Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fort Wallace

Fort Wallace Kansas

         Situated on the plains of western Kansas, The Army post is but a memory.  Built to protect travelers on the smoky Hill Trail from Indian attacks during the 1860’s.  Ft Wallace was one of many garrisons the Army constructed on the prairie.  The post cemetery is the only reminder that an Army garrison had been in the area.  Wallace Township cemetery is south of the military graveyard, and is probably the main reason the site did not become a collection of ruins. 

        When Ft Wallace was abandoned in the 1880’s, many of the soldiers that had been buried there were exhumed and reburied at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas, except for the soldiers that had died of cholera.  There were numerous civilians buried there also, they were given a wooden grave marker with a short eulogy about their death and there are some graves of scouts the Army used.  There is also a memorial for the soldiers that were killed by Indians during the Indian wars. 
        It is a rather somber yard to pause in and ponder.  One tends to forget the turmoil and hardship people had to endure back then.  Nearby is the Pond Creek state station and then the town of Wallace, an end of tracks railroad town.  The site of numerous bloody conflicts, among the Indians, the travelers, railroaders, gamblers and assorted wild times on the plains. 
        The state operates a museum at Wallace, Kansas and here at the Ft Wallace Museum, one can see many of the travails people faced when traveling the prairie during the 1860’s and 70’s.  The museum is on the site of the Pond Creek stage stop, just south of the railroad tracks and a couple of miles from Fort Wallace.  Here at the museum one can see the relationship between the people of the plains, their moments of tragedy, the joys of success and the celebrations of life. 
        The scouts the Army hired were not military, they were civilians, contracted to the military.  The scouts were the eyes and ears of the Army.  They knew the terrain, where the water was and had dealt with the Indians in the past.  Many had been Mountain Men, trappers and had made numerous trips across the plains. 
        One of the more famous scouts was Kit Carson, who had been chief scout for Colonel John Fremont, when he made his trips across the west.  The Pathfinder had taken various routs across Kansas to the Rocky Mountains, with trapper Kit Carson as his scout and guide. 
        Two of the scouts still buried at the Ft Wallace cemetery did not have a long life.  They were involved in the Battle of Beecher Island, where they lost their lives.  Beecher Island was one of the unusual fights with the Indians.  A party of Indians surprised a group of soldiers and killed some of the troopers before being driven off.  But the soldiers were trapped in the Aricakree River bottom by the Indians. 
        After an extended siege, the Indians withdrew from Beecher Island, when Troops from Ft Wallace could be seen on the horizon riding to the rescue.  The soldiers had been able to hold off the Indians with their repeating rifles.  It was also during this battle that the Indians lost one of their most feared warriors, Roman Nose.  Roman Nose was a revered warrior among the Cheyenne Indians standing over 6’5”, a giant of a man. 

        The site of the Beecher Island Battle has some conflict as to the actual site.  There are some that say the government is wrong that the fight took place further to the west in a steeper ravine.  Then things like that make for interesting conversation.  One thing for certain, the troops were from Fort Wallace.  There were numerous other battles the troopers of Ft Wallace were involved in.

        In the 1880’s when the fort was abandoned, it sat empty for some time with a caretaker.  With settlers moving in and homesteading in the 1890’s, the building material at the old fort became prized.  The settlers would sneak into the fort at night and haul out loads of lumber and stone for their home.  When the caretaker did nothing and was in different, the settlers stared driving their wagons in during daylight and scavenging what they wanted.  Today parts and pieces of Fort Wallace spread into the surrounding land.  
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