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Major Meredith H. Kidd, 10th U.S. Cavalry, arrived at Fort Larned on May 20th, 1867 to assume leadership of the post. Maj. Asbury, the former post commander, returned to his position as an infantry commander. The situation Maj. Kidd inherited was one that required heightened vigilance from the fort’s garrison. General Hancock had intended his expedition in April to head off a summer Indian war, but it actually had the opposite effect. Especially inflammatory to the Indians had been the general’s decision to burn the Cheyenne-Lakota Indian village 30 miles west of Larned, which made some of the Indians even more determined than ever to resist white intrusion into their lands.
There was cholera outbreak in early July, brought to the post by soldiers of the 37th Infantry on their way to Fort Union. The two companies of 230 men under the command of Lt. Col. C. Grover, arrived on July 2 with several cases of cholera in their ranks. Any travelers with cholera on a public wagon train were immediately sent to a quarantine hospital two miles away, but despite the surgeon’s strong recommendation that the troops also be located further away, their camp was only 500 yards from the fort’s buildings. Within four days cholera had spread to the fort’s garrison, killing Lt. J.A. Helm, the post commissary subsistence and quartermaster officer, a surgeon attached to the 19th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, and four civilian employees of the quartermaster department. At that point, Major Kidd had the civilian camp moved half a mile away from the main post buildings.
Medical knowledge of the day did not offer much in the way of prevention of or treatment for deadly diseases like cholera. Prevention included the use of unslaked lime and strong acids to disinfect latrines as well as intense scrubbing of kitchen utensils. Doses of calomel, injections of starch, strong tea, brandy and acetate of lead, as well as mustard plasters were some of the ways doctors tried treating it.
After appointing Lt. Cavanaugh of the 37thInfantry as the Commissary Subsistence and Quartermaster Officer, Maj. Kidd left in the midst of the cholera outbreak on 15 days leave to bring his family to the post from Indiana. He had been born in Connersville, Indiana in 1829, where he lived until he was eight years old, at which time he moved to his father’s farm in Miami country. He was educated in county schools as a child and eventually attended Asbury University in Peru, Indiana. In 1850 he was admitted to the bar, but then left in the spring of 1852 for the gold fields of California. After five years of mixed results, he returned to Indiana in 1857 and began practicing law again. In November, 1857 he married Millicent Fisher and the couple would eventually have six children.
He served in the Army during the Civil War, first as captain of the 14thIndiana Battery for two years and then as a major in the 11th Indiana Cavalry. During the war he participated in the Battles of Corinth, Pulaski, and Nashville, as well as other minor engagements. He had his horse shot out from under him at Nashville, and although he was struck several times by bullets, he managed to make it through the war without any wounds. By the end of the war he was mustered out at the rank of Lt. Col. In March of 1867 he was appointed Major of the 10th Cavalry and soon after reported to Fort Larned.
The summer of 1867 was a busy one at the fort. Construction of the stone buildings was in full swing with 24 of 46 wagons and 144 out of 216 mules used to haul stone, sand, lumber and other building materials to and around the post. Five wagons and 30 mules were used for escort duty along the Santa Fe Trail. Other wagons and mules belonging to the post were involved in guard duty, used at the stone quarry, or reserved for wagon masters and Indian agents. The Army hired 224 civilians from the east to help with construction and to keep all these mules and wagons in operating condition.
As predicted, Hancock’s attempt at “chastising” the Indians actually caused various tribes to go on the warpath.Cheyenne who were still angry over the burning of their lodges in April went on a raiding spree through Kansas and Nebraska. They derailed trains and carried off the supplies as plunder while also killing some of the crew and passengers. Alarmed, Congress believed it was time to establish a “permanent and lasting” peace with the Indians. By August, Maj. Kidd sent word to all the area Indian Agents to have them bring the tribes to Medicine Lodge Creek for an October peace council. If they met any whites along the way they were supposed to wave white flags to show they were friendly.
