As the sun came up on a bitterly cold morning in January 1870, a sentry patrolling the grounds around Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory discovered the body of one of the fort's troopers, young private Thomas, lying dead across a grave in the cemetery neat the fort. The body was taken to the fort's infirmary and as the doctor tried to discover the cause of death, an unusual discovery was made.... Private Thomas, who had enlisted only a few weeks before, was a woman.
As the doctor and the fort's commanding officer pondered just how she had managed to pass herself off as a man and get into the Army, the old priest at the fort came forward with one of the strangest stories in American military history. Thomas had given her secret to the old priest just a few days before her death.
The priest's story was the beginning of the legend of Vivia, which has been told by the people of eastern Oklahoma ever since.

Vivia Thomas was the daughter of a wealthy family from Boston. She had been educated at the finest schools and attended the finest affairs of Boston society. It was during one of these elegant parties following the Civil War that Vivia met and fell in love with a handsome Army officer.
After several months of courtship, their engagement and wedding plans were announced, but then suddenly, shortly before their wedding day, the young officer disappeared. He left Vivia an apologetic note and explained that he was going out west in search of adventure.
Brokenhearted and seeking revenge for the embarrassment that the young man had caused her, Vivia left home in search of the man who had betrayed her. When she learned that he had been stationed at Fort Gibson, in the Indian Territory, her journey began. The trip was extremely difficult but the fury in her heart pushed her onward.

During the several months of her journey, Vivia cut off all of her long, flowing hair and started dressing in men's clothing. At first, her motive had simply been to disguise herself for protection while traveling through rough country, but the disguise proved so successful that she decided to use it to get close to the young officer by enlisting in the Army at Fort Gibson.
In the months that followed, she somehow avoided detection and she carefully stayed away from her former lover, watching him closely and wondering how she would go about exacting her revenge upon him. The young officer had taken up with an Indian woman who lived a short distance from the fort and he visited her each evening. Vivia followed him through the darkness on may occasions, each time growing more bitter.

On a cold winter evening in late December of 1869, Vivia followed the officer on his trip. She waited for him behind and outcropping of stone and when he rode by on his horse, she shot him with her rifle, hitting him in the chest and knocking him off of his horse. She left him there on the ground and the next morning, his body was discovered by a passerby and brought to the fort. The soldiers at the fort assumed that he had been killed by Indians.

At first, Vivia was happy that her quest for revenge had been satisfied, but then after a few days, she realized what she had done and became deeply grieved. She began leaving her quarters every night and going to the young man's grave, where she wept uncontrollably and would pray for hours for forgiveness.
Then, one night, she froze to death on the grave and she was found the next morning. But has she found peace? Many believe that she has not and it is said that her spirit still haunts the national cemetery which is located near the fort. People claim to have seen an apparition of a young soldier there, pacing about and weeping loudly. Could it be that of Vivia Thomas?

Regardless, the story of this young woman touched the commanding officers at the fort. In the national cemetery stands a large circle called the Circle of Honor, which was set aside for soldiers who had distinguished themselves in service. Among the graves here is one stone that seems out of place. It simply reads "Vivia Thomas, January 7, 1870".

Fort Gibson is located just outside of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma in the eastern part of the state. It is a few miles northeast of Muskogee.

Copyright 1998 by Troy Taylor

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