklahoma Historical Society purchased the buildings and grounds of Fort Washita. Extreme weather conditions and neglect left its mark on the post over the years. At the time the fort was purchased by the Oklahoma Historical Society, many of the buildings had collapsed or were in drastic need of repair.
In 1965, one of the graves in the post cemetery was exhumed. Imagine every ones surprise when two bodies were found inside, one old, and one not so old. Forensic evidence revealed that the older (original) body belonged to a sixteen-year-old boy who had died of meningitis. More puzzling was the fact that the boy’s skull had a deep gash near the temple. It was determined that newer body was that of an unidentified Hispanic male who’s body had been hidden in the boys grave many years later.
The most unique spirit said to inhabit Fort Washita is that of “Aunt Jane”. It is unclear exactly who Aunt Jane was, or how she died. Over the years, several stories about Aunt Jane’s untimely demise have been handed down from generation to generation. Each time her story has been told, it is further embellished making it extremely hard to validate. However, it is possible that she was killed at the fort some time between 1842 and 1861.
One story suggests that Aunt Jane was a free Negro that had come to Fort Washita during the Civil War to spy on its Confederate occupants. It is said that when the Confederates uncovered Aunt Jane’s true identity and mission, she was summarily executed by beheading, and her body and head were buried in separate graves.
The second story is a contradictory variation of the first. In this version, Aunt Jane, is actually a white woman. The influential wife of an officer stationed at the fort, Aunt Jane was rumored to have always carried $20 dollars in gold with her, no matter where she went. One day while returning from town, bandits who wanted her gold reportedly accosted her. In the ensuing struggle, the one of the bandits allegedly cut off Aunt Jane’s head
The third account of Aunt Jane’s murder involves a love triangle. As in the second account, Aunt Jane is the wife of an officer stationed at Fort Washita. One night, her husband returned home from a patrol and found his beloved in bed with another soldier who was also stationed at the fort. In a fit of rage, Aunt Jane’s husband set upon the two lovers and beheaded them both on the spot. Later, the outraged husband threw the heads of Aunt Jane and her lover in the Washita River.
Even though the possible causes of Aunt Jane’s death are open to some debate, the nature and timing of her frequent appearances are not as suspect. The ghost of Aunt Jane is said to search for her head and or her hidden cache of gold only on the nights of the full moon in the months of March and October.
Today, visitors and historic reenactors have reported strange encounters with the ghosts of Fort Washita. During one of the many Civil War reenactments held at the fort, several visiting high school students were sitting outside on the second floor deck of a recently reconstructed barracks. As the students looked across the court yard toward the old stables, they saw what appeared to be a green apparition walk from the barracks to the stables. In another instance, two female members of a living history group were spending the night in the Bonahan cabin, west of the fort. On this particular evening, one of the women claimed that she was suddenly disturbed from her slumber by the sensation that she was being strangled.
A few hours later, the second woman awoke and reported that she could sense an invisible presence hovering over her. On the second night, a third woman joined the two reenactors. The very next morning, each of the women reported that they had been plagued during the night by dreams involving suffocation.
It is the personal encounters of people who have visited Fort Washita and the ghost stories like that of “Aunt Jane” that draw ghost hunters from around the country top this mysterious historical location. The fort and many reconstructed buildings are open to the public on a daily basis. Fort Washita continues to be preserved for future generations by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Fort Washita Historic Site:
Star Route 213
Durant, Oklahoma, 74701
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© Copyright 2003 by David Goodwin. All Rights Reserved.