The Fort Larned Army Bridge was built in 1868. Until this photo was offered on E-Bay in December, there was no image or evidence available of its possible location. The photo, now in the Fort Larned National Historic Site archives, shows the bridge with a Rambler automobile, an original page from a car magazine dated 1906. The caption in the magazine states: "Rambler automobile on the old government bridge which spans the Pawnee Creek near Fort Larned, Kansas"
The bridge was located on the river west of the fort buildings, close to the point where the river bends back to the west. The bridge apparently did not survive long after this photo was taken. The early Frizell family photos do not show it. This the first known view of the bridge, which is very typical of 1860s military bridges, including those built during the Civil War.
The Fort Larned long--range plans call for the removal of the old highway bridge (that you presently use to enter the fort) and construction of a wooden bridge near it historic location, with parking on the west side of the river. Now it is possible to know how that original bridge appeared.
There are references to the bridge in the post records. On June 17, 1867, the Post Commander requested authority to build a bridge across Pawnee Fork. On September 6, 1867, word was received at the post that construction of the bridge had not been considered by the Secretary of War. The following year the Post Commander again requested authority to construct a bridge, and this was approved on September 20, 1868. On September 22, 1868, the Chief Quartermaster, Department of the Upper Arkansas, sent a plan for a bridge to be built at Fort Larned. Just a few days later, on September 25, the Acting Assistant Quartermaster at Fort Larned, Lieutenant L. W. Cook, 3rd Infantry, was given authority to construct a bridge. In December 1868 the Post Surgeon wrote, "A good substantial bridge across the Pawnee Fork about 100 yards above the post was completed this month."
During June 1869 the Pawnee Fork began rising and soldiers had to remove the plank flooring to keep it from washing away. The next day the string pieces floated away. In May 1872 the Surgeon commented, "Rain has fallen nearly every 24 hours during the entire month. On the night of the 18th the Pawnee Fork commenced rising, and by 10 A.M. next morning was up to the string pieces of the bridge: 21 feet above ordinary water mark." During June 1873 the Post Quartermaster submitted an estimate for materials needed for repairs around the post. On the list is a request for kegs of spikes 4" long to repair the deck of the bridge.
There is one reference to the bridge after the fort was abandoned. The Larned Chronoscope, April 23, 1880 reported: "Mr. H. King had quite an accident happen to him last Friday night. He had been to the Fort to a dance and was returning when the buggy slipped on the embankment at the Fort Bridge and tipped over tipping Mr. King and companion out."
In June 1855, a year after the fort was sold to the Pawnee Valley Stock Breeders, Mr Sage had a fancy new bridge built about 250 feet long at almost exactly the same location as the later concrete low water bridge and the current highway bridge built in 1963. By 1885 the towns farther west, including Rozel and Burdett, were growing, and a road was located near present highway 156.
The chronology that follows includes a sampling of events that involved Fort Larned in 1868-1869. It is based largely on selected letters sent from the fort and preserved on National Archives microfilm and taken from the Fort Larned Old Guard Newsletter "Outpost."
December 31, 1868
During the month, a "good, substantial wood bridge" was completed across the Pawnee Fork about one hundred yards above the fort. That same day, the commanding officer published an order forbidding owners of horses, cattle or hogs to allow the animals to run at large within the post. All horses or cattle found loose were to be driven into the corral and not returned to the owner except on payment of two dollars. Hogs running loose on the post were to be shot.
June 26, 1869
Medical history by Lieutenant Colonel Woodhull:
On Tuesday, 22d, the Pawnee Fork commenced rising, without rain having fallen at this post, and by the afternoon of 23d washed the string pieces of the bridge 21 feet above ordinary water mark. The flooring of the bridge was taken up as a precaution to decrease its resistance should the water rise higher. The might of this freshet is believed to be unprecedented since the establishment of this Post. The water subsided during the week, leaving the banks covered with mud and with some of this vegetation killed. The "dry channel" was filled with water, much of which remained there, in giving out offense odors until drained by ditching.
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