William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


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Fort Leavenworth, from which the county and city derive their name, was established September 19, 1827. As early as March 7, 1827, Col. Henry H. Leavenworth, Third United States Infantry, was directed, with four companies of his regiment, to ascend the Missouri River, and at some point on its left bank within twenty miles of the mouth of the Little Platte River, either above or below its confluence, to select such position as, in his judgment, would be best calculated for a permanent cantonment. He carefully explored the region as instructed, and failing to find a desirable site on the west bank of the Missouri, wrote to the Department that there was no good site for a military post on the left bank of the Missouri within the distance of the place mentioned in the general orders from the Adjutant General's office, and that he had accordingly proceeded up the river some twenty miles and found a very good site for a cantonment on the right bank of the Missouri, about twenty miles from the mouth of the Little Platte, and had concluded that there was no other place within the prescribed distance of that river that would answer the desired purpose.

Early in July, before the official approval of his selection reached him, he began the erection of barracks for his soldiers, and named the post Cantonment Leavenworth. September 19, 1827, the official approval was received by Major General Gaines, commanding the Western department, and the site selected by Col. Leavenworth thus became the permanent site of the most important military post ever established by the Government in the West.

The original site was located and the post established at the date above mentioned, since which time it has been in continuous use by the military department as soldiers' quarters, and a depot of army supplies. Once since its establishment, May 16, 1829, the garrison was withdrawn for three months, leaving only a small guard detachment at the fort. August 12, it was re-occupied, and had been garrisoned by troops uninterruptedly since that time. It was known, till February 8, 1832, as Cantonment Leavenworth, at which time, the Secretary of War, in general orders, No. 11, directed that all cantonments be called forts - thereafter, in all army orders, it was designated as Fort Leavenworth. The postoffice at the fort continued to be designated as Cantonment Leavenworth until October 19, 1841, at which time, it also was changed to Fort Leavenworth.

The first record in the office of the Adjutant General, defining the boundaries of the Fort Leavenworth Military Reserve, bears date June 21, 1838. At that time by declaration of the President its limits were defined as follows:

"The land held as reserved, extends from six to seven miles along the Missouri River, and varies from one to two miles wide, containing about 6.840 acres."

"The reservation is on the right bank of the Missouri River, and about 150 feet above its surface. Latitude, 39° 21 north; Longitude, 94° 44 west."

Subsequently to the treaty with the Delawares of May 6, 1854 - October 10, 1854 - the limits of the reservation were again declared by the President, to conform with that treaty.

Small sales of the reservation have been made by the Government since it has been surrounded by a civilized community as follows:

By act of Congress, approved July 27, 1868, right of way to certain railroads therein named was granted; also, a certain defined portion of land was donated for the exclusive use of a public road.

By act of July 20, 1868, the sale of twenty acres of the reservation was authorized - to the Leavenworth Coal Company.

By joint resolution of Congress, approved February 9, 1871, the sale of a portion of the lands was authorized - to the Kansas Agricultural and Mechanical Associations of Leavenworth County, State of Kansas, for fair grounds.

It at present comprises an area of about nine square miles, being bounded: North and east by the Missouri River; south by the city of Leavenworth, and west by the town of Kickapoo. The general proportions of the tract have not been materially changed since first defined. They extend north and south along the Missouri a little more than five miles, and westward inland from one and one-fourth to two miles; the western boundary conforming to the eastern line of the town of Kickapoo.

Whatever military advantages decided Col. Leavenworth in selecting the site, they were certainly in accord with the tastes of the most ardent and exacting demands of the lover of the beautiful. From the high bluffs that front the Missouri River the land slopes westward in gentle undulation, broken by occasional abrupt elevations, just sufficient to give variety to the landscape. Heave wood covered the land adjacent to the river, thinning out somewhat and opening into a natural shaded park a short distance from the river bluff where the barracks were built. A letter written by a tourist who visited it in the spring of 1854, thus describes its appearance and surroundings at that time:

