Fort Hays -
History & Hauntings
Fort Hays History:
Fletcher was established on October 11, 1865 as a frontier military post
to protect military roads, defend construction gangs on the Union Pacific
Railroad, and guard the U.S. mail. Also tasked with protecting the
stage and freight wagons of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch, the
defended travelers from Southern
The post was
first designated Fort Fletcher, in honor of Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of
On November 17, 1866, the fort's
name was changed to Fort Hays, for General Isaac G. Hays, who had been
killed at the Battle of the Wilderness during the
Located on Big Creek about
14 miles southeast of where Hays City would later be
built, the post was situated on low-lying land along the
creek, and was utterly destroyed by a flood that occurred in the spring of 1867,
in which several
Soldiers lost their lives. The forts site was abandoned.
General Alfred Gibbs, then a major in the
Seventh United States Cavalry, soon selected a new site by order of
General Winfred Hancock. The new location was about ¾ of a mile from
where Hays City would soon be established and comprised about 7,500
acres. A number of substantial buildings were established and in
its early years, nearly 600 hundred troops were stationed there.
General Philip Sheridan's headquarters were at Fort Hays at the
time of the Black Kettle raid in 1868.
Some of the famous figures associated with
the fort included
General Nelson Miles,
General Philip Sheridan, and
Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. It was also the home
of several well-known
Indian Wars regiments such as the Seventh U.S.
Cavalry, the Fifth U.S. Infantry, and the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, whose
black troopers were better known as
buffalo soldiers. After
twenty-five years of service, Fort Hays was abandoned on November 8,
1889 after the
military reservation was transferred to the Interior Department on
November 6, 1889, and to the state, by a Congressional act on March 28,
original stone blockhouse, guardhouse and officers' quarters have been
renovated. Displays through the historic site illustrate pioneer and
military history. The museum was opened in
1967 and is administered by the
State Historical Society. Part of the site is now the campus of
Fort Hays State University.
Haunting -- When a cholera epidemic hit Fort Hays,
in 1867, a young woman named Elizabeth Polly was among those who
attended to and comforted the ill and dying. Some say she was a
trained nurse, while others maintain she had no medical training. When she wasn’t working tirelessly with the sick
soldiers, she was
said to take a moment to stroll upon nearby Sentinel Hill.
Fort Hays Officer's Quarters, September,
2006, Kathy Weiser.
she too, contracted the disease and her dying wish was to be buried upon
the hill. In the fall of 1867, she was given a full military funeral but
were unable to grant her last wish as the hill is composed of bedrock, so
she was buried at its base.
In 1905 Fort
hays was closed. The
soldiers bodies were moved to
Fort Leavenworth and the civilian
bodies were placed in the Hays City Cemetery. Elizabeth’s body was left
where it lay.
recorded report of her sighting was made by a man named John Schmidt in
1917, who reported seeing a woman dressed in blue walking across his farm
towards Sentinel Hill. Following her, the apparition walked into one
of his sheds, but when he arrived no one was there and nothing had been
1950’s a patrolman claimed to have hit a woman dressed in a long blue
dress with a white bonnet with his patrol car. However, when the officer
got out of the car, there was no woman and no damage to the vehicle.
continues to roam the hill in her long blue dress and white bonnet. Purportedly, her ghostly spirit emits a blue light and the locals began to
call her the Blue Light Lady. The ghost of Elizabeth Polly has been
seen many times over the years haunting the lonely hilltop that she had
frequented so often in life.
Today there is a park at
Fort Hays that honors her memory. In 1941, Elizabeth’s body was reportedly
moved to the summit of the hill and in the 1960’s a marker was placed at
her gravesite that reads "The Lonely Grave.”
Fort Hays Blockhouse, September, 2006, Kathy
Access to the grave is difficult by car and the last hundred yards or so
must be covered by foot. Hays is located at the junction of Interstate 70
and US Highway 183 in central
Kansas. Fort Hays is now
a state historic site southwest of town. Elizabeth’s grave sits at
the top of Sentinel Hill just southwest of Old Fort Hays.
of America, updated November 2014.
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