The Year 1863

A Year of Change and Tension

The beginning of 1863 saw Lt. William West still in charge at Fort Larned. Once again, though, the high demand for troops in the East to fight in the Civil War meant another year of constantly changing troop and officer assignments at the frontier military post. During 1863 the commanders at Fort Larned changed continuously, often with the same man serving several times throughout the year. The post saw ten different command changes during the year but had only six commanding officers. Adding to the instability of constantly changing soldiers and officers, were the reduced troop levels on the frontier. At the beginning of 1863 Lt. West commanded only 104 officers and men from both the 2nd U.S. Infantry and 9th Wisconsin Volunteer Battery.

Black & white photo of Jesse Leavenworth.
Col. Jesse Leavenworth was post commander from July 18 to August 9, 1863 and August 18 to October 19, 1863.

Public Domain

Lt. Watson D. Crocker of the 9th Wisconsin Volunteer Battery replaced Lt. West from February 3 through the 26th, at which point Lt. West resumed command. Capt. H.N.J. Reed of the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry was placed in charge on April 12th, followed once more by Lt. Crocker on May 1st. However, he was quickly replaced on May 5th by Capt. James W. Parmeter, who brought a company from the 12th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry with him to Fort Larned. These troops, along with Colorado volunteer units and the men from the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry provided much needed reinforcements against a possible attack from a force of Texans and Indians reported to be moving up from the South.

Tensions were high in the area around Fort Larned in the spring and early summer of 1863. A large number of Comanches, Kiowas, Kiowa-Apaches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Caddos had concentrated around the post, creating a potentially explosive situation. According to one source, the Indians had gathered in the area because of large amounts of whiskey being transported on Mexican wagon trains along the Santa Fe Trail. The seriousness of the situation prompted Col. Leavenworth to take over command of the post from Capt. Reed on June 18, who had just replaced Capt. Parmeter the day before. Fearing disaster if the Indians were provoked, Col. Leavenworth seized one wagon train and threatened to seize more if they were found to be carrying whiskey. At the same time, Col. Leavenworth called for reinforcements from Gen. Ewing in Kansas City in response to the threatened attack from Texas troops advancing on Fort Larned. Before this attack force reached the fort, however, they were themselves attacked by a band of Osage warriors and destroyed.

One of the most well-known incidents at Fort Larned took place in July of 1863: the killing of the Cheyenne brave Little Heart. The fort was surrounded by thousands of Indians waiting for annuity disbursements, an uneasy situation for a garrison of only 168 men and officers. According to post records, Little Heart came at full gallop towards a sentry on the fort’s south side at 2:00 am on July 9th. When Little Heart did not heed the sentry’s command to halt, the soldier opened fire and shot him in the head. Although this incident had the potential for greater violence, Col. Leavenworth was able to contain the situation. He called in all the chiefs in the area as well as reinforcements from troops in the area. The colonel gave presents to the chiefs as compensation for the lost brave, which pacified them and averted a potential disaster.

Considering the situation during the summer of 1863 it seems fortunate that an Indian war did not erupt on the plains. Troop levels were low while the Indians were restless, attacking wagon trains all along the Santa Fe Trail for food and goods. Col. Leavenworth did his best to keep whites out of hunting grounds so as not to provoke the natives. He also went to great lengths to pacify the Indian chiefs to maintain peaceful relations, awarding them medals and promising to help them make the switch to farming.

Meanwhile, the regular rhythm of military life at Fort Larned continued. Wagon trains still traveled along the Santa Fe Trail with Army escorts, while troops on other business stopped in along the way to their destinations. Commanding Officers at the fort also continued to change. Capt. Reed took over shortly for Col. Leavenworth from August 11 - 18, after which the colonel remained in command until October 19th, at which time Capt. Parmeter once again assumed command. Capt. Reed returned to the post in November and took command on the 16th. A report in December of 1863 shows troops at the post from the 9th and 12th Kansas Volunteer Infantries, the 9th Wisconsin Battery and the 2nd Colorado Volunteers for a total garrison of 176 enlisted men and three officers and with Capt. Reed still in command of the post.

The year 1863 was a difficult one for the Fort beside the Pawnee River. Troop levels were low while the Indians were numerous and restless. The continual change in commanders made continuity difficult to maintain at the same time the Fort faced a several difficult, potentially explosive situations. Thanks in large part to the diplomacy of Col. Leavenworth the fort weathered the storms in good condition.

Last updated: February 13, 2024

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1767 KS Hwy 156
Larned, KS 67550


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