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Gripping tale of Civil War's earliest days has Oklahoma link, notes Enid pastor at Dialogue Institute luncheon

Liz Burleson / Red Dirt Report
The Rev. Wade Burleson talks about his upcoming Civil War book "Red Earth Courage."
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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Rev. Wade Burleson, lead pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, not only has a passion for sharing and teaching others about God from his pulpit, this author and historian can passionately share a gripping historical tale with firm roots here in Oklahoma.

Such was the case on Tuesday as Burleson was the guest speaker at the Raindrop Foundation and the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest (formerly the Institute of Interfaith Dialog) luncheon series at the Raindrop Turkish House.

And the story Burleson shared excerpts from his upcoming history book Red Earth Courage: The First Secret Mission of the Civil War, excerpts and information, Burleson said, that many in Oklahoma probably know nothing about.

As Burleson explained, with the help of an instructive PowerPoint presentation, within three days of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, in April 1861, Averell would engage in his secret mission to the territories of the west in hopes of bringing back troops to help fight the rebels. Land and figures like Black Beaver, in what is now present-day Oklahoma, would play an important role in that secret mission.

"The first secret mission of the Civil War occurred within our great state," Burleson said. "In the official records of the Civil War, OR for short, this mission is the first mission recorded during the Civil War."

The seriousness of the attack on Fort Sumter made President Abraham Lincoln realize that something must be done - and fast.

"He had a tough decision to make, when the Confederates bombed Fort Sumter," Burleson said of Lincoln. "He needed troops to defend the Capital and the East from the insurrection."

And where were those troops? They were primarily in Fort Cobb, Fort Arbuckle and Fort Washita, all in Indian Territory, he said.

Spending time with an archivist at West Point in New York, Burleson was able to learn a great deal about this "secret mission" and the important role played by Lt. William W. Averell, who was later appointed brigadier general by President Lincoln.

But before we continue with Averell and his daring - and underreported - journey across both Union and Confederate territory and into Indian Territory, Burleson shares a history lesson involving a treaty between William Penn and the Delaware Indians and Chief Tammany, a man, popular in the folklore of early Pennsylvania, who sought to live side-by-side with the American colonists in peace.

Said Burleson: "The first, truly official American holiday was 'Tammany Day' (May 1) - a day celebrating "liberty, freedom and peace."

Tammany was much revered in early America, Burleson explained, and the Tammany Society was created by the early colonists in a way to synthesize the best and noblest aspects of European and Native American culture.

In fact, he noted, the rebels at the Boston Tea Party in December 1773, featured Tammany Society members. This is because Tammany members supported democratic ideals and were fed up with their English overlords.

The Delawares - Tammany's people - would end up making their way to Indian Territory, due to encroachment by Europeans in their native lands in present day Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. And important people like Black Beaver would be there when Averell would just barely get there during the mission Lincoln dispatched him on.

And specifically that was to get those troops in Indian Territory up to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, so they could come back East and "help us with the insurrection."

Averell, dressed as a Confederate citizen, takes the train to St. Louis and then takes a stagecoach from central Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas - the gateway into the Indian Territory.

But by the time Averell gets to Fort Smith, Confederates from Little Rock had taken over the Union garrison at Fort Smith.

And with True Grit in mind, Burleson's description of Averell's adventure really takes off, from him breaking a one-eyed horse lickety-split to being pursued into Indian Territory by Confederate militiamen.

"The greatest horse ride in the history of America occurs over the next five days," Burleson said as he shares this story of courage and resourcefulness.

Averell nearly drowns a time or two, loses his horse, barters his beechnut coat, experiences a "spring tornado" and is surrounded by wolves at one time. He finally reaches Fort Arbuckle and gives the order to evacuate from Lincoln to Col. Emory, before passing out with exhaustion.

But the story isn't over. Averell, Emory and the Union troops still had to get to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and thankfully Delaware Indian Black Beaver is willing to help guide them - at great cost - because not only would Black Beaver have a price on his head, lose his home and crops to Confederate troops and have his family kidnapped at his home in Anadarko.

Coincidentally, Black Beaver was in charge of the "Great Treaty," signed in 1682. The one featured on a frieze at the U.S. Capitol, which shows Penn and Tammany.

"Above my mantle at my home in Anadarko the treaty signed between Chief Tammany and William Penn was burned when my house burned," Burleson says, sharing Black Beaver's recollections.

Black Beaver's trail - now known as the Chisholm Trail - is the one they used that goes along Highway 81 through present-day Kingfisher, Hennessey, and through Enid, because springs were known along this important pathway north into Kansas.

A fascinating and largely unknown story from the earliest days of the Civil War. While Wade Burleson's Red Earth Courage is not yet out, we hope to read and review it here at Red Dirt Report.

And for more information on the Dialogue Institute Southwest, go to

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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