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.

Early History of Fort Leavenworth

Leavenworth Times, Sunday, April 5, 1925

As Given By Major Elvid Hunt, U. S. Army, Before the Enlisted Men of Ft. Leavenworth, March 30, 1925.




Many Interesting Local Incidents And Names Brought Into the Narrative.



[in a box]Major Elvid Hunt delivered the following to the enlisted men of Fort Leavenworth on March 30, 1925. On March 31, he was a guest of the Leavenworth Kiwanis Club at their regular weekly luncheon, during which he was asked to repeat it to the member of the club. He asked them to consider themselves soldiers up at Fort Leavenworth, since the address was originally prepared and intended for them. According to Major Hunt, this should not be hard to do, since some of the very oldest settlers of Leavenworth--the law firms of Ewings, McCook and Sherman--all became General officers of the United States Army.

The lecture is so rich in interest and local history and stirred the Kiwanians to such an extent by its quality, that The Times asked Major Hunt for permission to use the lecture in its entirety.


Two years from now, in 1927, this Post of Fort Leavenworth will arrive at its one hundredth birthday. The many visitors who then will come to the Fort to help celebrate its centennial year will naturally ask us many questions about the thing they see, so it seem well that we should look back into some of the old records, books, and histories and fix in our minds the part played by Fort Leavenworth in the "winning of the west." We should ask some of the men who have lived in the Post longest to tell us some of the interesting stories of other days and to give us a picture of the way things used to look. There is Mr. McGlinn who was born in this Post, who went to??????????????????

ing the Government here for nearly forty years. There is Sergeant Schillo, and Professor Scard, and Mr. Pulley, and Mr. Bewick; all of whom carry recollections of this Post which go back quite a number of years. Mr. Bewick is the Post Gardener. He came here about twenty years ago. He knows a great deal about trees and the other day he told me that the fine old elm tree in the rear of General Smith's house and the great tree back of Colonel Richmond's house and the big tree near the corral were about the largest and oldest trees in the Post. He especially called my attention to the great gnarled old tree near the flag pole. In his judgment that tree is more than one hundred years old, so it must have been standing there when Colonel Leavenworth's men came up over the hill and pitched their tents around it. The next time you pass these old trees, examine them--they are well worth you interest.

Early Explorations of West.

Looking back into our histories, we find that the first exploring expedition into his part of the country was made by Spaniards who came up from Mexico in the year 1540, and that afterward the French explored and took possession of the great middle section of the United States and named it "Louisiana," in honor of King Louis XIV of France. We also read that the United States bought "Louisiana" from France in the year 1803.

The purchase of "Louisiana Territory" by the United States, coupled with the fact that a few years afterward Mexico threw off the Spanish yoke, caused a great extension of trade and the establishment of trading routes or paths leading out into the West and in the Southwest. The chief of these paths was the great Santa Fe Trail which started from the western part of Missouri and led westward and southwestward along the present general line of the Santa Fe railroad. Along this trail, first went the long caravans of pack mules and later of covered wagons carrying merchandise and manufactured articles into northwestern Mexico (now California and New Mexico) and bringing back thousands of dollars worth of gold; silver, and furs.

Indian Menace to Trade.

It was natural that this trade activity should come into conflict with the Indians, and soon the traders were calling loudly upon the United States for protection. Senator Benton of Missouri responded to these calls and through his influence, the United States government issued orders to Colonel Henry Leavenworth of the 3rd United States Infantry, stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri, to ascend the Missouri River and select a site for and establish a military post on the east bank of the river within ten miles of the mouth of the Little Platte river.

Colonel Leavenworth's men started up the Missouri River on the 17th of April, 1827. For some reason or other, steam-boats were not available for them and so they came up the river in large boats called keelboats. The trip took about three weeks, and you can imagine why it took so long when you read that sometimes the boats were propelled by oars, sometimes pushed along by means of long poles, sometimes pulled along like canal boats by means of long ropes, and sometimes helped along by sails.

Site of Fort Chosen.

It seems probable that Colonel Leavenworth came up the river ahead of his men. Records indicate that he stopped at Liberty, Missouri, which was the nearest town to the mouth of the Platte river, that he set out from Liberty and explored the territory indicated by the War Department, that he found it too low and unsuitable for the site of the new Army Post, and that he then proceeded up the river some twenty miles further. When he saw this high ground on the west bank of the river it looked to him like an ideal site, so he selected this place, and made his landing, probably down near the present Missouri Pacific railroad station. He made his report to the War Department which approved his judgment.

