July 2, 2012 Leave a comment
From an informational marker at Fort Simcoe:
A LAST REQUEST
Born August 4, 1841, Ruffin Thomson was a young man in Mississippi when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted in the Confederate Army and was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1864, he was appointed Second Lieutenant and ended the war at Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1865.
Following his military service, he became a medical doctor, married, and eventually settled in Florida with his family. While there, he was offered an appointment as clerk at the Yakama Indian Agency. He arrived here at Fort Simcoe in February 1888 at the age of 46. Within a month after his arrival, he became ill and died. At his request he was buried here, near the oak grove, “where the sun shines brightly from heaven and the birds sing over my grave.”
On Father’s Day, 1966, a new grave marker was placed commemorating Thomson’s military service. Water from the Pearl River (which bordered his family farm), Lake Wier (near his Florida home) and the Mississippi River was poured on the grave site. Soil from Mississippi and Florida was mixed with the earth of Washington and the Yakama Nation, and spread over the grave site.
Fort Simcoe (near modern day White Swan) was established by the U.S. Army in the 1850′s to help keep the peace between settlers and various groups of Indians that make up the Yakama Nation. During the Civil War, the Army left the fledgling installation. Following the war, the Yakama Indian Agency (created by the federal government) operated a school and other institutions at the site.
The site is an oasis, with oak trees sustained through natural springs which bubble to the surface in the area. Because of the water source, this area was highly prized by both natives and settlers. The Army located their fort here because of this strategic value.
My personal connections:
During my Army service in Korea, I was assigned to the 9th Infantry Regiment (which traces its history in part through Fort Simcoe). This is the regiment that was tasked with founding Fort Simcoe. This is history I can personally identify with. In addition, at the time the fort was founded, the unit came from Virginia. When the Civil War broke out, officers and soldiers ended up fighting on both sides of the conflict.
As a native of Tennessee, I have ancestry that fought for both the North and the South. Realizing that men left Fort Simcoe, Washington, in order to join units that would eventually fight each other, was an emotional moment for me. It is hard to imagine such a thing happening with our current military, but it is important to realize how vital it is to have a unifying national culture we can all support.
A number of the officers serving at Fort Simcoe went on to have prominent careers in the U.S. Civil War. I encourage you to make the drive to Fort Simcoe to learn more about the site for yourself.
Fort Simcoe is currently a Washington State Park, and is about one hour’s drive from Sunnyside.
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