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Major Henry Asbury, 3rd U.S. Infantry, arrived at Fort Larned at the end of May and assumed command of the post from Capt. Nolan on May 30, 1868. Although the winter had been relatively quiet for Capt. Nolan in terms of Indian activity, the spring and summer of 1868 would be one of increased activity on the part of the plains Indian tribes, despite the treaty signed the previous fall at Medicine Lodge, Kansas.
other flash point for the Indians was that the summer of 1868 marked the beginning of the mass killings of bison by White hunters due to high demand for their pelts in the east. Buffalo hides were selling for as high as $3 a piece, which brought White hunters from all parts of the country to kill the one animal the Plains Indian tribes relied on for their existence. It was not a situation that would be conducive to peace.
July was a busy month at the fort.Approximately 15,000 Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians were camped about a day’s march from Fort Larned. They were waiting for their summer annuities, which Maj. Asbury wanted to sent to them right away. Since he only had a total of 223 troops from both the 10th Cavalry and 3rd Infantry under his command at the time, he would have been greatly outnumbered had there been trouble with the Indians. These were all the soldiers he had to make sure all the work was done around the fort, as well as perform escort duty on the trail and patrols in the area around the post.
Brevet Maj. Gen. William B. Hazen, who was Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Plains, came to the fort in July to oversee the distribution of annuities promised from the Medicine Lodge treaty. The guide who brought him to the fort was Buffalo Bill Cody, who spent several years in the central Kansas area as an Army scout.
One of the main provisions of the Medicine Lodge treaty the Indians were eager to have fulfilled was the distribution of arms and ammunition. Maj. Asbury had not yet distributed those because of skirmishing and raiding that had been going on among some of the tribes. The chiefs explained that the hostilities were the actions of some of the younger warriors and that the entire tribe shouldn’t be punished for the misdeeds of a few. Brevet Brigadier General Alfred Sully ordered Maj. Asbury to hand out the rifles and ammunition to the Indians. They were given with the warning that the chiefs should try to control their young men since the Whites were usually well armed and would not tolerate Indian raids on their settlements and ranches.
Almost immediately after the guns, powder and ammunition were handed out to the various Indians along with their other annuities, some of the warriors began raiding and attacking settlements along the Saline River and the Smokey Hill Trail.
White authorities had different reactions to these raids. While some called for all the Indians to be punished, others believed it wouldn’t be right to punish all of them for the acts of a few bad apples. Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Charles Mix, believed the Cheyenne had not acted in good faith when collecting their annuities at Fort Larned and accused them of actually planning the raids as they were collecting their annuities. “I can no longer have confidence in what they say or promise,” he wrote. “War is surely upon us.”
Throughout the summer of 1868 some of the Plains Indians went on the warpath while others tried to remain at peace with both their fellow Indians and with their White neighbors.
On the night August 5, the officers and soldiers had something else to contend with besides the hostile Plains Indians and regular escort and patrol duties that made up their daily routine at the fort. A rabid wolf entered the fort and bit several people before finally being shot to death by one of the sentries. Those bitten included Corporal McGillicuddy, who had been in the hospital, Lt. Thompson, who was on the porch of the sutler’s store, and Private Mason.
During the summer of 1868, another famous person to visit the fort was the British journalist H.M. Stanley. He reported an overall favorable impression of Fort Larned, including the fort’s commander, Major Asbury, who was “a gentleman who served with some distinction in the late war. ”According to Stanley, Asbury deserved the credit for the orderliness of the fort and its activities. Everything was conducted according to military standards, and he found the officers to be “affable with their equals and gracious towards their subordinates.”
The man whom Mr. Stanley felt ran the fort so effectively was from Illinois and had indeed had an illustrious career during the Civil War, beginning with his commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry in August of 1861. He advanced to 2nd Lt. in June of 1862 and then brevetted to the rank of Captain on July 2, 1863 for gallantry and meritorious service during the Battle of Gettysburg. In March of 1865 he received a brevet promotion to Major for his meritorious service throughout the war. Maj. Asbury died on October 20, 1870.
Maj. Asbury was replaced by Maj. (brevet) Dangerfield Parker in September of 1868. He had assumed command of the fort during a relatively peaceful springtime, only to have the summer heat bring renewed fighting among some of the Plains Indians.
Last updated: May 22, 2019