David Bell

There is no photograph of Lt. Bell available.

First Lieutenant David Bell, Company K, 1st US Cavalry, had his work cut out for him when Captain George Steuart transferred the commanding officer's duties to him. On November 21, 1859, Capt. Steuart received orders from Department Headquarters, Fort Leavenworth, to return to Fort Riley and leave 30 men at the Camp on Pawnee Fork under the command of Lieutenant Bell. Five days later, Steuart transferred command to Lieutenant Bell, who went about the Herculean task of establishing a permanent military outpost in hostile territory. According to a remark in the Record of Events for November 1859:

Captain George H. Steuart's company, First Cavalry, broke up camp and marched for Fort Riley, K.T., Nov. 26, 1859, leaving behind for mail escort one first lieutenant, one sergeant, two corporals, one bugler and 26 privates.

In addition to establishing a fort and beginning construction, Bell was required to maintain adequate escorts for mail through the area. He also dealt with reports of Indian attacks and threats to travelers along the Santa Fe Road. As one of the first Commanding Officers at Fort Larned, his role was pivotal, yet we know little about him.

Lieutenant Bell was born either February or March 1827 in Ohio. He was nominated to the US Military Academy at West Point from the state of Iowa and entered on July 1, 1847. Bell graduated 18th in the Class of 1851 and received a commission as brevet 2nd lieutenant with the 2nd US Dragoons. He was promoted to 2nd lieutenant on October 9, 1852. On March 3, 1855, Bell was promoted to 1st lieutenant and transferred to the 1st US Cavalry. Bell and Fort Larned's first commanding officer, Captain Steuart, received their commissions as 1st lieutenants into the same regiment on the same day. After Steuart was promoted to captain, they were both assigned to Company K and left Fort Riley on October 7, 1859.

When Lieutenant Bell assumed command of the young post, he found his small force of 30 men inadequate to accomplish all their tasks. He quickly requested reinforcement and was sent 1st Lieutenant John D. O'Connell and 20 men of the 2nd US Infantry, who arrived December 22, 1859. This was still not enough manpower to protect every mail coach. The small garrison survived the winter and on February 12, 1860, Lt. Bell received orders written February 1, changing the name of the post from Camp on Pawnee Fork to Camp Alert. The army realized the importance of a stronger military post as unrest brewed on the Kansas plains.

On May 4, 1860, Captain Henry W. Wessells, Company C, 2nd US Infantry, arrived with two companies of the 2nd US Infantry, increasing the military force at Camp Alert to 160 men. His orders were to assume command of the post and construct a permanent military installation. Lieutenant Bell relinquished command to Captain Wessells. The remnants of Company K, 1st Cavalry left their home at Fort Larned and joined other companies from the regiment in further Indian campaigns.

Lieutenant Bell, however, ended up at Fort Monroe, VA which is still an active military installation. He died shortly after on December 2, 1860. He was buried in the Fort Monroe Cemetery. However, those laid to rest at Fort Monroe faced a similar fate to those at Fort Larned. Their bodies were disinterred and reburied at Hampton National Cemetery. First Lieutenant David Bell is buried in Section J, Site 9 at Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia.

Last updated: February 15, 2024

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1767 KS Hwy 156
Larned, KS 67550


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