Fort Atkinson was first established in August 1850 by Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner, 1st U. S. Dragoons on the Middle Crossing of the Arkansas River near present-day Cimarron, Kansas. The temporary camp, first called Camp Mackay, was the first regular army post on the Santa Fe Trail in the midst of Indian Country. However, just a month later, Colonel E.V. Sumner determined that the post should be located below the “Crossing” and ordered the post moved to a point on the Arkansas River about two miles west of present-day Dodge City.
Soon soldiers of the Sixth U.S. Infantry were building a “permanent” fort of sod buildings because trees were scarce in the area. The fort continued to be known as Camp Mackay until June 1851 when it was changed to Fort Atkinson. However, the troops more familiarly referred to it as Fort Sumner, Camp #57 or “Fort Sod.” Later, when the place became infested with field mice that were destroying the buildings and provisions, the soldiers referred to the post as “Fort Sodom.”
On several occasions, the fort was surrounded by Comanche and Kiowa Indians who endeavored to cut off the post supplies which had to come from Fort Leavenworth, some 370 miles away. The troops were finally relieved by the timely arrival of Major Chilton with a detachment of the First Dragoons. The post was occupied until September 22, 1853, when it was abandoned. It was briefly reoccupied in June 1854 by the Sixth Infantry but was again abandoned a few months later in October and the buildings destroyed to prevent their occupancy by the Indians.
Nothing remains of the post today but a small marker located about two miles west of Dodge City, south of Highway 50, on the north side of the Arkansas River.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.