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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Soldier and Brave
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service National Historic Landmark FORT SCOTT NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Fort Scott

Location: Bourbon County, at the junction of U.S. 54 and U.S. 69, city of Fort Scott; address: Fort Scott National Historic Site, P.O. Box 918, Fort Scott, KS 66701-0918.

Fort Scott was unique among frontier forts. Its missions over the years were more variegated than most. Although towns grew up alongside many posts and enjoyed a close interrelationship, that between Fort Scott and the town of the same name was unusually cohesive. Few of the towns experienced as tumultuous a life as Fort Scott. The military history of the fort and town may be divided into three distinct phases. In the period 1842-53, as one of the chain of posts on the "Permanent Indian Frontier," the fort had a broad role in Indian affairs. During the Civil War, in 1862-65, it was a key Union post in the West. During the years 1869-73, the town was the headquarters for troops protecting workers constructing a railroad through the region.

The 1st Dragoons founded the fort in 1842, only 5 miles from the Missouri border on lands ceded to but unoccupied by various New York tribes. The post was established to help control and protect the eastern Indians who were relocated to Indian Territory in the 1830's and to improve communications among forts. Situated on the Marmaton River about equidistant between Fort Leavenworth, Kans., and Fort Gibson, Okla., it sat astride the new 286-mile Fort Leavenworth-Fort Gibson Military Road. Personnel from Fort Wayne, Okla. (1838-42), discontinued because the Cherokees resented its existence on their lands, built and garrisoned Fort Scott.

The dragoons policed Indian Territory, prevented the encroachment of frontiersmen, and maintained peace in the region. In conjunction with troops from Fort Leavenworth, Kans., they took part in three major expeditions: those led by Capt. Philip St. George Cooke (1843), Maj. Clifton Wharton (1844), and Col. Stephen W. Kearny (1845). Ranging the northern Plains and the Rocky Mountains, the dragoons marched as far as New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Their goals included general exploration and reconnaissance, protection of the Oregon-California and Santa Fe Trails, and negotiation with and pacification of the Indians.

Many troops from the fort served in the Mexican War (1846-48). Afterwards, the post resumed patrolling the Santa Fe Trail. But in 1853, the military frontier having moved westward, the Army inactivated the post. Two years later, not owning the land, the Government sold the buildings at public auction.

The town of Fort Scott, which then grew up around the abandoned fort, was a focal point for the turmoil and violence that plagued Kansas and Missouri during the decade preceding the Civil War. The "Free-State Hotel," a stopping point of John Brown's antislavery followers, occupied one of the former fort's officers' quarters. Directly across the parade ground, in an old barracks next to the hospital, stood the "Pro-Slavery Hotel" (in 1862 renamed the Western Hotel). Federal troops, frequently assigned to the town for the purpose of quelling disorder, resided in tent camps in the vicinity.

In 1862 the Union reactivated Fort Scott. It served as a headquarters, supply and troop depot, prisoner-of-war camp, general hospital, training center for black and Indian troops, recruiting point, and refuge for displaced Indians and Union sympathizers who fled from Arkansas. Although never directly attacked, the fort was an important link between men and supplies in the north and the battles and campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, and Indian Territory.

The third and last military occupation of the town of Fort Scott involved a mission as unique as the earlier two. It resulted from a land controversy concerning the building of the Missouri River, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railroad through the Cherokee Neutral Lands. These consisted of some 800,000 acres in southeastern Kansas that had been awarded the Cherokees in 1835 but reacquired by the U.S. Government in 1866 as a price for the Cherokee Nation's pro-Confederacy stance. The land claims of the squatter farmers on the neutral lands had not been confirmed, so the railroad obtained title from the Government. The settlers, contending the railroad's land title was fraudulent, attacked construction posts and workmen. The Army designated the town of Fort Scott as headquarters for the "Post of Southeast Kansas" (1869-73), but did not occupy the former fort. Troops protected construction crews from a series of camps along the right-of-way.

Officers' Quarters
Restored Officers' Quarters No. 1 and front corner of Officers' Quarters No. 2, Fort Scott. (photo by Margaret Mercer, National Park Service)

At the time of publication (1971), Fort Scott Historic Area is located in the northeastern part of the business district of the town of Fort Scott. Authorized by Congress in 1964, it is preserved by the city of Fort Scott through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service. Although the city of Fort Scott encroaches upon the fort site, long-range plans call for removal of nonhistorical structures and restoration of the area to approximate the 1842-53 period. Museum exhibits will interpret other phases of the fort's history. The city has initiated archeological investigation and plans to restore several structures and rebuild others.

On October 19, 1978 the area was designated Fort Scott National Historic Site. All of the site's 20 historic structures, its parade ground, and its five acres of restored tallgrass prairie bear witness to this era when the United States was forged from a young divided republic into a united and powerful transcontinental nation. It is the mission of the National Park Service at Fort Scott National Historic Site to preserve, protect and interpret nationally significant historic resources related to the opening of the West, the Permanent Indian Frontier, the Mexican-American War, Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War and the expansion of railroads.

The primary extant sites and structures, dating from the 1840's, include the parade ground; 2-1/2 two-story frame officers' quarters, in good condition; the hospital, a frame shell; the well; and some stone outbuildings, all in fair condition. One of the officers' quarters, before the Civil War the "Free-State Hotel," was restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1939 and rebuilt after a fire in 1967. Just north of the group of officers' quarters is a squared-log blockhouse known as "Fort Blair," a Civil War fortification. Moved from its original location some five blocks distant, it has been completely reconstructed. Scheduled for reconstruction are two infantry and one dragoon barracks, the guard house, and the well canopy, all of frame; wooden flagpole; and the stone magazine. One of the infantry barracks was the "Pro-Slavery" (Western) Hotel. Many Fort Scott soldiers, as well as others who died in the region during the Indian wars, are buried in the national cemetery on the southern edge of the town of Fort Scott.

NHL Designation: 07/04/61

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Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005