Fort Dodge/Camp Supply Road

Camp Supply, Indian Territory
Harper's Weekly Magazine
February 27, 1869

     On November 12, 1868, Colonel George A Custer of the Seventh Cavalry, left his camp six miles east of Dodge City on the Arkansas River, marching five miles south to Mulberry Creek, where he joined General Alfred Sully and the infantry with the supply train. At this point there were about eleven hundred men in the force. This force of military men maintained a steady march, covering twenty miles on the 13th, and eighteen miles on the 14th, crossing Cavalry Creek and coming into camp on Bear Creek. On the 15th, snow and chilling winds slowed the column, only making eleven miles, to the Cimarron River. On the 16th, the command marched eighteen miles south and then completed nine more miles south/southwest to Beaver River. During the afternoon guides discovered the trail of an Indian party estimated to be about 150 warriors. On the 17th, another trail was found. Later this trail was determined this was the trail of Sully from the previous September. Sixteen miles were covered that day as the troops moved east of Beaver River. On November 18, a fifteen mile march brought the full command to Wolf Creek at its confluence with Beaver River. General Field Orders No. 8, Headquarters, District of the Upper Arkansas, named the spot Camp Supply.

     The next few days were spent building a military post. Stockades to protect from a surprise raid from the Indians were erected, a blockhouse, storehouse and wells were dug. Building crews laughingly referred to the name Camp Supply as a "misnomer, for while there was a partial supply of everything, there was not an adequate supply of anything."

     A reporter from the New York Herald by the name of Keim observed that the post in its finished condition on December 4, 1868 was:

Dec 26, 1868
     "Of sufficient strength to be defended by a small force against any number of warriors that may undertake to attack it. The north and west fronts consisted of a stockade; the east and south are made up of warehouses for stores. At the northeast and southwest angles are platforms sweeping all sides of the fort, and at the northwest and southeast angles are block houses with loopholes. From all points the rifles of the troops have a range of at least 800 yards."

     A Harper's Weekly correspondent who visited Camp Supply proclaimed it to be:

Feb. 27, 1869
     "Without a doubt, one of the most defensible works of its kind on the plains. The store houses and quarters of the soldiers are constructed of heavy timber, cut in the vicinity of the post, and are loopholed for musketry; the stockade is ten feet high, and the blockhouses are also ten feet in height, with a parapet of four feet, from which an additional fire can be brought to bear on all points of approach. The soldiers quarters are so constructed that they can fire over the roofs of the buildings, while an additional fire is delivered from the loopholes inside."

     In December, 1878, the camp on Beaver River with General Order No. 9, Headquarters, Div. of Mo., dated Dec 30, 1878, Camp Supply was officially named Fort Supply.

     Communication and supply links were vital for a frontier fort. As the first outpost in western Indian Territory, Camp Supply was originally joined to Fort Dodge, Kansas and later to Fort Sill in Oklahoma by roads established in the troop movements of the Campaign of 1868. Since Fort Sill was 196 miles south and Fort Dodge, 93 miles north, Camp Supply concentrated on maintaining contact with the latter post. The outbreak of 1874 brought two new posts to the region, Fort Reno and Fort Elliott. Fort Reno was linked to Wichita on the north and Fort Sill to the south, but Fort Supply and Fort Elliott, in the Texas Panhandle, had a close bond. In 1879, Contonment was established midway between Forts Supply and Reno. This post merged with the eastern Sill, Reno and Wichita network of roads, while Forts Supply, Elliott, and Dodge formed a western transportation system.

     From the first excursion in November 1868, until the time Camp/Fort Supply was abandoned and turned over to the Department of Interior on February 26, 1895, a safe and convenient road was to be a key link in the military and economic development of the region south of the Arkansas River on the western plains. For the next twenty five years the road that followed closely the route marked by the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry was to carry the supplies to two forts, troops in the field on three different winter campaigns, to the growing number of reservation Indians, isolated towns, ranchers, and the settlers that were coming to the area. As the military supply line it remained, until the Jones and Plummer Trail took over part of the burden of providing supplies.

     Within days of the arrival of the first caravan, a train of 250 empty wagons was sent north for supplies, followed in December 8, by another 180 wagons. Later in the month 270 additional wagons went up the trail to be refilled with supplies for the winter campaign. Even with all this the requirements were not fully met.

     The Indians had not fared well in the cold and snows of the plains warfare and were now forced to go to one of the designated forts. Camp Supply was assigned as a temporary reservation. With a large number of defeated Indians assembled, more or less peacefully, around the camp, plus the soldiers garrisoned there, more that 1,500 rations had to be delivered every ten days. Wagons once again creaked and groaned their way between Forts Dodge and Supply in a nearly endless procession of supplies.

     To make the problems worse the camp had become a permanent establishment. Recruits had crowded the garrison to a number of nearly six hundred men. Much of the fall of 1869 was spent building new living quarters. Five new barracks were added.

     Up to this point in time, the military trains had traveled Sully's first line of march. Lieutenant I. Wallace surveyed the territory between the two posts during the winter of 1869. Ben Clark, the chief army scout, selected a more direct route, this route shortened the distance between the two forts by about twenty miles. The old route was known after 1876 as the Mount Jesus Road because it passed near a hill bearing that name. The new route selected by Clark, was to the west of the original trail, and with a few minor variations, including a terminus at Dodge City, it was to remain the principal road south into the Panhandle for many years to come. The first few years this trail was almost exclusively used to accommodate military traffic. Civilians might travel road alone at their own risk or tag along with a military train if one was going at that time.

