Location: Fort Scott, Kansas
Webpage: National Park
General Description: In 1842, Fort Scott was established along the military road as one of a series of military forts from Minnesota to Louisiana to “permanently” separate the Indians territory in what is now Oklahoma and Kansas from white settlers. Fort Scott filled the gap between Fort Leavenworth to the north and Fort Gibson to the south. At the time of its construction it was intended to maintain this separation forever, however, this lasted less than 20 years beginning with the Santa Fe and Oregon trails that the soldiers also had to patrol. When the soldiers were pulled out for the Mexican-American War in 1846 the fort was still not completed. Unlike most military forts, these frontier forts did not have defensive walls or structures. The wide open terrain and artillery power made these structures unnecessary, especially as wood was scarce. When finally completed, the fort consisted of a stable for 80 horses, three enlisted men barracks, a hospital, a guardhouse, the post headquarters, quartermaster storehouse, and 4 three-story duplexes for officers. By 1853 Fort Scott was considered to be obsolete and the buildings were sold at auction in 1855 in favor of the more western Fort Riley. However, Fort Scott was not then lost to history as the unrest over slavery grew beginning with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This Act created the Kansas and Nebraska territories and declared the residents would decide the slavery issue themselves by popular vote. In Kansas, people on both sides of the controversial issue began flooding in to influence the vote and violence broke out. Three distinct political groups occupied Kansas – pro-slavers, free-staters, and abolitionists. This era became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” The townspeople in the new town of Fort Scott were primarily pro-slavers, while free-staters and abolitionists dominated the surrounding countryside. Two of the buildings in the fort became hotels, a former officers’ quarters became the Fort Scott Hotel, nicknamed “Free State” Hotel and an infantry barracks directly across the drill field was the Western Hotel, a headquarters for pro-slavery men. In 1858, radical elements of both factions converged on Fort Scott when there was an attempt to burn down the Western Hotel. During this era, the soldiers periodically returned to Fort Scott to restore law and order, which worked only while the soldiers were there. By the time the territorial strife declined in 1859, nearly 60 people had died and hundreds were terrorized throughout the territory. However, the anti-slavery forces finally prevailed and Kansas entered the Union as a free state in January, 1861. However, this struggle became a national battle with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, which brought the army back to Fort Scott. It was viewed as a strategic point in southeast Kansas against a possible Confederate invasion. Troops reoccupied many of the old fort buildings, including the stables and hospital and began construction of new buildings and over 40 miles of fortifications. Fort Scott was a major supply depot and a general hospital for soldiers and a haven for people fleeing the war. American Indians and African-Americans were recruited to form Union regiments, such as the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry. It was a target for the military stores and Confederate General Price made two unsuccessful attempts to capture it early in the war. Intense guerilla fighting along the state line between the pro-Union Jayhawkers and pro-Confederate Bushwackers continued throughout the war. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the fort was again abandoned by the army as the nation began to heal and unify. Railroads were a large part of this process and Fort Scott became a hub for this prosperity when the railroads came to the town in 1869. As workers laid tracks to the south they came into conflict with squatters who forcefully opposed the railroad. The army returned to Fort Scott once again establishing the Post of Southeast Kansas to protect the railroad workers. Thus there was a rare occurrence of the army took up arms against American citizens to protect business interests. Especially since Fort Scott continued to be used by the citizens of the town and the return of the army multiple times, the original buildings surrounding the drill field are in remarkable shape and all but one of the officer duplexes and some of the quartermaster buildings have survived.
1) The first impression of Fort Scott is the amazing condition of the buildings making up the fort which were built in 1842-45. This attest both to the quality of the construction and their continued use over the years by the town. Most of the buildings have been restored to their original condition, except for one of the duplexes used to illustrate the changes made to the interior over time. Any exploration of the fort needs to start in the Visitor Center, which was the hospital and contains some nice exhibits
2) The rest of the fort is a self guided tour with many exhibits and interpretive panels in each of the building and on the drill field. We were there just prior to Memorial Day weekend, so the field was filled with 7000 American flags to honor all those Americans killed by terrorists since 9-11.
3) The first building to visit is the Infantry Barracks next to hospital where there is a great video about the rich history of the fort. There are also exhibits about the importance of Fort Scott during different parts of its history.
4) The largest building in the Fort is the Dragoon stables which housed 80 horses for the Dragoons. Only part of this building was open as they are still working on the exhibits, but you can still get a feel for the horses home. Next to the stable is the Dragoon Barracks, which is what the cavalry was called before the Civil War. This barracks was interesting because it had its own kitchen, dining room, and laundry facilities with the dragoons living on the second floor.
5) Only two of the duplexes for officers are open to the public. The first, which was the Fort Scott Hotel, has been restored to the condition and use as an officers quarters. The second duplex has been maintained essentially as it was found when the National Park obtained the buildings. A detailed brochure points out the changes in the structural features, as well as the original features that are still there. This detailed accounting was fascinating.
6) Not much is left of the Quartermaster complex where all the stores were kept and much of the construction occurred. The only remaining buildings are the Storehouse and Bake House.
7) Finally, be sure to check out the Guardhouse which is open so you can see just how dark the cells were.