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Kansas Forts - Page 5

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Fort Saunders, KansasFort Saunders (1855-1856) - A pro-slavery stronghold during the Kansas-Missouri Border War, the fort, which was nothing more than a well built log cabin, was located on Washington Creek about 12 miles southwest of Lawrence. The stronghold belonged to a pro-slavery settler named Saunders and in the summer of 1856 it became the rendezvous point and headquarters of pro-slavery men under the leadership of Colonel Treadwell, who was engaged in plundering and harassing the Free-State settlers. Saunders had a corn crusher, and on August 11, 1856, Major S. D. Hoyt, a Free-State man, made an excuse to visit the fort to get a sack of corn crushed, but at the same time to see if some arrangement could not be reached with Colonel Treadwell to stop the depredations of his gang. Hoyt was regarded as a spy, and on his return he was brutally murdered.

Appeals to the United States troops to break up the rendezvous were made in vain, the commanding officers saying they could not act without orders, and these the territorial authorities refused to issue. After the murder of Hoyt the citizens took matters in their own hands. On August 15th a body of Free-State men, under command of James Lane and Joel Grover, advanced upon the fort, but their movement was discovered and Treadwell and his men fled. Fort Saunders was then burned to the ground.

Fort Titus, Kansas is part of Lecompton todayFort Titus (1855-1856) - During the fight to decide whether Kansas would be a Free-State or a pro-slavery state, the capitol moved several times. In the spring of 1855, the official capital of Kansas Territory was in Lecompton, Kansas and was governed by pro-slavery advocates. However, there were numerous settlers in the area who had expressly moved to Kansas Territory in order to ensure that it would become a Free-State, many of whom lived in nearby Lawrence, Kansas, the unofficial Free-State capitol. The tensions between these two factions erupted in what is known as the Kansas-Missouri Border War. One of the main pro-slavery advocates was a man named Colonel Henry T. Titus, who built a fortified log house about two miles south of Lecompton, which soon became a rendezvous place for pro-slavery men.

After Free-State men had destroyed another slavery stronghold referred to as Fort Saunders on August 15, 1856, the Jayhawkers turned their attention to Fort Titus the following day. At dawn, some 400 Free-Staters, divided into two parties, surrounded Fort Titus and a cannon was pointed directly at the fortified cabin. In the battle that ensued, the Free-State men killed one man and wounded six others, including Colonel Titus.


When the pro-slavery advocates finally surrendered, the Jayhawkers captured some 400 muskets, a large number of knives and pistols, 13 horses, several wagons, supplies and provisions, $10,000 in gold and bank drafts, and 34 prisoners. However, the Jayhawkers also suffered in the battle, with six men wounded and one killed. The victors then burned Fort Titus to the ground and the prisoners were taken to Lawrence where they were "exchanged" on August 18th under a treaty made between Governor Wilson Shannon and the Free-State leaders. Today, the Titus cabin has been rebuilt by the Lecompton Historical Society, and sits about 100 yards southeast of the Territorial Capitol Museum.




Fort Wakarusa (1856?) - During the territorial days of Kansas, while the opposing parties gathered were referred to as "forts." Fort Wakarusa was a Free-State fortification at the crossing of the Wakarusa River, near the old town of Sebastian, about five miles southeast of Lawrence. Though a description of the fort is not available, it was most likely similar to that of other "forts" of that day --  log cabin surrounded by a line of earthworks, or perhaps a line of palisades.

Fort Wallace (1865-1882) - First established as a Butterfield Overland Dispatch station on the Smoky Hill Trail in 1865, it was called the Pond Creek Stage Station. Located 1 miles west of present-day Wallace, Kansas, the stop was a rest station that provided food to travelers. However, the route was not without peril and the station saw so many Indian attacks, that a temporary military camp called Camp Pond Creek was situated right next to it. Due to the Indian Raids, the stage line soon became and in 1866 was sold. The soldiers moved a few miles east to the south fork of the Smoky Hill River and the new post was named Fort Wallace in honor of General W.H.L. Wallace,  who died at the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War. Built by the soldiers, the buildings were constructed of native stone or wood which peaked at 40 in number.

The western most frontier post in Kansas was kept busy trying to protect travelers as the Indians, whose homeland was being invaded, continued to attack. The troops, which never exceeded more than 350, and averaged just 75, saw more Indian encounters than any other fort, earning Fort Wallace the nickname, the "Fightin'est Fort in the West." 

In addition to the constant dangerous battles, the soldiers suffered from a lack of food and a number of disease outbreaks, including cholera in 1867. That same year, in June, Lieutenant Lyman Kidder led ten men from the 7th Cavalry from Fort Wallace, headed for Fort Sedgwick, Colorado. They never made it. All eleven of the men were killed by Indians at Beaver Creek in present-day Sherman County on July 1, 1867.


Pond Creek Stage Station, Wallace, Kansas

Fort Wallace, Kathy Weiser, March, 2009. This image available for photo prints & commercial  downloads HERE.


During the years, several important men were stationed at the fork including General George Armstrong Custer, who fought in his first Indian battle not far from the fort, as well as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and George Forsyth.

The troops continued to protect the trail until it was officially decommissioned on May 31, 1882. A small detachment of soldiers was left to protect the fort for a period of  time, but they too, eventually were removed. Because of the scarcity of materials in the region, settlers scavenged building materials and sometimes moved entire buildings from the post. Within a few short years, everything was gone.

Though nothing remains of the fort itself, the City of Wallace features the Fort Wallace Museum and the Pond Creek Stage Station is located just to the west. 


Fort Zarah (1864-1869) - Due to the frequent Indian attacks in the area, Camp Dunlap was established two miles east of present day Great Bend in July, 1864. Situated at the point where the Santa Fe Trail crossed Walnut Creek, it was initially little more than a camp of tents and dugouts near the site of the old Rath Ranch Trading Post. However, work soon began on a more permanent facility about 100 yards distant and commanded by General Samuel R. Curtis. The post renamed Fort Zarah for General Curtis' son, Major H. Zarah Curtis, who was killed at the Baxter Springs Massacre while serving on the staff of General Blunt. In 1866, the post was replaced by a more substantial fort about mile up Walnut Creek. Built of sandstone moved from the bluffs about three miles away, the fort was 116 feet long and about 50 feet wide and cost about $100,000 to build.


Old drawing of Fort Zarah

Old drawing of Fort Zarah.


On September 30, 1868, by order of President Andrew Johnson, the Fort Zarah military reservation was established, and it was surveyed the same year. It contained about 3,700 acres and extended from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad north to the hills. The fort was dismantled in December, 1869, and an act of Congress, approved February 24, 1871 provided for the survey and sale of the reservation. in July, 1874 the assets were offered at public sale at Salina, but less than 50 acres were sold at that time, and the rest sat abandoned. Bernard Bryan Smyth, in his Heart of the New Kansas," published in 1880, said: "After the abandonment of the fort it became a den of thieves and general rendezvous for bats and marauders. These occupied it day and night by turns -- he former hiding by day, the latter by night." The stone used in the construction of the fort was gradually appropriated by the settlers in the vicinity, and the "bats and marauders" were finally rendered homeless.  Nothing remains of the site today, but it is designated with a historical marker located about 1.5 miles east of Great Bend on U.S. Highway 56.

Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February, 2014.


Also See:


Forts of the American West

Haunted Forts & Battle Grounds

List of Old West Forts


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