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.

The Earliest Days of Fort Leavenworth

by George J. Remsburg

----7, 1926

One of the most valuable books on the history of this section of the west, was written by the late Judge William M. Paxton, of Platte City, Mo., and is entitled, "Annals of Platte County, Missouri." It was published in 1897, and is a record of events, not only of Platte county, but of the adjacent territory, from the earliest times up to the time the book was issued, covering a period of nearly a century and a half, and even going back to prehistoric times, for it contains several pages devoted to "Evidences of a Prehistoric Race." There are more than a thousand pages in the book, and on nearly every page is some story of absorbing interest. It gives the geneologies of most of the noted families and sketches of the pioneers and distinguished personages of Platte county, from whom descended many of the prominent present day families of this section of Kansas. In fact, this portion of Kansas was largely settled by people from old Platte county. They established many of our first homes, and founded many of our towns. Both Leavenworth and Atchison were started by Platte county citizens. That they played no little part in the establishment and early history of Fort Leavenworth is shown by items gleaned from the earlier records of the volume. Following and account, which gives the well known facts regarding the establishment of Fort Leavenworth in 1827, Judge Paxton makes the following interesting entries:

"A large body of land on the west side of the Missouri was, at an early day, reserved from Indian grants, and in 1838 President Van Buren designated the lands previously surveyed between Bee creek and the Missouri as a Military Reserve for Fort Leavenworth. The northern line was so run as to embrace Rialto, and dislodge a nest of outlaws, who had established themselves at that place and were selling liquor to soldiers and Indians. On October 18, 1844, a large portion of the Reserve, on the Missouri side, was vacated, and after a survey by Daniel G. Saunders, was entered by pre-emptors. The present reserve contains only 936 acres. Most of it is low and swampy land. The original timber has been removed, and the land is now a waste of young elm, sycamore, willow and cottonwood. It is of no use to the Government and ought to be sold to settlers. When I first passed, in 1839, through the Reserve, is was densely set in large cottonwood and sycamore trees.

"Robert Ellis, late of Weston, was a corporal in one of the companies that located the Cantonment. He always took to himself much honor for the part taken by himself. With his little hatchet, he blazed an oak tree, and inaugurated the grandest military post of the West." (This Robert Ellis was later elected a state senator. In a late entry in Paxton's "Annals", Nov. 26, 1880, is recalled: "Capt. Thomas J. Ellis committed suicide at his home in Weston. He was born April 1, 1803, in Lafayette county, Pa.; came west when a youth, entered the army, and was with Col. Leavenworth in 1827, when the Fort that bears his name was located. This fact was the crowning glory of Ellis' life. He served in the Black Hawk War the Florida War and the Mexican War." Whether Corporal Robert Ellis and Capt. Thomas J. Ellis were related, Paxton does not state.--Remsburg.)

"For ten years after Fort Leavenworth was established, Clay county was the base of supplies for the soldiers. Beef, bacon, lard and vegetables, and other marketing were brought from Clay. But there was no wagon road. Platte River was often past fording. Bee Creek had no fords, and at that time every branch was a creek, and every creek a rivulet. In the first settlement of Platte, hundreds of mill sites were selected on streams that do not now run three months in the year. In the summer of 1828, soldiers were detailed to open a good road from the Fort to Barry. A ford of stone and brush was made on Bee Creek, and a perfectly straight road from the Missouri to Bee Creek was cut out, twenty feet wide. At Whiteley's farm it rose to the top of the ridge, and followed the divide to within a mile of the Falls. After crossing the road, it followed another divide to Barry. It passed in front of Garrard Chestnut's, crossed Todd's Creek at Ben Jack's, headed the hollows to Longpoint, and by a straight course went to Barry. The heavy work on the west end of the route was done by soldiers; but the people of Clay county gave much assistance to the east end.

