Fort Dodge History
Dodge was one of the most important forts
on the western frontier. It is located to the east of the Caches, a
noted landmark on the
Kansas. The fort
was established on April 10, 1865 by Captain Henry Pierce, by order of
Major General Grenville M. Dodge. The fort’s primary
purpose was to protect the
wagon trains along the Santa Fe Trail on their way to
The need for a
fort at this location was great; an unusually large camp site for the
fort was situated where the dry route and the wet route of the Santa
intersected. The dry route came across the divide from
Larned on the
Pawnee River, while the wet route followed the river.
The dry route,
often called the Jornado de Muerti, the journey of death, was often
without water the whole distance and trains would lay up to recruit
after making the passage. When the
Indians discovered this
popular stopping off point, they began to attack the many unwary
emigrants and freighters traveling through the area.
fortifications were crude earth dugouts excavated along the north bank
Arkansas River. Many men first stationed there were
Confederates who preferred a fight with the Indians to languishing,
perhaps dying, in northern prisons. The
soldiers had no lumber or
hardware, so they had to use the available materials, grass and earth,
to create the 70 sod dugouts. These were 10 X 12 feet in circumference
and seven feet deep. A door to the south faced the river and a hole in
the roof admitted air and light. Banks of earth were bunks for the soddies that slept from two to four men. Sanitation was poor and
spring rains flooded the dugouts. Pneumonia, dysentery, diarrhea and
malaria were common that first year in the isolated fort.
1867 Fort Dodge was relocated and rebuilt in stone buildings. In 1868
Kiowa Indians attacked Fort Dodge, killing four
wounding seventeen. As a result, General Philip H. Sheridan came to Fort Dodge in the summer of 1868. He
pitched his camp on the hill north of the fort and started outfitting
his command against the Indians.
In the fall of
1868, General Alfred Sully took command at the fort in preparation for
winter campaign against the plains Indians. When the preparations for
the expedition were well under way and his army practically ready to
march, General Sully was sent home and
General George A. Custer carried on the campaign.
In its heyday, up to four companies of troops occupied the post; but, as the
Indian threat was reduced, it was only occupied by about a dozen men in its
In December, 1880, a portion of Fort Dodge's
reserved Lands were opened to homesteaders. However, the vast majority of those
who settled were not homesteaders, but, rather, Dodge City
saloon keepers, gamblers, and "ladies of the night".
Two years later, the fort was closed in June, 1882, creating surprise among the
people who were terrified of
Indian raids. The last of the troops marched southward to
Camp Supply when the flag was lowered on October 2, 1882. Fort Dodge, Guardian
of the commercial frontier, the cattleman and homesteader, had fulfilled its
purpose. A single custodian was
assigned to keep watch over the property. During this period, a number of
buildings were torn down or moved away, but many of the stone buildings
The military reservation was transferred
to the Interior Department on January 12, 1885. The following year, more
of the fort's land was opened for settlement in May, 1886 and about 100 claims
were staked off. One of these claims was made by Dodge City
entrepreneur, Robert Wright, who managed to exploit the facilities by housing
drovers who awaited the sale of their cattle, and by purchasing land surrounding
the Fort with money he earned selling whiskey and buffalo hides.
In the meantime, some Dodge City residents were working with government
officials to utilize the still functional buildings for a
retired soldiers' home. After much work toward that goal, a federal law
was enacted in 1889 authorizing the use of the post as a soldiers' home by the
State of Kansas. The Kansas Soldiers' Home was opened on in early 1890.
When rebuilding and repairing began on the
Home, the character of the famous old post was sustained.