About noon we began to approach the vicinity of Fort Leavenworth. This is, without exception, the most beautiful place on the river. When within two or three miles, whoever has been in the country once will know that his is approaching it by the scenery, which much resembles that of some old English Manor that has been given up for a few years to the keeping of nature, or rather like some gigantic park. It is difficult to believe that the hand of art has not been busy there; the banks of the river are quite high and steep, presenting a mural face of limestone, and the bluffs above are covered with a small growth of elms, their branches covered with a dense foliage, and bending gracefully toward the ground like those of the weeping willow. As soon as the boat touched the landing, all the passengers stepped on shore and ascended the hill to the barracks, about a quarter of a mile. Much had been said of the beauty of the location and the fine prospect we should enjoy at the top of the bluffs, and consequently the interest was considerable. Nor were we in the least disappointed. As far as the eye could reach on either hand, hill rose above hill in an almost endless series of undulations, beautiful streams were winding their sinuous course through fertile valleys, and the whole, diversified with find groves, gave to the view an air of enchantment. Add to this an inexhaustible fertility of soil, and we have a truly fine country. At the foot of the landing is a large store-house, at which considerable business is done. On the summit of the bluff is a large plateau, on which the fort, or village, stands, for it has far more the appearance of a beautiful village than a fort. In the center are three or four large buildings, much like "city blocks," in which the soldiers have their mess and lodge. At a little distance from these, and at the several corners, are a number of fine houses, the residences of the officers. In the rear is a splendid grove of elms, with their branches bending to the ground, and through the dense foliage a fine prairie breeze is ever playing, rendering the atmosphere cool and healthy. This is the promenade ground.

A description in Hale's History of Kansas (1855) reads as follows:

It is the great frontier depot for the other military posts on the Santa Fe and Oregon routes, and the general rendezvous for troops proceeding to Western forts. The Government reservation of nine square miles is on a handsome location, which rises gradually from the river to a height of 150 feet. There is a good landing for steamboats. All the buildings are well constructed of stone, and present quite an imposing appearance. They consist of the barracks for the troops, a large structure three stories high; a hospital, which cost from $12,000 to $15,000; the quartermaster's building, a capacious warehouse, etc.; connected with the fort is a large farm.

At this time (1854) the fort was garrisoned by one company of the Fourth Artillery and one of the First Dragoons, under Col. Fauntleroy.

The fort was first established for the protection of the Santa Fe traders from the incursions of the Indians, who had begun a system of raiding and plunder on the caravans of traders passing yearly, in increasing numbers over the route. It was at first garrisoned by four companies of the Third Infantry, under command of Maj. Baker. This was a part of the regiment of Col. Leavenworth, the founder of the post. The troops for several years were seriously afflicted with climatic diseases, which resulted, in the summer of 1829, in the removal of almost the entire garrison to the plains, as has been before stated. In 1830, the Sixth Regiment of Infantry superseded the Third in occupation. In 1835, the Third Division of United States Dragoons, under Col. Dodge, was stationed there. Their stay was prolonged to ten years or more, as the American State Papers relate that in 1845, Col. Dodge, with his command, marched from Fort Leavenworth to Pike's Peak and back, cultivating the friendship of the Prairie Indians on the way.

Up to 1845, the history of the fort has no especial interest to the general reader, beyond that of any remote military post of the government. The war with Mexico, the subsequent acquisition of California, New Mexico, and a part of Colorado, the consequent tide of emigration to the far Western Territories and the Pacific coast, have combined to render it a point of historic as well as picturesque interest. Through all the changes of the intervening years, it has been the great source of supply and main point of departure for the Government expeditions, whether peaceful or hostile, as well as for the immense tide of Western emigration which set in, in 1848, and went on unceasing and increasing, till the trans-continental railway diverted it to a safer and more rapid path of transit.

It was the rendezvous of Gen. Kearney's troops in June, 1846, and their starting point in his Santa Fe expedition. The expeditions of Gen. Joseph Lane to Oregon, in 1848; and Capt. Stansbury to Utah, in 1849, were both fitted out at this point. Col. Fremont also started thence on his explorations of 1849. The new military road (new in 1850) from Fort Leavenworth to Forts Kearney and Laramie, on the Upper Platte, became the great thoroughfare of the western emigrants to Oregon, California, and Utah. Upwards of 70,000 men, women and children, with wagons, horses, flocks and herds innumerable, passed over this road in 1849-50. During the border troubles and intestine wars of Territorial Kansas, the troops stationed at Fort Leavenworth played no unimportant part, as is related in the general history. They were alternately the hope and fear of the contending parties. The fort was also designated, in the Territorial act, as the temporary seat of government, and was, at that time (May, 1845), the only place in the Territory having any buildings or conveniences for the Government officials.

All through the war of the Rebellion, it was the base of supplies for the semi-barbarous and semi-savage warfare of the border.

