From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.

From Indian Outpost to Top College Is History of Fort

Leavenworth Times, Sunday, September 4, 1955

Ft. Leavenworth came into existence shortly after Order Number 14, March 7, 1827, from the adjutant general's office in Washington, D. C., ordered Col. Henry Leavenworth "with four companies of his regiment -- the 3d -- to ascend the Missouri, and upon reaching a point of its left bank near the mouth of the Little Platte River and within a range of 20 miles above or below its confluence, select such position as in his judgment is best calculated for the site of a permanent cantonment."

Colonel Leavenworth, realizing the lowland on the east side would be flooded, proceeded northward until he found an area on May 8, 1827 "150 feet above the surface of the river and has an altitude of 896 feet" which fitted the qualifications and would protect his troops from disease to some extent because of the high ground. The deep channel at the foot of the bluff provided landing facilities for river craft.

While awaiting official confirmation for choosing this spot, construction began, with a tent camp being pitched at once, and followed soon by small huts of logs and bark which were built in the vicinity of what is now the Main Parade. At that time a stone wall, which stands today, was built for protection against Indian attacks.

The original troops assigned to the post were the 3rd Infantry, and a return dated Oct. 31, 1827 showed that Companies B, D, E and H were present with a strength of 14 officers and 174 enlisted men.

In September 1827 Colonel Leavenworth received Orders Number 56 of that year which approved the selection, and the post was officially designated Cantonment Leavenworth.

Thus began one of the most important Army posts on the western fringe of the early pioneer territory. From here a branch of the famous Oregon Trail coursed up the steep hills from Missouri. The huge corrals and supply yards for a branch of the Santa Fe Trail sprang up on the flats a short distance away from the river, where the traders and wagon trains began their long journey into the Mexican territory, and the early garrisons fought off Indians and sickness while trying to improve their living quarters and carry on training.

Although Ft. Leavenworth had been established with the primary object of furnishing protection to the annual caravans carrying the trade between the US and Mexico, the expedition which set out in June 1829 under Maj. Bennett Riley, with a battalion of the 6th Infantry, was the first actually to perform such service.

When the great Indian migration commenced in the 1830s, the post became the center of activities for Indian agents and found itself faced with the job of keeping peace among the tribes.

One of the improvements was the establishment on May 29, 1829 of the first post office in Kansas, with Philip Rand as postmaster. Prior to this it was necessary to make a 26-mile horseback trip to Liberty, Mo., or travel down river by boat to the same place.

The Rev. Henry Gregory was the first chaplain assigned here and arrived in 1838. Although there had bee no clergyman on duty at the post before that time, a number of sermons had been delivered by missionaries to the Indian tribes in the vicinity.

When the Mexican War broke out, Ft. Leavenworth, as it was called after an order was issued changing the names of all cantonments to forts in 1832, became the outfitting post for troops moving to the south. The post was headquarters for the Army of the West, under command of Gen. Stephen W. Kearney, and it was from here that the famed "Doniphan Expedition," made up of 1,658 Missouri volunteers, set out to march into Mexico by way of Santa Fe.

The 1850s were a period of turmoil and animosities. States' rights and slavery issues were hot and became sizzling when the territory was opened for settlement. In 1854 civilian communities sprang up on all sides of the post. On June 13, 1854, a company was organized at Weston, Mo., for the establishment of a new town near the fort. Thus, Leavenworth is now the oldest incorporated city in the state.

Ft. Leavenworth was the site of the first capitol of Kansas from Oct. 7 to Nov. 24, 1854. Territorial Gov. Andrew J. Reeder actually ran the affairs of the new territory in a building located on the present site of one of our classrooms, Pope Hall, and lived in a set of quarters at 12-14 Sumner Place which are still being used as quarters for officers' families.

It was at Ft. Leavenworth that William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) gained his first experience as a boy helper in the wagon and pack trains which outfitted here--and so began his career as a famous plainsman. In Leavenworth a new lawyer, William Tecumseh Sherman, put out his shingle in 1858. In 1859 the telegraph was extended to the post from St. Louis, Mo.

In 1861 Camp Lincoln was established here, with much the same duties during the Civil War as the Reception Center had during World War II. Men mustered into the service here were trained and then assigned to units for combat duty.

In 1867 the cemetery at Ft. Leavenworth was made a National Cemetery. It now has over 6,000 graves, many dating back to the Indian Wars.

In 1871 the first Catholic church was constructed on Kearney avenue. It was torn down later and replaced in 1889 by Saint Ignatius Chapel at its present location on McClellan avenue. The Post Chapel still stands at its original site on Scott avenue where it was built in 1878 by prison labor of stone quarried on the reservation.

In 1874 the United States Disciplinary Barracks was established at Ft. Leavenworth -- thus adding to the national importance of the post. With the building of railroads across the plains, the mission of being the western arsenal and supply base in the Indian campaigns ceased.

By this time, the general staff had realized the critical need in the Army for extensive military, as well as practical education of its officers,a nd so in 1881 "The School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry" was established at the post with correct reading, writing, grammar and arithmetic as the primary subjects. Instrumental in the establishment was Gen. William T. Sherman who ordered that the school be started.

In 1888 streetcar service was installed. The car line linked the city of Leavenworth with the post by a steam train which left Third street, paralleled the river bank and arrived at a terminal west of the Missouri Pacific station.

Grant's monument, located at the intersection of Kearney and Grant avenues, was sculptured by Lorado Taft and erected in 1889 as a memorial to the famous Civil War general.

The Spanish-American War swiftly depleted the number of personnel at the fort and by April 1898 the garrison consisted of but eight officers and 31 enlisted men.

Army reorganization following the turn of the century gave Ft. Leavenworth increased prestige and importance. In 1901 it was decided to instruct officers at their own posts with much of the schooling which had previously been given at the fort. Thus, officers who completed the posts' schools and were---------------

Return to Index