Photos and fun facts from Fort Scott National Historic Site
Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter and I visited my hometown, Fort Scott, Kansas (pop. 8,000) in the southeast corner of the state. While there, we decided to visit what locals call “the fort” — Fort Scott National Historic Site.
During my growing up years, I toured the fort numerous times, and my daughter had taken the tour when she was little. Even so, we were both up for a refresher tour of the fort that, in 1853, was closed by the time it was truly needed about ten years later.
According to American Heritage, “…the fort was a very peaceful place in its first years, sending escorts on occasional excursions West and troops to the Mexican War but seeing no action whatever nearby. In 1853 so little was happening that the fort was abandoned, its buildings sold. More bad luck: This happened just in time for Bleeding Kansas, the civil war that preceded the Civil War, when a fort here was truly needed.”
Yes, timing is everything.
We visited the fort on Thursday, January 2, and it was obviously a slow day for tours. We arrived at the entrance at 1 p.m. Park Ranger Laura Abbott was gearing up to conduct a tour that would begin in about five minutes, so we decided to wait a few minutes and then take a tour that she told us would last about one hour.
Since no one else was waiting in the visitors’ center, we enjoyed a private tour with Abbott. It was nice to be able to take our time and experience a more personalized tour than we would have experienced in the busy season. Plus, I was able to ask lots of questions and re-learn lots of forgotten facts, such as…
- Fort Scott was established in 1842 and was one of a line of nine forts from Minnesota to Louisiana that promised a “permanent Indian frontier.”
- Fort Scott was named for U.S. Army Gen. Winfield Scott.
- Infantry and dragoons from Fort Scott left the fort to fight in the Mexican-American War from 1846-48.
- The fort was abandoned in 1853 as the idea of Manifest Destiny took hold, causing the promise of a “permanent Indian frontier” to die.
- Fort Scott served as a major supply depot for the Union armies and a hospital
- Fort Scott also served as a refuge for people fleeing the war, such as displaced Indians, escaped slaves and white farmers.
- Kansas entered the Union as a free state on Jan. 29, 1861.
- The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry was sworn in at Fort Scott. “This was one of the first African American regiments to engage Confederates in combat,” according to the National Park Service’s Fort Scott brochure.
- The fort became a national historic site in 1978 after decades of random use and misuse, and the kind of neglect that just happens with old, always-been-there structures.
These photos follow the route we took through the seventeen-acre historic site. The last building we toured was the Western Hotel, located just north of the large, square hospital, contains new interactive displays with video interviews with historical characters. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see two of those videos.
Let’s start the photo tour…
Did you know that the colors of horses were used to identify army regiments?
Did you know four men shared one bunk bed in the sleeping dorm?
Did you know the army didn’t issue bread recipes until the late 1800s and that men were not allowed to eat fresh bread? Stale bread was thought to be better for digestion, according to a placard in the Bake House.
Did you know that a howitzer was carried in three pieces by donkeys? It could be reassembled and fired within one minute, according to a placard inside the Post Headquarters.
Did you know that many soldiers left the hospital in worse shape than when they entered, due to ignorance about sterilization?
According to a placard in the Fort Hospital, “In threading the needle for stitches, it was customary to point the silk by wetting it with saliva and rolling it between the fingers.”
Inside the Infantry Barracks, new displays and exhibits bring tourists back to the past when these areas composed Bleeding Kansas, a region torn between Union and Confederate causes and beliefs.
Interviews with a variety of area residents speak directly to you in these video displays inside the Infantry Barracks. Here are two previews of the video exhibits.
Stop in at Fort Scott National Historic Site the next time you’re in southeast Kansas. Thousands of people cruise right by Fort Scott on U.S. Highway 69, which bypasses the town, as they make their way north to Kansas City (about an hour and a half away) or to points south. Plan out your itinerary to take a tour or just walk across the grounds; it would make a nice break on your journey. After all, timing is everything.
Thanks for reading! Touring the fort took about an hour and a half and was a great way to spend part of an afternoon. Also, it reminded me how fortunate Fort Scott, Kansas is to have this important historic site preserved and honored here.
Don’t forget to tour the destinations near your home. Here’s a recent post about another local getaway.