Colonel Leavenworth was well fitted to select a site for and to establish the new Post. He had had responsible positions before. He had been in charge of Indian Affairs in the Northwest and he had established Fort Snelling up in Minnesota. It is also interesting to note that he had established at his Post at Jefferson Barracks, school for Infantry. I do not suppose, however, that this distinguished pioneer in military education had any idea that Fort Leavenworth would become within the century a great Army School of world wide reputation and influence.

Colonel Leavenworth's command consisted of four companies of the 3rd Infantry. With the command were several women and children belonging to the families of officers and enlisted men. One of the officers, Captain Belknap, was the father of the Secretary of War, Belknap. Lieutenant Heinzelman later became General Heinzelman. One of the eight year old children with the expedition later became famous as the Artillery General, Henry J. Hunt of Civil War fame.

Trade Escort Necessary.

The first escort that was sent out from the Post consisted of several companies of the 6th Infantry which went out in the Spring of 1829 as an escort to a caravan going from Independence, Missouri, to New Mexico. The escort accompanied the caravan as far as the border line of Mexican territory when it was relieved by an escort furnished by the Governor of New Mexico. The American escort then went into camp to await the return of the caravan in the fall. This escort suffered much from shortage of food and from small skirmishes with the lurking Indians, so although there had been no real sickness in the command, it was glad to get back to Fort Leavenworth in the late fall for a change and a rest.

However, there was plenty of work at the Fort and soon the Indian fighters were busy building log cabins, improving the roads, and laying in supplies for the next year's expeditions. These supplies were for the most part purchased from a few settlers across the river in Clay County, Missouri and the supplies were brought across the river in flat boats constructed at Liberty, Missouri. The Government bought these supplies at low prices--bacon at one and a quarter cents a pound and salt pork at seventy-five cents a hundred.

Going to town in those days was not the easy matter of our day. It consisted of a horseback trip over a thirty mile trail through wooded country to Liberty, which was the nearest town. During the first two years of the Post's history, the mail orderly had to go to Liberty, which was the nearest post office. In 1829, the government established a post office at the Fort and soon the mail was received at the Post three times a week.

Early Indian Conferences.

In 1830 the first survey of the Post was made by the Reverend Isaac McCoy, a missionary who was interested in the removal of certain Indian tribes to new reservations west of the Mississippi. When these Indians began to move into their new homes, several controversies arose with the other Indians. The United States attempted to adjust matters and to outline certain areas which were not to be encroached upon but were to be left to the western Indians. Many adjustments were made in a series of conferences which were held here at Fort Leavenworth. These conferences were very picturesque. Historical records describe one held in 1833. The conference was probably held in the shade of our old friend the great tree in Sumner place, and we can imagine the interested crowd of officers, enlisted men, women, and children who watched it. The historian says:

"The first day, summoned by cannon, the Indians gathered in the grove in front of the officer's quarters, each group marching into the council bearing the peculiar ornaments of the tribe; first the Delawares, the most civilized of all the tribes, gay with silver ornaments and ribbons, quite at ease and even tolerant; then the Shawnees, their bodies covered with gaudy paint, followed by the Pottawatomies and the Kickapoos; next the Otoes with faces absolute expressionless; and last the Pawnees, their faces fierce, their hair matted and tangled, their bodies smeared with ochre, and their chests bared. The second day the Kansas Indians arrived, wrapped in great white blankets and carrying rifles. There was much parleying on the third day, by an agreement was finally reached. The treaty was signed on the fourth day and the council was over."

From the writings of the various early visitors to the Post, we obtain the following picture of the way it looked in the early days. George Catlin, the Artist, thus describes it as it looked to him in 1833:

"The Post was garrisoned by six or seven companies with about fifteen officers, many of whose wives and daughters were present. A dozen white-washed cottage looking houses formed three sides of a hollow square, the fourth being open and looking over the prairie. It was a hospitable garrison. There was plenty of riding, horseback and carriage, gay parties, picnics to pick strawberries or plums, horse-racing, grouse shooting, and deer chasing."

In 1834, the first regiment of regular cavalry (the 1st U.S. dragoons), to be organized in the United States was brought to Fort Leavenworth from Fort Gibson. Each year expeditions were sent out, sometimes four or five, to accompany caravans across the plains or to make a show of force before the Indians. In 1839, and expedition of considerable importance, consisting of ten companies of dragoons was successfully led by Colonel Stephen Kearney to quiet the Cherokees.

