Henry Bristol

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Capt. Henry B. Bristol arrived at Fort Larned in April, 1872 with three companies of the 5th U.S. Infantry from Fort Harker. He relieved Major James Roy of command who went with troops from the 6th Infantry to Fort Hays.

By May, Capt. Bristol had 84 men under his command. Some of these troops were on detached duty to Fort Zarah to guard the railroad surveyors and to the Medicine Lodge Creek area to keep an eye on the Indians in the area. He was apparently not satisfied with their job performance, though, saying that the men at Fort Zarah spent most of their time at the “drinking houses” and the men at Medicine Lodge were out hunting. Since in both instances the men were infantry and would not have been able to do much anyway if Indians did attack, Capt. Bristol suggested they be replaced with cavalry units.

On May 6, 1872 Capt. Bristol sent a request to the Assistant Adjutant General for the Department of the Missouri requesting clarification about providing escort for the railroad “details”, including instructions, where and to what extent his command would be expected to guard the crews, and if changes could made without further authority “when in the opinion of the Cmdg officer of this Post and the railroad official it is thought necessary to move a detachment”. He also informed them in the letter that the “transportation here is poor, the wagons old, mules thin, having no hay. All of them require rest and time to get in good order.” For that reason he “respectfully suggested” that some wagons and mules from Fort Harker “be transferred to the A.A.Q.M. at this place”.

By this time the Indian threat had been so reduced that a sergeant and two privates were all that was necessary to escort a wagon train from Fort Harker to Fort Larned and back. Although the threat from Indian attack was negligible, those guarding the fort’s cattle herd were still ordered to have 30 rounds of ammunition just in case they were attacked.

Capt. Bristol was born in Detroit Michigan in 1838. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the 5th U.S. Infantry on May 15, 1857 and was sent to frontier duty to Kansas, Nebraska and Utah until May 10, 1860. He was then assigned to exploration services from Green River, U.T. to Santa Fe, N.M. until August 17, 1860. He spent the Civil War years in New Mexico, receiving the rank of 1st Lt. on March 3, 1861. On March 13, 1865 he was brevetted to Major for “faithful and meritorious service in New Mexico, and particularly for his untiring zeal and energy in controlling the Navajo tribe of Indians at Bosque Redondo and for his praiseworthy efforts in advancing their condition from savages to that of civilized men.” After the Civil War he spent time on General Recruiting service until February of 1869, when he returned to frontier service. He transferred to Fort Larned from Fort Harker on April 26, 1872.

As they had been for the last year or so, the matters Capt. Bristol had to deal with were fairly routine now at Fort Larned. He sent Lt. F. D. Baldwin was with two privates to buy enough walking beef to feed the men at Fort Larned since the beef contractor had not fulfilled his contract. Any soldiers not on guard duty were kept busy with various chores such as building ice houses or vegetable storage bins, weeding gardens, caring for the animals on post or digging latrines. Men with construction skills were tasked with putting new floors in the barracks and building gun racks for the guard house, as well as platforms for fire barrels.

One problem Capt. Bristol had to deal with was the post sutler, Henry Booth. Not only was Booth allowing his pigs to soil the river banks near his store, he had also placed a latrine above the point at which the fort drew its drinking water. The post commander called Booth on the carpet for these actions and also warned him about overcharging the men in his store. A Council of Administration was supposed to determine the prices of goods sold in the sutler’s store but enlisted men at Fort Larned claimed to have paid $1.00 for towels the council had priced at .60¢ and .35¢ for toothbrushes that were supposed be selling for .25¢. Capt. Bristol advised him to lower his prices on the goods he was selling in his store.

Capt. Bristol also had problems with the cattle from both Henry Booth and A.H. Boyd running loose and trampling the vegetables in the post gardens. Booth was fined $200 for the loss of vegetables and Boyd had his animals impounded until he paid for the damages they caused and promised not to let his cattle roam free again.

In June Capt. Bristal received approval to construct an earth closet and steward’s quarters for the hospital. The original cost of $189.14 was later nearly doubled to $360.28. The earth closet was of light frame construction and attached to the rear of the hospital’s east ward. The steward’s quarters were of the same construction. Also in June the garrison received nineteen recruits that were assigned to the 5th Infantry. Their arrival brought the total number of men at the post to 77.

A new era in transportation was ushered in on the Kansas prairie when the Santa Fe Railroad came to Pawnee Fork on July 20, 1872. To mark the occasion Lt. DeHart Quimby took a detachment of men to a hilltop overlooking the site where the men fired a salute. The arrival of the railroad also brought a new mode of transportation for the army paymasters, who now came by train instead of wagon to deliver the men’s pay. Capt. Bristol also made arrangements in July for the mail that used to be carried by wagon to go by train, thus eliminating one more job for the men at the frontier posts along the Santa Fe Trail.

Rumors reached Kansas in 1872 that General Pope was considering closing Fort Larned, which prompted Governor Harvey to protest saying that the people of central Kansas still needed protection from Indians, especially the railroad crews laying tracks for the AT&SF railroad.

Captain Bristol went on leave in October, at which time Captain Simon Snyder filled in for him until his return in December. While Captain Bristol was gone the soldiers at Fort Larned got a rare treat – fresh vegetables shipped by rail from Lawrence to Larned and taken by wagon to the fort. The days of relying on company gardens for fresh vegetables were apparently over.

In the new year Henry Booth took the sutler’s quarters from the fort, floated it across the Pawnee River and moved the building to Larned. He moved his family into the building in April when he left the fort to take up residence in the growing community. Booth’s move to Larned signaled a new era for Fort Larned, for communities in the newly formed Pawnee County were growing up all around the military post, many in areas that only a few years previously had been too dangerous for many to travel without military escort. It was obvious that the military was giving way to the civilian in this part of Kansas. Still, Fort Larned had five more years of life left in April of 1873 when Capt. Bristol left and Capt. Synder took over as post commander.

Capt. Bristol finished out his time in the Army on the frontier. From Fort Larned he went to Fort Dodge until January 24, 1875 with time out for an expedition to Indian Territory (August 13 to October 28, 1874) and sick leave until May 1875. He then went to Fort Reno, was in the field in Montana, on sick leave again, and ended up at Fort Keogh, M.T until June 5, 1878. He once again went on sick leave until his retirement as a Capt. of the 5th Infantry on March 20, 1879. His frequent time on sick leave and his retirement were due to exposure and illness he contracted while on frontier duty. He died in New York City on May 10, 1904 of Bright’s disease (now known as kidney disease) “after a long and severe illness.”

Last updated: May 22, 2019

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