Fort Larned served as a staging area for the Medicine Lodge meeting so by late summer in addition to the building construction and regular military duties, preparations for the meeting were added to the activity at the post. The quartermaster was busy gathering wagons to ship Indian annuity goods to Medicine Lodge, while 60 to 70 Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Comanche leaders stopped at Fort Larned on their way to the meeting site. Maj. Kidd provided them with tents for lodging and provided food from the post commissary stores. By mid-September, peace commissioners arrived, escorted by 500 men from the 7th Cavalry and two batteries of Gatling guns.
In the midst of all this activity, department quartermaster, Maj. M. J. Ludington, came for an inspection of the post buildings. He found many of the old adobe and sod structures still in use, although the stone buildings were going up quickly, with completion expected for most of them in the fall. The post commander’s quarters would be finished in October of that year and Maj. Kidd would be the first Fort Larned commander to occupy the spacious stone structure.
The peace commissioners left Larned on October 13, headed for Medicine Lodge. Maj. Kidd received instructions from General Sherman to halt all wagon trains 60 miles southeast of Pawnee Fork in case more supplies were needed at Medicine Lodge. Some of the Indians had been there for several weeks already and the general was afraid the supplies might run out. At least five thousand Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Apache and Comanche Indians had shown up for the council.
The formal negotiations began on October 19 and the treaty papers were signed on the 21st. The Indian signatures allowed unrestricted white travel over emigrant roads through the Southern and Central Plains and safety for the railroads and construction crews while ceding all their land in Kansas to the whites. The Cheyenne and Arapaho also accepted new lands bordered by the 37th parallel, the Cimarron and Arkansas Rivers instead of 1865 reservation lands. The new treaty also provided a resident Indian agent, as well as mandatory schools for children, a doctor, blacksmith and other permanent agency personnel. The head of each family could have 320 acres of reservation land for his own use, although Congress kept legal title to the land. Congress also authorized the payment of $20,000 a year plus any necessary clothes for 25 years and allowed the Indians to hunt bison north of the Arkansas River, as long as there were enough there to hunt.
The treaty really resulted in a truce rather than any lasting peace. Most of the Indians had little understanding of what their chiefs had agreed to while many white people were outraged at what they saw as a reward for a summer of rampaging by the Indians. In his annual report for 1867, General Sherman summed up the accomplishments of the year, defending Hancock’s actions in April, saying that attacking their homes and families was the most effective way to restrain the highly mobile braves. Sherman believed that Hancock’s actions had kept travel on the Smokey Hill Trail open, making sure that New Mexico and Colorado were not isolated.
Maj. Kidd continued as the post commander through an uneventful winter until replaced in March by Capt. Nicholas Nolan, also of the 10thCavalry. Maj. Kidd was transferred to Fort Riley and was eventually mustered out in 1870 by his own request when the Army was reduced. He returned to Wabash, Indiana where he practiced law until 1893, when he was appointed to the Dawes Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes. He served on the commission for a year and half, when he resigned to accept a mission to the Ute Indians in Southwestern Colorado. Upon successful completion of the mission’s goal to persuade them to turn over their lands and relinquish the residuals, Maj. Kidd returned to Wabash where he continued his law practice. He died in Huntingdon, Indiana on June 11, 1908.
During Maj. Kidd’s tenure as post commander, Fort Larned was reaching the peak of its operations. Civilian construction crews worked on completing the stone buildings while the garrison’s infantry and cavalry troops carried out regular escort and patrol duties respectively as part of the military’s job in the area. As a staging area for the Medicine Lodge Peace treaty talks, the fort played an important role in the attempt to pacify the restive Indians during 1867. Though some attributed the heightened Indian activity to Hancock’s actions in April of the same year, others defended the General’s actions as a necessary brake on Indian raids. Regardless, the talks at Medicine Lodge resulted more in a truce than lasting peace, ensuring that the small post on the Great Plains would still have work to do in the coming year.
Last updated: May 22, 2019