An Era of Building.

Between 1830 and 1840, there was considerable building going on in the Post, the most pretentious house constructed during the period being the large double house on the north side of Sumner Place, built of brick and intended for the Post Commander. This was considered to be a very fine house in those days and was occupied by Post Commanders until the year 1890. Among the distinguished officers who have lived in this house were General Miles, Otis and Wheeler.

About the year 1845, settlers began to go in large numbers to the Northwest. These settlers used the path which soon became known as the Oregon Trail, one branch of which led near the Post. One of the earliest travelers to make the journey over the Oregon Trail was the well known historian Francis Parkman, and to him we owe the following description of Fort Leavenworth as it looked in 1846:

"Forth Leavenworth is in fact no fort, being without defensive works except two block houses. No rumors of war have as yet disturbed its tranquility. In the square grassy area surrounded by barracks and quarters of officers, the men were passing and repassing or lounging among the trees although not many weeks afterward it presented a different scene, for here men congregated from all the frontier for the expedition against Santa Fe."

Mexican War Activities.

It was in this year of 1846 that Fort Leavenworth emerged for the first time from its background of woods, plains, Indians, and frontier crudeness and assumed a definite individuality. The Mexican War brought it into prominence and since that struggle it has retained a conspicuous place both in the history of the Army and of the United States.

During the Mexican War, Fort Leavenworth became the outfitting post for a large force called the "Army of the West," which was commanded by General Kearney. During the organization of this force, great crowds of people from the adjoining country thronged the Post to bid their friends and relatives goodbye. Patriotic women came from every town and country in the vicinity to present flags and pennants to the different companies. General Kearney marched this force all the way from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a distance of 800 miles over unbroken roads, making the march in less than fifty days. Included in General Kearney's command, was the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers, commanded by Colonel A. W. Doniphan. Before the end of 1847, six different expeditions left the Post to participate in the Mexican War.

Percival G. Lowe Arrives.

Colonel E. V. Sumner was in command of the Post during the year 1849. One of the recruits who arrived here during that year gives us a vivid picture ????? at the Post at that time. The very method of arriving at the Post was by no means easy. All the recruits who enlisted in the East for ??? service were first sent to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Here they received recruit training. When they were ready to join their posts in the West, they were sent by the following route: first by rail to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then by canal to a point well within the Allegheny Mountains, over the mountains on foot, by canal to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, then down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers by steamboat up the Missouri river to Fort Leavenworth, provided they were lucky enough to arrive at St. Louis when the river was not frozen up. In the case of the recruit just mentioned, Percival G. Lowe by name, who served five years at the Post in the dragoons and afterwards in the Quartermaster Department finally settling in Leavenworth where he became a prominent citizen, he and his companions were unlucky enough to arrive at St. Louis in the Winter, and so they had to march a large part of the distance over difficult roads.

The pay of the soldier at this time was eight dollars per month, one dollar of which was kept out each month and retained until the end of his enlistment. Lowe says that the soldiers considered themselves very comfortable in those days with bedsacks filled once a month with hay which they called "prairie feathers," a pair of soldier blankets, and an overcoat which also did duty as a pillow. When fuel was scarce, they cut an hauled the wood themselves from the north end of the Post. A few barrels sawed in two and placed in the company kitchens between supper and tattoo satisfactorily served the purpose of bath tubs.

Weston Then a Large Town.

Many of the enlisted men had their wives with them. The enlisted men had a dramatic club which gave frequent plays which the entire garrison attended. Once a year the enlisted men gave a grand ball which required much preparation and many trips across the river to Weston. Weston had sprung up in the caravan days as an outfitting point for the settlers who went out to Oregon in their covered wagons. Many of these settlers came up the river by steamboat and bought their wagons and all their equipment at Weston. The city of Leavenworth had not yet been started in 1849, but Weston was a thriving town and boasted about ten thousand inhabitants.

