Captain Dangerfield Parker of the Third U.S. Infantry assumed command of Fort Larned from Maj. Asbury in September of 1868. He came with a company of the 3rd Infantry, while Major Asbury and Co. B of the same regiment went to Fort Dodge. Over the next two year period there would be eight different commanders at Fort Larned but Capt. Parker would be put in charge four different times for a total time in command of approximately a year and half during this period.
Capt. Parker’s total command at this time was 110 men from both the 10th Cavalry and 3rd Infantry. At some point in September the Indian Agency at Fort Larned was closed and moved to Fort Cobb in Oklahoma. This was partly due to a more warlike activity among the Cheyenne and Arapaho along the Santa Fe Trail that summer.
Capt. Parker decided that with Plains Indians in a state of unrest it would be wise to hire a scout or two to keep tabs on the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indians around the fort. He asked for $75 a month to hire two scouts but ended up hiring one for the same amount. The scout he hired, a man named William Cody, not only received $75 a month, he was also furnished with a riding mule, saddle and bridle, although he did have to supply his own weapons.
On November 1, 1868, Captain Parker was replaced by Major John Edmund Yard, only to reassume command on March 20, 1869. In a little over a month, though, in May of that same year, Capt. James Snyder was placed in command, only to be replaced in a month by Lt. Charles Louis Umbstaetter. By July, Capt. Parker was back in charge again and remained as post commander until December. The reason for such quick changes in command at these frontier posts is that whenever a higher ranking officer arrived he would be assigned to command the post, and the replaced officer would resume his company command duties, which is what Capt. Parker did. He remained at Fort Larned in command of his company during the times he was replaced as post commander by another officer.
While he was in command of the post, Major Yard would be the first post commander to occupy the newly completed sandstone post commander’s quarters that fall. He would also be the post commander who had to deal with the rising racial tension between the black troopers of Co. A and the white soldiers of the 3rd Infantry. These tensions eventually resulted in an altercation at the Sutler’s store on January 1st,1869. Instead of trying to figure out who was at fault, though, Maj. Yard apparently blamed the men of Co. A and sent them to guard the post woodpile in a blizzard. While they were away from the post the stables caught fire and burned to the ground. At this point, Maj. Yard decided the best way to handle to problems between the men was to send Co. A to Fort Zarah.
Over the fall and into early winter of 1868 more trouble with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians prompted district commander Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to organize a winter campaign against the Indians. He planned to have three columns of soldiers converge on them in Indian Territory: one coming east from Fort Bascom, New Mexico; one heading southeast from Fort Lyon, Colorado and the third going straight south from Fort Larned. The 7th Cavalry, with a large supply train, would eventually start out from Fort Larned near the end of November with Gen. Alfred Sully in charge.
Over the previous few months there had been plenty of Indian trouble in the area of Forts Larned and Zarah to keep the garrisons at both posts busy. Part of Fort Larned’s small garrison was placed on standby to assist with the upcoming winter campaign, while Co. A was on constant escort duty. In order to make sure the traffic along the Santa Fe Trail stayed safe from Indians most of the trains moved at night. Before he was replaced by Major Yard, Capt. Dangerfield hired six more scouts to help keep the post commander informed of the Indians’ movements and activities, especially when they came near the post. This made it possible to post extra guards around the corrals, stables and any other place the Indians liked to strike if they saw an opening to do so.
The expedition led by Sheridan and Custer that winter eventually resulted in a raid on Black Kettle’s camp and the Battle of the Washita on November 27, where not only warriors but many women, children and old men and women were killed, including Black Kettle himself. The survivors fled the area, and although there was no more fighting that winter, the stage was set for renewed hostilities in the spring.
During the winter a wooden bridge was built over the Pawnee River about 100 yards north of the fort, and with all the sandstone buildings completed, the few civilian mechanics and employees still around were relieved and sent away. Major Yard also requested another infantry unit sent to the Fort because by the middle of November he had only four senior enlisted and 30 privates available for duty. Definitely not enough soldiers to guard the haystack, watch the quarry and wood details, never mind actually providing escorts for the wagons.
The garrison faced a particularly cold winter that year, prompting Maj. Yard to allow an issue of an extra half allowance of fuel for the post to keep them warm. The ice was so thick on the Pawnee that large chunks were being regularly cut out and stored in the ice house.
By March Capt. Parker was back in command for two months, but without cavalry, and only 117 infantrymen, he told his superiors he would not be escorting any wagon trains that ignored the order to use the wet route of the Santa Fe Trail. In May, Capt. Snyder was placed in command once again, only to be shortly replaced by Lt. Charles Louis Umbsteatter in June. By July, Capt. Parker would be back in command again.
Throughout the hot summer of 1869 the soldiers attempted to grow company gardens, which did fine until rain and hailstones in June and high winds in July flattened them. To top off the failure, the blistering heat of August sucked them all dry. The soldiers on guard duty did get some relief from the heat when they were allowed to report for duty in their blouses instead of their dress coats. This helped to keep them a little cooler.
September brought cooler temperatures, as well as less to worry about with the Indians now that most of the area tribes had been sent to reservations south of the Arkansas River. There were other problems to be dealt with, though. Things like an outbreak of fever, vermin infesting the enlisted barracks, and figuring out a safe place to store the fort’s ammunition stores. On a good note, the post surgeon noted the fact that so much ice had been cut the winter before there was enough for everybody to have some, even those soldiers in the guard house.
By December, Capt. Parker was replaced for about a month by Capt. Snyder. At the same time another company of the 3rd Infantry arrived at Fort Larned, bringing the total from that regiment up to 111. Capt. Parker was back in command by January of 1870, and would remain as the post commander until October of that year.By February he received 60 new recruits, bringing the garrison total up to 191 men. The winter remained relatively quiet and Indians were now very rare in the area since most of them had been driven further south to Indian Country.
With the arrival of spring the soldiers once again went about the task of planting gardens, this time taking precautions to protect the plants from both wind and drought. The men from Co. C built a sod wall around their plot and put in a pump to irrigate the plants if the need arose.
In May of 1870, apparently thinking about the coming summer heat, Capt. Parker sent a request to his superiors for permission to use what could essentially be called a summer uniform for the soldiers. He proposed straw hats, flannel blue blouses with “shoulder straps pertaining to the rank of the wearer,” and white trousers. His superiors turned his request down, ruling that the standard uniforms for both officers and the enlisted men were to be worn throughout the year.
Capt. Dangerfield Parker was born in New Rochelle, New York on May 23, 1832 and raised in the area. He entered Army service just prior to the start of the Civil War and quickly rose through the ranks from second lieutenant in April 1861 to captain in October of 1863. He participated in most of the major engagements of the Eastern Theater, including both Battles of Bull Run, as well as the Battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He received a brevet promotion to major for gallantry and meritorious service during the Battle of Gettysburg. Parker choose to make a career of the army after the war, and went on to spend much of his time on the frontier.
After leaving Fort Larned, Capt. Parker would eventually be promoted to colonel in 1886, the same year he was forced to retire because of his age. In 1904, a special act of Congress promoted him to the rank of brigadier general. He died at the age of 92 in Washington, DC and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Capt. Parker took command of Fort Larned during a period when Indian activity was still relatively high, though it quickly died down once many of the area tribes were moved to reservations. By the summer and fall of 1870 things were relatively quiet, with the main worries being illness outbreaks and chasing deserters. In October of that year, Capt. Verling Kersey Hart replaced Capt. Parker as post commander.
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