Fort Towson, Arkansas in the Choctaw Nation (now Oklahoma): 1838. Envelope or Cover. This four-page stampless folded letter was written and mailed on April 8, 1838, by the Commanding Officer of Fort Towson, Arkansas in the Choctaw Nation (now Oklahoma), Lieutenant Colonel Josiah H. Vose, to his sister in Boston. It measures 16” x 10” unfolded, and bears a bold strike of the scarce Fort Towson postmark along with a manuscript “25” rate mark and a “PAID” handstamp. Docketing on the reverse indicates it was received on May 4th. The letter is in nice shape with a 3” split along one mailing fold and several small and easily removable glassine tissue repairs.
Vose arrived at Fort Towson as a major within Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Kearney’s battalion of the 3rd Infantry regiment to facilitate the arrival, settlement, and protection of the Choctaw tribe who the Indian Removal Act had sent west from their homeland in Alabama and Mississippi. In time, Vose was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and became commander of both the regiment and the fort. Vose, a religious man, ran a clean and efficient post that was considered one of the most pleasant assignments in the western United States. He was also instrumental in convincing the Army of the value in establishing a Chaplains Corps to improve both soldier morals and morale.
Highlights from this letter written near the end of his tenure at Fort Towson include:
““Jorish (Josiah H. Vose, Jr.) has not arrived we expect him every day. He is now travelg with Gen Gaines. He has recently been at New Orleans. Yesterday I recd a letter from a gentleman at Saint Louis who became acquainted with Jorish. Introduced him to Gen Gaines and showed him very many civilities. He speaks in the highest terms of Jorish & says the General is much pleased with him. If he will only be prudent and abstain from all those bad practices which prevail in the Army he can do well. His pay will be handsome and with cunning he can save half of it. I hope he will be inclined to a course which will insure his happiness and respectability. . ..
“The navigation of the Red River is improving very fast. A few days ago a steam boat from N Orleans arrived our landing, 6 miles from the Fort. By another year, we expect boats will be able to come up frequently without much difficulty. Some changes may take place which will remove me from here in the course of the next fall. . .. I am somewhat apprehensive that should the Florida War be continued I shall have to go there next fall. But I hope not. We have recently had a reinforcement of troops at this post (recruits) I have now 250 men here. One company of 50 men will shortly leave for Fort Gibson. . ..”. Very good. Item #009815
In its heyday, Fort Towson was one of the most important, if not the most important, forts on the western frontier, serving as a buffer between the U.S. and both Texas and the Central Plains tribes. It also protected the Choctaw upon its arrival from Alabama and Mississippi, and later served as a receiving hub for other relocated tribes before they moved into their allotted section of the Indian Territory.
Vose had requested reinforcements for his post because he believed that his force was insufficient to counter a significant outbreak of violence, which he believed was likely. As the white population abutting the Choctaw Nation increased, drunken ‘affrays’ between the groups increased as well. Moreover, ruffians from Republic of Texas were venturing into the area, and both Mexicans and Plains Indians were surreptitiously attempting to recruit Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokees as allies in their wars against the Texans. Additionally American slave-hunters from the Gulf states were raiding settlements to steal slaves owned by the Choctaws. Although Vose had asked for the entire 3rd Infantry regiment to be reassigned to the post, however he was still pleased to receive the much smaller contingent of reinforcements.
Vose’s optimism about Red River transportation was justified. For centuries, the river had been completely blocked by a gigantic log jam, known as the Great Raft, that had grown to more than 160 miles long by 1830 when the steamboat builder Henry Shreve (for whom Shreveport is named) began to systematically remove the obstacle until the river was cleared enough to allow ship traffic all the way to Fort Towson by April of 1838.
Vose’s son, a Second Lieutenant, did join his father’s battalion later that spring and was assigned duties as its assistant commissary officer. As Lieutenant Colonel Vose suspected he, and his son, were soon reassigned to Florida to fight in the Second Seminole War, where Vose Jr. died of disease. Vose Sr. survived, was promoted to Colonel, and given command of the 4th Infantry Regiment at New Orleans. He served there until in 1845 after 33 years of service and at the age of 61, he died of a heart attack immediately following a regimental parade at the barracks.
(For more information see Nile’s National Register of July 26, 1845, “The Third Infantry, U.S.A.” in The Ancient vol 7, April 1916, Chick’s Texas A&M master’s thesis “The Cargo of the Steamboat Heroine and the Army of the Frontier, 1838”, the Army and Navy Chronicle and Scientific Repository for 1836, Faulk et. al.’s Early Military Forts and Posts in Oklahoma, and Tyson’s The Red River in Southwestern History.)
Rare. At the time of listing, no other Vose correspondence from Fort Townsend is for sale in the trade or held by institutions per OCLC. No auction records are listed at the Rare Book Hub, however the Stamp Auction Network shows that this letter was sold in 2006.