The First Post-Office in Kansas Territory was established at Fort Leavenworth, under the name of Cantonment Leavenworth, or the 'La Platte,' Clay County,* Mo., May 29, 1828. The first Postmaster was Philip G. Rand. His successors, with date of their appointments, were as follows: Thomas S. Bryant, appointed October 16, 1828; R. P. Beauchamp, ________; Alex. G. Morgan, July 8, 1831; Joseph V. Hamilton, April 3, 1838; Albert G. Wilson, December 5, 1839; ______ _____ served to October 19, 1841, at which time the name was changed to Fort Leavenworth, and Hiram Rich appointed Postmaster.

* Clay County, Mo., was the adjoining county, across the river, in the State of Missouri.

The subsequent appointees were: Andrew G. Ege, March 12, 1862; Edward Fenlon, May 19, 1862; Elizabeth Graham, March 20, 1865; Edward Fenlon, August 8, 1865; Myers B. Haas, May 14, 1866; Michael L. Dunn, August 10, 1866; David L. Payne, March 19, 1867; Michael L. Dunn, July 20, 1867 - served to July 31, 1868, when the office was discontinued. It was re-established April 16, 1869, and Mrs. Clara E. Nichols appointed Postmistress.

A reminiscence. - As an interesting conclusion to the early history of Fort Leavenworth, there is presented below a reminiscence from the pen of A. F. Callahan.

The original fort composed a square, on each of the four corners of which was erected a log block house, punctured with port holes for muskets. Within this square were log edifices for quarters, warehouses and stables. The post grew gradually by degrees and increased in importance, until enlarged barracks for the troops, officers' quarters, warehouses for the quartermaster, commissary and ordnance departments and offices, suitable for the transaction of business, together with stables, forage cribs, etc., etc., have spread it over a large tract of the reservation. The old fortifications have long since disappeared, and only a few of the veterans who were familiar with them now lag superfluous or otherwise. Like the hostlerie of Benny Havens at West Point - immortalized by Surgeon Lucius O'Brien - the landmarks of Fort Leavenworth, where old Hiram Rich held high carnival as sutler, and the structure known as "Bedlam," where bachelors and truant Benedicts "raised old Nick," and other places formerly notorious, now only exist in the legends of memory or the garrulous chronicles of toothless and retired seniors. Many of the flower of the army - indeed most of them - who gave their blood free as water to their country, spent portions of their service at Fort Leavenworth. Such now fill heroes' graves or are enjoying well earned "brevets."

General Persifer F. Smith died here in 1858, while en route to take command of the Utah expedition. His remains were conveyed to a steamboat by General Harney with a troop of cavalry, a battalion of infantry and a section of artillery. Several generals and colonels, including Charley May, of Mexican fame, acted as pall bearers on the occasion. The gruff old Harney started out for Utah, but was met by the news that Albert Sidney Johnston had fixed up with Brigham, and so he returned to St. Louis. Gallant, chivalrous Reno was ordnance officer here when the war cloud came, but was soon called to Washington to accept a major general's commission - and a glorious grave. The aesthetical and precise Bankhead Magruder commanded the fort once, prior to the unpleasantness, and was a good showman or ringmaster. He instituted pageants for our edification, sham battles and such like. The artillery boomed o'er the prairies, and reverberated through the fastnesses, much to our amusement. Magruder was expensive - a sort of military dandy - but popular, doubtless, with the powder contractors. Sturgis sowed his wild oats hereabouts, and, twenty-five years ago, was probably the most powerful man in the army. He could readily pitch any ordinary man across a fence, but was withal, a most courtly officer and thorough gentlemen. Poor Custer was here frequently after the war, with the glorious Seventh Cavalry, and his lovely wife reigned as one of the queens of society. General Hancock was once quartermaster at the fort, and afterward department commander. Colonel May, the Steeles, Bragg, Canby, Meiggs, Kearney, Marcy, Swift, Sully, Mills, Sacket, Sedgwick, and indeed all the old army officers have sojourned for a time at this garrison.

General Phillip H. Sheridan once since the war came here and established his headquarters at Fort Leavenworth. He probably would have remained here until to-day, as he liked the fort and enjoyed the society hereabouts, had it not been for a little faux pas. One of the justices of the peace fined the dashing cavalryman $100 for contempt of court. The fine was promptly paid by the citizens of Leavenworth, but Sheridan removed his headquarters to Chicago, and thus immense sums of money and unlimited increase of prosperity were diverted into other channels, for it is well know that the headquarters of the lieutenant-general of the army are of incalculable advantage to any place.

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