2021: History Boy Summer (Part 19) Fort Scott Historic Site

As I discussed in my entry for my recent trip to The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, some of my fondest childhood memories involve my mother (and Grandparents when I was very young) taking me to a handful of historic sites near where we lived – most notably Lexington, MO and Fort Scott. Kansas. I remember really getting excited for history at this time, and especially The Civil War. It didn’t hurt that this was the time that the famous Ken Burns The Civil War docu-series on PBS, and unlike most children my age, I loved watching it every week that it was on. Fort Scott was always cool because it was relatively close to where I lived in Kansas. We didn’t go there constantly or anything, but I definitely remember more than a few trips over, and I especially enjoyed seeing the cannons and other armaments.

Fort Scott; Fort Scott, Kansas

As part of this, I ended up going to Fort Scott on a complete whim. We were in Nevada, MO, for the Bushwhacker Museum and Bushwhacker Jail trip, and my son asked if “there were any other museums nearby” – knowing we were a stone’s throw from Fort Scott, we made out way across the state line.

Background:

From Wikipedia:

“The Cherokee of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) were upset to have Fort Wayne in their proximity. After some delay, the US Army decided to abandon Fort Wayne and move its soldiers to a new fort to be built between Fort Leavenworth and the site. The Army both wanted to placate the Cherokee (who were supervised by the Department of Defense) and provide more defense for white settlers and other Indians against the Osage, who had been conducting frequent raids in the area. On April 1, 1842, some soldiers of Fort Wayne left their fort and on April 22 arrived where Fort Scott would be built, in the Osage Cuestas section of modern-day Kansas. After haggling with the Cherokees to acquire the land, the rest of Fort Wayne’s garrison left the fort on May 26 and arrived at the Fort Scott site on May 30. 

Unlike most forts for military use, the fort did not have defensive walls or structures when first built; the wide-open area and the available artillery made an enclosed fort unnecessary. The soldiers concentrated on building structures for lodging the men, animals, and equipment. These buildings were on the edges of a 350-foot (110 m) parade ground.

[…]

Due to the rising tensions that escalated in the Mexican–American War, the US Army redeployed troops to the Southwest. With Fort Scott still uncompleted, officials decided on April 25, 1850, that no more construction would be done there, after eight years and $35,000. By the time it was finished, it was obsolete; three years later, it was abandoned by the military in favor of the more western Fort Riley.

[…]

During the American Civil War, the fort was renewed as a US military post. In August 1861, the Union Army took command of Fort Scott, and readied it for the war times. The United States Army also took over several blocks within the town for commissary and quartermaster functions. The Union Army rented the properties from the current civilian owners. Troops from Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin would come to the fort, and either stayed by the fort, or traveled farther, to subjugate Missouri, Arkansas, or the Indian Territory. Fort Scott was one of the few installations that recruited and trained black soldiers for the United States Colored Troops of the Union Army.

A major supply depot was situated at the fort. Confederate general Sterling Price hoped to capture the town, but the closest the Confederate force came to the garrison was 10 miles (16 km) away at Battle of Dry Wood Creek. The site was strategically important as it was within a Southern-sympathizing area and close to the Confederate state of Arkansas and the “unstable” Indian Territory (present-day state of Oklahoma), where many of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes were allied with the Confederates. The fort served as a “general hospital” (large military hospital) and prison until after the war.  Following the end of the war, in October 1865 the US Army left the facilities and sold off by auction what they controlled.”

Reading:

At fort Scott, I found a book in the gift shop about the fort by Leo E. Oliva. While nothing earth-shattering, it basically does a great job of summarizing the history of the fort as well as what life on the frontiers on Antebellum Kansas was like. This book is a volume in a series of books about various Kansas Forts, so I may end up having to get some others and perhaps plan some excursions further out. That is assuming they aren’t too far away! Feel free to check my review of the book out and consider a purchase on the linked Amazon page.

“All in all, this was a very informative book on Fort Scott, it thoroughly explained every point in the fort’s history that had any sort of importance and was chock full of beautiful photographs if available, or artist renderings to convey the information within. Considering the size of the book, it’s a very quick read; an average reader can blow through it in one or two sittings. That said, the book does not feel anemic in any way – the entire history of the Fort is explained thoroughly and there were no points where I was left looking for blanks to be filled in.”

The Trip:

It’s been probably a decade since I’ve been to Fort Scott, so there have definitely been more than a few changes. The museum/exhibition component has definitely been modernized, featuring audio/visual presentations and living history dramatizations. With Covid-19 in mind, I was sort of weary of this, considering people were handling an earpiece that anyone shared that visited the exhibit, so be sure sure to bring some hand sanitizer if you are going when all this is still happening. That said, certain areas of the park were blocked off due to Covid-19 concerns, masks were mandatory indoors, and seating in the video auditorium was spread out. It seems that precautions were definitely in place.

We particularly enjoyed a prairie “nature trail” area that has been added to the grounds. The groundskeepers have allowed a large area of the grass to grow naturally, and then cut a large path in it allowing patrons to walk through wild flowers and see all sort of wild bugs hopping around and such. This was pretty gorgeous and gave plenty of photo opportunities.

Conclusion:

While no huge battle or anything happened at Fort Scott, it’s still an awesome historical site to see, containing a huge assortment of military artifacts and other items made to look of the period. I would love to be able to come when there are re-enactors participating in something on the parade grounds, as the sight alone would be incredible. If you are in that area of Kansas, you can’t beat a free park with such a wonderful history and definite care for maintaining all aspects of the grounds. I’ve seen so many historic sites this summer that are sadly falling into disrepair, some on either side of the state line – so seeing this so well-kept is great.

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