Great State: Yale Remembers Oklahoma’s 1st Civil War Battle

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YALE, OKLAHOMA -- Cold and barren, but not quite forgotten, two unlikely friends traced the history of Oklahoma's first Civil War battle.

Sam Jerome is amateur historian and Civil War re-enactor.

Randall Newby is an Assembly of God minister in Yale who's church sits under the historical shadow of Round Mountain.

Speaking of the annual re-enactment that takes place, Newby said, "People in the community get to come out and see this. It's been a nice layout for us."

Walking history back to the late fall of 1861, a time when the people who lived in the territories were still drawing up sides between North and South, an influential Muscogee Creek chief name Opothleyahola gathered a group of some 2000 Creeks and Seminoles who wanted to part of the coming war.

They left their homes for safer ground in Kansas.

Jerome explained, "The South was trying to get them under control so they wouldn't leave the Confederacy."

In pursuit was a Texas Ranger Colonel named Douglas Cooper and 1,400 mostly Choctaw and Chickasaw soldiers.

"It wasn't a really long battle, but it was pretty fierce," said Jerome.

Their first skirmish took place somewhere in a valley beneath a low promontory a surveyor labeled Round Mountain west of the town of Yale.

Fleeing Indians against Indian pursuers.

At one point Opothleyahola's fighters set the prairie grass aflame to better silhouette their targets in the fading daylight.

Jerome continued, "They were able to fend their pursuers off pretty easily. So they began to retreat and go back south toward the river."

"Superior fire power met with superior tactics," remarks a visitor.

"Right," agrees Jerome. "I think that's probably what it was."

The fight that day ended in a draw.

Both sides retreated.

"The actual battle took place in November," says Jerome.

But for more than 20 years, Civil War re-enactors gathered in February to choose up sides again.

This year's battle, the 21st annual, served as the first camp out of the season for re-enactors.

No one is really certain exactly where that first battle took place.

The 'back forty' of Randall Newby's church marked the best high ground for the past four years, to remember the first shots between reluctant participants in what proved to be a long, painful war.