Let us study the location of the more important buildings in the Post at this time, the year 1849, just at the close of the Mexican war. A little south of the east end of the old stone wall, stood a two story block house, the lower part of which was built of stone and the upper part of logs. Just back of the block house, stood the old stone wall with loop holes facing south. The old wall was much rougher and cruder than the wall you now see, the old wall having been reconstructed in 1917, in order to preserve it. On the east side of Sumner Place, where Colonel Van Schaick's house now stands, were two two-story brick buildings with wide front porches upstairs and down. These buildings were used as dragoon barracks and were named McPherson and Thomas Halls. Just beyond and north of these buildings stood a one story and basement building used as officers' quarters. It is still standing with another story added and is now the oldest building in the Post. Just around the corner was another building used as officers' quarters. West of that was the best building in the Post at that time, the commanding officer's quarters, very much in appearance as it now is. Next were four or five more officers' quarters.

West of the parade, where the barracks now are, were four or five one-story and basement buildings used as quarters for married soldiers and civilians. As the corner where the bank building now stands, was a two-story frame structure, which was the quarters and mess of the bachelor officers. This building must have been a lively place, because it was familiarly called "Bedlam." On the south side of Sumner Place, there was a row of log stables. Near the middle of the parade ground there was a powder magazine over which a sentinel was constantly posted. Near the present north end of Schofield Hall was the guard house, which was described as an unmerciful dungeon, with a stone basement and a log superstructure.

Naming the Creeks.

Just south of the present officer's club was the hospital. On the ridge where the old riding hall now is there was another block house. Near the present location of Pope Hall were the Quartermaster store houses and the Quartermaster's office. In this vicinity also was the flag pole. Teamsters going to the south from the Quartermasters used to rudely estimate their distances from the Post by naming the creed one-mile creek, two-mile creek, and so on--all measurements being made from the flag pole. At the steam-boat landing down by the Missouri Pacific railroad station, were stone warehouses. McGlinn tells me that he remembers when there were two warehouses down there. He also remembers when the river came up quite close to the warehouses, because he used to go in swimming there when he was a boy. The remains of one of the old warehouses can still be seen across the tracks on the river side down by the railroad station. The old road which led directly from the landing at the warehouse to the top of the hill near the Post Chapel can still be traced by the grading and the double line of trees which were along its sides.

At the top of the road about where the Post Chapel now stands was the Sutler's store. The Sutler's store was a sort of a general supply store which in those days took the place of the post exchange. It was a popular gatherling[sic] place both for the officers and the enlisted men. The Sutler's store was kept by a civilian who came from Liberty, Missouri, Colonel Hiram Rich. The next building to the south was the parsonage. It was built of logs and later was given a surface covering of clap-boards like a frame house. For many years it was the Post Office. It was torn down only a short time ago. Across the road from the parsonage was the big yellow house now occupied by Colonel Richmond. At that time it was occupied by the Sutler, Hiram Rich. The only other building in the Post at this time was the house of the ordnance-sergeant, just a little south of the Parsonage. This house is no longer standing. The Post cemeteries were about where General Smith's house now stands and also around on the point beyond the Library. These cemeteries were moved to the present site about 1858.

Leavenworth City Founded.

In the year 1854, the territory of Kansas was organized and thrown open to settlement. Almost immediately three towns sprang up near the Post; one on the north--Atchison, one on the northwest--Kickapoo, and one just to the south--Leavenworth. The interest of the Post, of course, was centered on the town immediately to the south, which was to be its nearest neighbor. Many of the Army officers at the Fort, among them, Major E. A. Ogden, Major Sackfield Macklin, Major Franklin Hunt and Major Joseph E. Johston were interested in the formation of the new town, and one of them, Major Ogden, was a member of the first board of trustees, and many other officers, enlisted men, and civilian employees bought property for investment. Major Ogden was the man who gave Indian names to all the streets north of Three Mile creek.

Fort Leavenworth was chosen as the temporary capital of the government of the new Territory of Kansas, the Governor Reeder opened his offices here on October 7 and remained until November 4th of the same year. He lived in one of the buildings on Sumner Place and took his meals with Hiram Rich, the Post Sutler. His offices were located in the building which now stands at the northeast corner of Sumner Place. Upon the arrival of the Governor, Franklin E. Hunt, tendered him a reception, which was very largely attended by the new settlers from Leavenworth, Salt Creek Valley and for miles around.

In 1855, the addition of another regiment of cavalry to the Garrison called for additional construction. Heretofore most of the building had been done by the troops, but now the policy called for the hiring of civilian labor in the East. Colonel E. V. Sumner, the Post Commander had been visiting relatives in Syracuse, New York and he persuaded one E. T. Carr to bring a body of carpenters here to undertake the work. Ten new stables were built, frame barracks for six troops, and three sets of double quarters for officers. The cavalry stables were built at the upper end of McClellan avenue but they were destroyed by fire in 1875. The frame barracks were on the west side of Sumner Place, where the brick barracks now stand. The officers quarters were built on the east side of Sumner Place. Two of them are still standing, the third having burned down in 1890. Because they were built by the carpenters from Syracuse, they have been called the Syracuse houses ever since.

