Settlers were beginning their trek to the west in large numbers. Stage coach and pony express were carrying them and their belongings to new homes where ever they could find places to homestead. These pioneers pushed westward and became the immediate target of the Indians who made raids on stage and express lines. This endangered the lives and homes of the settlers who had come to the west seeking to settle on the plains of Kansas.
To protect the stage and express lines and the pioneer settlers the United States government ordered the establishment of several military posts along the trails leading to the west. One of these fort was in the vicinity of Big Creek and the Smoky Hill river. This fort was named Fort Fletcher. This is a sketch by Theodore R. Davis as he saw it in late 1865 soon after its establishment.
The site was about "fourteen miles southeast" of Hays, Kansas. The fort was named in honor of Thomas Clement Fletcher, governor of Missouri. On October 11, 1865, the fort was established by a Lieut. Colonel William Tamblyn with three companies of First United States Volunteers. According to the record this regiment was an infantry organization of Confederate prisoners of war who had enlisted in the United States Army for service on the frontier. Official establishment of the fort was in General Order 22 of the Department of Kansas.
This Order Reads:
"In obedience to instructions from the Major General commanding the Department of Missouri, Companies A and F of the 13th Missouri Cavalry will, without delay, proceed under command of the senior officer present to the vicinity of Big Creek and the Smoky Hill River, about 60 miles above Ellsworth, and in the vicinity establish a post. This station will be known as Fort Fletcher."
The 13th Missouri Cavalry and First U.S. Volunteer Infantry were stationed at the post, their principal function being to protect stages of theButterfield Despatch from hostile Indians. Troops were busy with this assignment and in their first engagement, november 20, 1865, killed seven Indians. Indian raids became to numerous and dangerous for the stage line to continue its operation and seven months later the post was abandoned on May 5, 1866.
Five months later on October 11, 1866, the post was again occupied, this time by regular troops, Company C, 3rd Infoatry, under command of Lieut. G. W. H. Stouch, later re-enforced by Troop E, 7th Cavalry.
Then on November 17, 1866, a General Order was received from the Headquarters Department of the Missouri, Fort Leavenworth which changed the name of the post. The order read:
"Subject to the approval of the Secretary of War, the Post being established at Camp Fletcher will be designated Fort Hays, in commemoration of the name and services of the late General Alexander Hays, United States Volunteers, who was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness."
By command of Major General Hancock
Chauncey McKeever, Assistant Adjutant General
On June 7, 1867, disaster struck this newly renamed fort. A destructive flood on Big Creek almost wiped out the first site of Fort Hays. Several soldiers were drowned and there was extensive loss of property to the stores and supplies of Fort Hays.
After this disaster at the site of old Fort Fletcher and the newly named Fort Hays, was moved to a site closer the the Kansas Pacific railroad that had laid tracks near this location. The site was selected by a Major Alfred Gibbs, upon approval by General W. S. Hancock and the fort was moved to the location where is stands to day. This location is on the southwest side of Hays Kansas near Big Creek. Major Gibbs became commander of the new Fort Hays on June 23, 1867, and on July 4, 1867 the first United States flag was hoisted on the military reservation of 7500 acres of rolling Kansas prairie.
Over the years the number of troops stationed at the fort fluctuated according to necessity and the activity with the Indians on the Wester Kansas plains. But the average number of troops that were at the fort through the years of 1867/89 was about 200.
Assults against the Indians were organized at Fort Hays and at time the fort here became the base for such campaings as that of Custer against the Cheyenne and Kiowa Indians, directed by General Philip Sheridan in 1868. Hundreds of wagons of supplies were sent from Fort Hays down the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road to Fort Dodge and on into Fort Supply in Oklahoma.
In a letter from Headquarters of the Army Adjutant General's Office, Washington, dated August 31, 1889, the recommendation to abandon three forts in the west read:
General Orders No. 69
The following recommendations of the Major General Commanding, having been approved by the Secretary of War, are published for the information of all concerned:
"The garrisons of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, Fort Hays, Kansas, and Fort Lyon, Colorado, will be withdrawn and the several posts named will be abandoned: and the troops thus withdrawn will be assigned to other stations by the Division Commander."
"A regiment of Infantry will be ordered from the Department of the Missouri or the Department of the Platte to take station in the Department of Texas."
"The commanding General, Division of the Missouri, will give the necessary orders to carry these changes into effect, as soon as it can be done with due regard to economy."
By command of Major General Schofield:
Acting Adjutant General
A custodian was appointed to protect the physical property and then on March 28, 1900 Congress passed an act granting the military reservation of 7600 acres to the State of Kansas in this order:
"That the abandoned Fort Hays Military Reservation, and all the improvements theron, situated in the State of Kansas, be and the same are hereby granted, to said state upon the conditions, that said state shall establish and maintain perpetually thereon."
First: An Experiment station of the State Agricultural College.
Second: A western branch of the Kansas State Normal School, and that in connection there with the said reservation shall be used and maintained as a public park.
Provided, that said state shall within five years, after the passage of this act, accept this grant, and by proper legislative action establish on said reservation, an experiment station of the State Agricultural College, and a western branch of the Kansas State Norman School.
And whenever the said lands shall cease to be used for the purposes herein mentioned, the same shall revert to the United States.
Provided further, that the provisions of this act shall not apply to any tract or tracts, to which a valid claim has attached, by settlement or otherwise, under any of the public land laws of the United States."
This is but a short history of one of the forts on the plains of western Kansas. The fort today is a State Historical Park, maintained by the State of Kansas. The fort is located to the south of US 183 bypass on the south side of Hays, Kansas.
If you are passing through the State of Kansas this is one of the must see pieces of history Kansas has to offer.
"Fort Hays Block House"
"Fort Hays Guard House"
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