The selection of the 1st Dragoons to construct the newly proposed post on the Marmaton River placed one of the ablest of the Quartermasters on the frontier in charge. Capt. Thomas Swords was both intelligent and experienced, having served as Assistant Quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth from 1834-42. Previous to that he had been on engineer duty. The resemblance between the early buildings at Forts Leavenworth and Scott, particularly evident in the quarters and magazine, was a direct result of Swords' practical experience in building design and construction. Swords came from an educated family, his father having been a publisher in New York City. Swords attended the Military Academy at West Point, graduating 23rd in his class in 1829.
The industry and ability of Swords is attested to by the fact that when he left Fort Scott four years later in 1846 to join General Kearny as Quartermaster of the Army of the West, four sets of officers' quarters were either completed or in the process of completion, all three barracks were up, as were the hospital, the guardhouse, the well canopy, the magazine, the stables, the ordnance and post headquarters, and the quartermaster warehouse. In addition, numerous outbuildings, the bake house and scale house may have been laid out and partially begun. Although the soldiers built the log buildings they occupied temporarily while the fort was being constructed, Swords probably was largely responsible for them as well.
Captain Swords, who had considered his job temporary, remained at Fort Scott in charge of construction until the outbreak of the Mexican War. His precipitous departure to join Kearny's army left a void that was filled by Lt. George W. Wallace, who had been Assistant Commissary of Subsistence at the post. Wallace had joined the 1st Infantry as a 2nd lieutenant in 1844, so abruptly did Swords leave that he left his successor "without any instructions." In less than four years, Swords had put up an impressive number of buildings, but many of them had not been completed. Even if work were suspended at Fort Scott, it would be necessary to have laborers complete what had been started to ensure its preservation. Work continued but less rapidly than before.
In 1848, Lieutenant Wallace wrote to the Quartermaster General for permission to hire a civilian to serve as Clerk and Forage Master as follows:
During the time I have been performing the duties of A.A. Qr. Ms.-upwards of two years-the Ass't in the Subsistence Store House has performed these duties without any additional pay or emolument, his term of service will soon expire and he will not reenlist; there is not an enlisted man of the command who can perform these duties but one being able to write legibly, save the few on other duties whose services I cannot procure. When I employed this man, Sergt. Elias Burns, to perform the above duties I promised to recommend him at the expiration of his enlistment for the appointment of Forage and Wagon Master to this post; he is faithful and honest, has lived in the Army fifteen years I am informed, ten years of this time in the line of the Army, during the greater portion of the capacity of Sergeant, five years as Forage and Wagon Master; he received his warrant from the late Lieut. Col. Cross in Florida in 1839, and served under Col. Hunt, Capt. Miles and Capt. Clary, as also several other officers of the Qr. Ms's Department until the close of the war in that country in 1843.
Wallace wrote further that there was a great deal of writing required in the two departments and that it was more than he could attend to while superintending the construction work also. It is not noted on the letter whether permission was granted to hire Burns, but two years later a new Assistant Quartermaster was asking also for a clerk to be paid ten dollars a month and one ration (valued at three cents a ration).
Wallace served until 1848, and it probably was during his tenure that the quartermaster stables were erected. He was succeeded by Bvt. Capt. Alexander Morrow, who had joined the Army in 1847 from Maine. He was transferred to both the 9th Infantry and the 6th Infantry in 1847, and he received a brevet captain in 1847 for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Chapultepec, Mexico. Morrow was ill the last year he served as Quartermaster, perhaps from wounds he received during the war. His death occurred in 1851. Construction was slowing down. Morrow requested a barn to house his oxen but was authorized only to erect a temporary shed for them. He probably completed the quartermaster stables, which according to the 1858 abstract consisted of "stables, shed and grain cribs, blacksmith and wood shops."
Capt. Albemarle Cady followed Morrow. Cady had graduated from the Military Academy 24th in the same class as Swords. From New Hampshire, Cady was assigned to the 6th Infantry in 1829 and rose to captain by 1838, during the Mexican War, he was brevetted major in 1847 for his gallant and meritorious conduct during the battle of Molino del Rey. Cady's job became one of care taking and routine accounting for supplies. By April 1850, eight years after the establishment of Fort Scott, the building came to an end. The total cost probably was somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000.
The last Assistant Quartermaster was Lt. Darius D. Clark, a graduate of the Military Academy. Ranking 40th in his class, he joined the 2nd Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1849. He became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Infantry in 1851.
Captain Swords' dream had been to make Fort Scott "the crack post of the frontier, even going ahead of Leavenworth." Perhaps for a time it was and certainly it might have been if the war in Mexico had not expanded the United States' frontier to the Pacific Ocean, necessitating new posts westward. The buildings fronting onto the parade ground were handsome and gracious, built to last a hundred years as some have. A classical touch was added, when the Well Canopy and Magazine were finished. Post Commanders may well be forgiven if they felt some pride in being given Fort Scott to command and regret when they were ordered to leave.
The information for this section was taken from the Historic Furnishings Report for the Quartermaster Storehouse at Fort Scott by Sally Johnson Ketcham.
Last updated: July 29, 2016