Saturday, September 09, 2017

POB #2: Great Scott

Towards the end of summer, my wife and I went to Fort Scott. Fort Scott is a small town in Bourbon County situated along the Marmaton River. It was established in 1857 shortly after local settlers purchased the old fort that was built in the area in 1842. Despite the fort only being used for a short period--Fort Scott was only active until 1853--it got a resurgence of activity due to pre-Civil War battles and was officially reopened by the U.S. Army with the onset of the Civil War.

Fort Scott, named for General Winfield Scott, commander during the War of 1812 and Mexican-American War, among others, was one of several forts from Minnesota to Louisiana. The line of forts was to protect eastern settlers from the "permanent Indian frontier." Fort Scott was established to fill a gap between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. Almost as soon as the fort was established, it became clear that the "permanent Indian frontier" wasn't going to last. Gold was discovered in the far west causing a mass exodus of settlers and many forts were abandoned and new ones built toward California. Fort Scott closed in 1853.

The next year, the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to settlement. It was assumed that Nebraska would be admitted to the union as a free state since it was further north and surrounded by other free states. Kansas was assumed to be a slave state since it was further south and was located next to Missouri and Arkansas. Because of this, thousands of proslavers, free staters, and abolitionists poured into Kansas hoping to make the Kansas Territory--and the future state--their own. The buildings of the fort were auctioned off in 1855 to the locals and by 1857, Fort Scott as a town was established. One of the officer's quarters became the Fort Scott Hotel, a primarily free state hotel, while directly across in an infantry barrack was the Western Hotel, a primarily proslavery hotel. Soldiers were sent to the area to quell the violence that erupted in the area and left when things became peaceful but the violence continued to flare up. By 1859, nearly 60 people had died due to these pre-Civil War conflicts and hundreds had been terrorized. After narrowly avoiding being admitted as a slave state in 1858, Kansas was admitted to the union as a free state in 1861.
One of the officers' barracks. Note the raised sidewalk and fancier decoration
on the stairs and windows than the infantry and dragoon barracks.

Dragoon barracks.

Almost three months later, the Civil War began and the United States felt that Fort Scott would be a strategic location to defend against the Confederates. The troops moved back in and more buildings were constructed and fortifications installed. Fort Scott became a haven for war-displaced Natives, escaped slaves, and local farmers. The hospital at the fort was one of the busiest and most welcome places in the area.

Like in the northern portion of the state, southeastern Kansas also dealt with guerilla warfare. Missourian and Arkansans would cross the border and Kansans would cross over in Missouri and Arkansas as well. Twice General Sterling Price tried to capture Fort Scott, obviously failing both times. The presence of the Union army most likely kept Fort Scott and other towns in the area from falling victim to complete destruction like Lawrence did in 1863.

After the war ended, Fort Scott citizens worked to bring the railroad through the area. Their efforts were rewarded in 1869. The military kept the fort open to protect the railroad workers, finally closing for good in 1873. After the military left, the fort was left abandoned. Some buildings were razed and many became deteriorated. In 1965, the city of Fort Scott, with the help of the federal government, began restoring the buildings that were left and constructed some new ones. The fort was added to the National Register of Historic Place in 1966 and designated a National Historic Site in 1978.

Fort Scott National Historical Site contains two Officer's Quarters, a stable, infantry and dragoon barracks, a post hospital, a bakehouse, storehouse, powderhouse, and restored tallgrass prairie among other things.
The stables.

Inside the stables.

A stone well.

Powder magazine.

Cannons inside post headquarters.

Dragoon barracks kitchen.

Scenes from the officer's quarters.

My favorite part of the fort was the second Officer's Quarters, or the Wilson Goodlander Home. The building gives a detailed overview of the construction of the fort. It showed, in great detail, how the fort was built, using what tools, and various changes the fort went through over 175 years. I highly recommend visiting.