Fort Scott National Historic Site

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Quick Facts

Location:
Fort Scott, Kansas
Significance:
the most complete example of a US Army fort from the Permanent Indian Frontier
Designation:
National Historic Site
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

Fort Scott National Historic Site is in southeastern Kansas near the Missouri border, about 90 miles south of Kansas City. The national historic site consists of 16.69 acres of relatively level ground situated on a limestone bluff overlooking the confluence of the Marmaton River and Mill Creek. The north and west boundaries of the site are wooded and steep, a result of dramatic changes to the landscape associated with railroad construction and brick manufacturing in the 1890s.

In 1842, the US Army established Fort Scott (named for General-in-Chief Winfield Scott) to garrison troops charged with protecting and maintaining the peace on the Permanent Indian Frontier. This vast and vaguely defined area consisted of lands set aside by the federal government (west of the borders of the established westernmost states) for the resettlement of American Indian tribes relocated from traditional homelands in the East. A north-south chain of posts was established between Fort Snelling in Minnesota and Fort Jesup in Louisiana to protect the Indian frontier. Fort Scott was intended to serve as a critical link in the network of forts, about midway between Fort Leavenworth (in what later became Kansas) and Fort Gibson (in what later became Oklahoma) along a segment of the Military Road. The road facilitated the movement and transport of troops and supplies.

The site for the military post was chosen for its strategic defensive position, its location with regard to neighboring tribes, and its access to abundant natural resources, particularly water and timber. From a few temporary log structures, Fort Scott evolved to include functional and more formally designed buildings (headquarters, officers’ quarters, enlisted men’s barracks, shops, powder magazine, hospital, stables, and other buildings) arranged around a central parade ground with a flagpole. Army units stationed at the fort consisted of infantry, mounted riflemen (soldiers who rode horses and fought as infantry), and dragoon units (soldiers who fought on horseback or foot). During this period, dragoons participated in expeditions along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, and Fort Scott soldiers fought in several pivotal battles during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).

Fort Scott was closed in 1853, its mission ending as continued US westward expansion made the notion of a Permanent Indian Frontier obsolete. All of the US Army buildings were sold at a public auction in 1855, and many of the utilitarian structures were demolished. However, the principal fort buildings remained and became the hub of the new civilian town of Fort Scott, incorporated in 1860. During the latter half of the 1850s (a period known as “Bleeding Kansas”) free-state and pro-slavery factions struggled for supremacy, and the town became the focus of civil disturbance. US troops were dispatched to the town in 1857, 1858, and 1860 to quell the violence. State and federal units militarized the town of Fort Scott during the Civil War as part of the US Army of the Frontier.

The town served as a supply depot and staging area, refugee center, and general hospital. Among the many volunteer units supported from Fort Scott were American Indian soldiers serving in the Indian Home Guard Brigade and two African American units—the First and Second Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry regiments. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, military buildings constructed for the war effort were again sold at auction or demolished. Between 1869 and 1873, the US Army returned and established a military headquarters at Fort Scott for the purpose of controlling unrest associated with railroad construction and to protect railroad workers and private property

African Americans At Fort Scott
Fort Scott National Historic Site’s African American story follows the march of a people who dreamed of freedom. In the 1840s, when Fort Scott was first established, some of the officers brought their slaves with them. Other did not own slaves and were opposed to slavery. This division reflected a growing controversy in the nation. Anna Shatteo, a slave at the fort in the 18840s, worked briefly as a clerk in the sutler store and later gained her freedom, becoming a successful businesswoman in Kansas.

After the army abandoned Fort Scott in 1853, slavery took center stage as settlers clashed over whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. Although the town of Fort Scott became a proslavery center, little is known about its African American residents at that time.

Beginning in the late 1850s, and continuing through the civil war, Kansas “Jayhawkers” conducted raids into Missouri to liberate slaves. Fort Scott became a temporary home to these and other refugees fleeing the war. The presence of so many African Americans promoted the Union Army to recruit them. Initially met with resistance and prejudice, they became the first regiment of African Americans from a Northern-State – the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. Going into combat even before their federal muster at Fort Scott, they proved their worth by the courageous stand at Island Mount, MI, in October 1862. An officer praised them for fighting like tigers. This was the first of many battles for African American soldiers from Kansas as they led their people from enslavement to emancipation.

Becoming A Park
Fort Scott was designated a national historic landmark in 1964, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Public Law 95-484 (October 19, 1978) established Fort Scott National Historic Site “to commemorate the significant role played by Fort Scott in the opening of the west, as well as the Civil War and strife in the State of Kansas that preceded it.” The site contains 20 historic structures (11 original, 9 reconstructed) with 30 historically furnished rooms, a parade ground, gardens, and approximately 5 acres of restored tallgrass prairie. The assemblage of buildings and elements of the cultural landscape are managed to approximate the appearance of the fort during the 1842 to 1853 period. Fort Scott’s overall period of significance (1842–73) encompasses four sequential and distinct historic periods of American frontier history and westward expansion: (1) its initial development and function as a frontier military post (1842–55), (2) its role in “Bleeding Kansas” and as the site of the new town of Fort Scott (1855–61), (3) the Civil War (1861–65), and (4) a military presence in response to the arrival of the railroad (1869–73).