In 1857, Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormans[sic], refused to recognize the authority of the United States Government, and as a result, a large body of troops was marched to Utah by General Harney. The command was afterward taken over by General Albert Sidney Johnston, the famous Confederate General. This Mormon difficulty called for several contingents of troops to be sent out from the Post extending over a period of three years.

C.O.'s House Built 1858.

In 1858, the Secretary of War authorized a small ordnance depot to be established there, and two years later 130 acres in the southeastern part of the Post were designated for the use of the Ordnance Department. The building now known as Sherman and Sheridan Halls constituted the Ordnance Storehouses, and the house now occupied by General Smith was built for the commandant of the Ordnance Depot. An iron gate to the Arsenal Grounds was erected on Scott avenue at the junction with Pope. Just as the left of the gate there was a small guard house, two stories high and built of brick.

Civil War Activities

When, in 1861, the Civil War broke out, General Harney telegraphed to Washington asking for reinforcements to protect Leavenworth and its Arsenel[sic]. Washington ordered the reinforcements but they were delayed in arriving and in the meantime, three companies of Organized Militia from Leavenworth served at the Post. These companies bore the name of The Leavenworth Light Infantry, the Union Guards, and the Shield Guards, the respective commanders being Captains Clayton Powell, Cousins, and Daniel McCook. The First Lieutenant of the Shields Guards was James McGonigle. In 1864, rumors began to be circulated that the Confederate Leader, General Sterling Price was about to attack Fort Leavenworth. At this time all the Regulars were away in the West, pursuing Indians, and so the Governor of the Territory called out all able-bodied men. General T. A. Davis was placed in command of the defenses around Fort Leavenworth and Major Franklin Hunt was placed in charge of the defenses of the City. Earthworks were constructed on the hills in the western section of the Post and cannon were emplaced therein. To defend Leavenworth, a long line of tarthworks[sic] was thrown up south of the town, near the vicinity of Michigan avenue.

In 1873, the establishment of the military prison was authorized, and the next year the Quartermaster Department turned over the old quartermaster buildings to the prison.

Post School Founded.

In 1881 and important change came about which developed into the officer's school system now conducted at Fort Leavenworth. In May, 1881, General William Tecumseh Sherman, then commanding the Army of the United States, directed that measures be taken for the establishment at the Post of a School of Application for Infantry and Cavalry Officers similar to the one that had been established for the Artillery at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Through many changes and developments, this beginning has developments, this beginning has developed into the system of General Service Schools of today.

Many new developments seemed to follow the establishment of the Schools. In 1883, the present reservoir system was established for supplying the Post with water. During the very early days, the water wagon used to drive out into the Missouri river, and the soldiers standing on the wagon hubs used to dip up the water and fill the cans. Mr. Scard tells me that at a later period he remembers when the large wooden water wagon drawn by an especially fine team of six white mules used to make its trips down to the river bank where the tank was pumped full of water and then it made the rounds of the quarters and filled the water barrels which stood behind each set of quarters. After that there was a period when the water was pumped up from the river into a tank located in the Post.

In 1877 all the roads and streets were named. Arsenal avenue was renamed Scott avenue. The old Fort road became Grant avenue. On the other side of Corral creek, the old Fort road used to lead into town farther to the east and connect with fifth street. You can still trace part of the old road across the fields.

Corral creek got its name during and just after the Civial[sic] war, because the Government maintained great corrals of mules there to supply the various expeditions. It is said that at one time the Government had several thousand mules in the corrals along the creek.

In following this brief outline of the early history of the Fort, we obtain a picture of the true spirit of Fort Leavenworth--that of modest, self-effacing service to the Nation. With few material rewards for itself, it came forth from its position in readiness--which was a little to one side of the main western trails--and did its part in providing safety to the trade of the Nation, while the latter was reaching out into the Southwest. It did its work so quietly and efficiently that its record almost escaped the historian.

Again in the World war, Fort Leavenworth stepped forward and did its great work, and today we find it in its usual place--a little to one side of the main trails--out of the public eye and mind for the present--but preparing with the greatest energy for its next service to the Nation.

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