Three Forks History: Foreman saved Fort Gibson

Once considered the premier historian in Oklahoma, Grant Foreman’s name today is hardly recognized outside of Muskogee. But Grant Foreman did more to preserve Oklahoma history than nearly anyone else in the state.

Foreman did not start his life in Oklahoma as a historian. He was from Illinois originally and had practiced law in Chicago. In 1899, he moved to Muskogee to work for the Dawes Commission then tasked with the allotment of millions of acres of Indian Territory land.

Foreman worked at the Commission for four years, assisting with appraising and establishing legal descriptions for the land of the Five Tribes. This took him all over the territory, and he came to appreciate the fascinating Native American history that Oklahoma has.

In 1903, he resigned from the Dawes Commission and went into law practice with the former federal judge John R. Thomas. This led to his introduction to the judge’s daughter Carolyn, and they were married in 1905. For all the years of their marriage the Foremans resided at the home now known as the Thomas-Foreman Home.

In 1920, Grant retired from practicing law to devote the remainder of his life to his newfound passion. He became a prolific researcher and writer of Oklahoma history with a special focus on the Five Tribes. He helped to establish the Muskogee County Historical Society and was elected to the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS).

In this capacity, Foreman was able to make his greatest contribution to the preservation of Oklahoma’s unique history. It was Grant who convinced the OHS board to purchase the barracks of old Fort Gibson. In time, the society also purchased other buildings and land associated with the original fort compound.

During the 1930s, Foreman worked closely with the WPA to construct a replica of the early log fort. Without Foreman’s efforts, this extremely important historic site might have been lost.

This was only the beginning of Foreman’s efforts. He helped to preserve Sequoyah’s Cabin near Sallisaw and saw to the placement of dozens of historical markers across Oklahoma. He oversaw the Federal Writers’ Project, which compiled oral histories of early Oklahoma into a 116-volume work called the Indian-Pioneer Papers.

For his work, Foreman received numerous honors. He was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Tulsa and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. In Muskogee, an elementary school was named in his honor.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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