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 ½ 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.
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.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated January 2018.