"But still two streams had to be crossed; and Zaddock Martin was authorized to settle at the Falls and keep ferries over both the Platte and Missouri rivers. Keel boats were used on the Missouri and for the Platte gunwales were hewed and plank ripped out by the whip-saw. Zaddock Martin, in the fall of 1828, came from Clay with his sons and slaves, and built of hewed lynn logs, a two-room house on the bluff on the eastern shore, below the Falls. Two shed-rooms were added, making a house of four rooms. Here he kept a tavern in the wilderness. His force was a half dozen negro men and as many stalwart sons. Besides these, there was his good wife and three handsome daughters. He had no neighbors within fifteen miles. Martin was peculiarly fitted for his calling. Tall and brawny, he weighed about 175 pounds. He wore a broad-brimmed hat and carried a hickory cane. His eyes flashed lightning and his mouth reverberated thunder. He demanded instantaneous obedience of friend or foe. Yet, he was just and charitable and loved by his family and his servants. His sons and negroes formed a military troop that even the commander of the Fort hesitated to exasperate. He cultivated corn in a field opposite his house, in the bottom and in a 30-acre field where Tracy now stands. He also had a field of corn in Sand Prairie, opposite the Fort, and another in Fancy Bottom, above Weston. He had a sugar camp on the bluff, above the present mouth of Bee Creek. His hay was cut on the prairie three miles southeast of his home. His cattle wintered on the rushes that then abounded in all the Missouri bottoms. His hogs ran wild and fed upon the mast, that consisted of acorns, hickory-nuts and pecans. His hog killing was done with dogs and guns. When pork was wanted, he shouldered his rifle, called his dogs, and went game hunting. His negroes had cabins scattered around on his lands and were ready at all hours to do him feudal service."

"May 29, 1828--A post office was established at Fort Leavenworth, and Phillip P. Rand was the first postmaster. Previously the officers and men received their mails at Liberty."

"Adam C. Woods and James H. Berry were citizens of Clay in 1828, and frequently visited the Fort. They saw the soldiers constructing their quarters of hewed logs and their stables of round cottonwood trees. The Cantonment afforded a market for the surplus produce of the west half of Clay. *** The best known officers at the Fort were Maj. Riley and Cols. Sumner, Harvey and Kearney."

"Mr. George B. Duncan says: 'I traveled the new road from Barry to Fort Leavenworth, by way of the Falls, in the summer of 1828. The road in the timber was very rough. We crossed the Platte between the upper and lower Falls, which were about two perpendicular feet each, and about 200 feet apart. The interim was a gently inclined plane, formed of large flat rocks, divided into parallelograms by seams, 4 to 6 inches wide. They extended from shore to shore, and when the river was full, a sheet of water, with flume-like rapidity, descended over them. When low, the surface of the rocks was bare, and the noisy water ripped through the seams. The natural fall, before the dam was built, was about 6 feet.'"

"Mr. Duncan continues: 'In the fall of 1829, Rice Davenport and my father, James Duncan, sold a lot of bacon to the quartermaster at the Fort for 1 1-2 cents per pound. I drove the team. We crossed the Missouri in a flat-boat, constructed at Liberty, and brought up the river by steamboat. Two yokes of oxen were first taken over and then the wagon. Net pork in 1829 sold for 75 cents per hundred; horses brought $15 to $20, oxen per yoke $30, and large steers $10.'"

"Sept. 24, 1829--By treaty the Delaware tribe of Indians were granted a body of land extending from the Kaw River to the Leavenworth reserve."

"In the fall of 1820, John C. McCoy *** surveyed the north line of the Delaware lands and laid off the Reserve on the east side of the Missouri. The south and east line of the Reserve was the old bed of Bee Creek. The original limits of the Reserve, east of the Missouri, embraced 6,000 acres--but it has been reduced to less than 1,000 acres. On the west side of the Missouri, 5,904 acres were reserved. The south line is four miles long.

"Sept. 24, 1830--Maj. John Dougherty, agent for the Pawnees, held a council with his tribe at Fort Leavenworth." (Maj. Dougherty's son, the late Capt. L. B. Dougherty of Liberty, was the first white child born at Fort Leavenworth. He was born there Dec. 7, 1828.--Remsburg.)

"1831--The mails from Liberty to the Fort, at first carried weekly by horse, are now conveyed tri-weekly by hack. Robert Cain is allowed to settle at Todd's Creek, for change of horses. Subsequently change of horses was made at the house of Wm. Fox, of Longpoint -- so called because a long point of timber there extended out into the prairie."

"Several crossings of Bee Creek were constructed by the soldiers between 1828 and 1839. In the latter year a high frame bridge was built at the point where Bee Creek enters the Missouri bottom. It was erected at the joint expense of the county and the government. This was, for many years after the settlement of the county, the approach to Weston. It was much later that the direct route from Platte City to Weston was opened."

"About 1832, the main channel of the Missouri changed from the west to the east side of Weston Island."

"1835 -- this spring Thos. Johnson and Sashel Brown, of Clay, crossed the state line into Platte and raised corn, which they sold at Fort Leavenworth." (The Platte Purchase had not then been consummated and what is now Platte county was known as the "Platte Country" and was claimed by the Iowa and Sac & Fox Indians. --Remsburg.)

(To be continued.)

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