     To make the Fort Dodge/Camp Supply road more secure and provide a point of refuge along the route, a temporary station was established in December 1869, just to the south of present day Ashland, Kansas. The first of a series of redoubts to be built, it was on the east bank of Bear Creek about halfway between the two forts. Known as Soldiers' Graves, the redoubt was in honor of two soldiers, John Conniston and August Buck, who were killed and buried there May 1, 1870. As part of a detachment protecting supplies at the redoubt, they were shot while offering food to a small band of Indians who had ridden in professing peaceful intentions. Had it not been for the arrival of the cavalry all of the soldiers at the redoubt would have been killed. This attack was the first indication of a renewal of hostilities by the Indians.

     In the spring of 1870, both the Kiowa and Cheyennes became increasingly active in attacking mail detachments and supply trains. Patrols were sent out frequently to rescue trains and parties from attacks by Indians. In June the danger that had been just on the Dodge/Supply road hit home. Camp Supply itself was attacked. Cheyennes and Kiowa boldly fired into camp, attacked individuals who wandered even a short distance from the protection of the buildings on the fort. Several attempts were made to drive off camp stock. At this time Colonel Davidson decided that for the safety of military traffic on the road, two more redoubts should be added to the Bear Creek camp. His first placement of another redoubt was to be new earthwork on the Upper branch of Bear Creek, about thirty three miles south of Dodge. In February 1871, Captain John H. Page was dispatched to build Cimarron Redoubt, thirty eight miles north of Camp Supply and about three miles from the Kansas/Indian Territory line. The Cimarron Redoubt, was just east of Redoubt or Big Sandy Creek and became known as Deep Hole, a name it retained when it was designated a post office in May 1881. Captain Robert P. Hughes continued work on the redoubt at Deep Hole, but Lieutenant Faye W. Roe replaced him in command before the structure had been completed, with specific orders to halt the bootlegging of whiskey.

     Lieutenant Roe was accompanied by his wife, Frances. She gives an accurate and personal description of her new home:

     "The redoubt is made of gunny sacks filled with sand, and is built on the principle of a permanent fortification in miniature, with bastons, flanks, curtains, and ditch, and has two pieces of artillery. The parapet is about ten feet high, upon the top of which a sentry walks all the time. This is technically correct, for Faye has just explained it all to me, so I could tell you about our castle on the plains. We have only two rooms for our own use. These are partitioned off with vertical logs in one corner of the fortification and our only roof is of canvas."

     "When we first got here the dirt floor was very much like the side of a mountain, so sloping that we had difficulty setting up the chairs. Faye had these made level at once, and dry, fresh sand sprinkled everywhere."

     "Some of the men are working at the wood still, and others are making their quarters a little more decent. Every tiny opening in our own log walls has been chinked with pieces of blanket or anything that could be found, and the entire dirt floor has been covered with clean grain sacks that are held down smooth and tight by little pegs of wood, and over this rough carpet we have three rugs we brought with us. At the small window are turkey red curtains that make very good shades when let down at night. There are warm army blankets on the camp bed, and a folded red squaw blanket on the trunk. The stove is as bright and shining as the strong arm of a soldier could make it, and on it is a little brass tea kettle singing merrily."

     "Altogether, the little place looks clean and cheerful, quite unlike the "hole" we came to. Farrar has attended to his part in the kitchen also and things look neat and orderly there."

     "At the first coming of the blizzard, the sentry was ordered from the parapet, and is still off, and I am positive that unless one goes on soon at night, I shall be wholly deaf, because I strain my ears the whole night through listening for Indians."

     Captain Richard T. Jacobs gives an equally good description of the northern redoubt on the East Branch of Bear Creek, which resembled Deep Hole in many ways.

     "The redoubt which we built was about fifty feet square. The interior wall was built of burlap bags, filled with earth. Loose earth was filled against this wall on the outside, sloping down to a trench which was about fifteen feet wide. The wall or embankment was about ten feet thick at the base. Bastions were built at diagonally opposite corners. There was a stable for the mules on the inside of the enclosure built against the wall on the western side. On the eastern side there was a living room and kitchen for the men. Both of these structures were of "hackall" or stockade, the earthen embankment forming one wall of each. the roofs were covered with earth and were a foot or two lower than the walls, so that they could be occupied for defensive purposes in case of an attack. A well was dug on a creek bank, or second bottom, on the outside of the enclosure, near the gate, which was at the northeast corner."

     The redoubts' importance grew as the functions of Camp Supply changed, so that by 1878 the post was no longer considered a temporary base, but instead became another important link in a chain of forts designed to ring the remaining hostile tribes on the Western Plains. All mail, supply, and contractor trains were required to be under military guard. The policies were strict and spelled out in detail. Marches were cut to shorter stints twice a day, with substantial rest periods between them. Extra precautions were taken on all fronts. Flankers were placed well out from the main body of troops, and posted pickets were warned to be on the alert. Even with these strictest escort requirements the trail was considered unsafe throughout the winter of 1872/73. An Indian raid was not the only, or even the gravest, danger a freighter faced. A sudden blizzard sweeping across the trail could be far more deadly than an attack by Indian warriors who were generally not well armed in the first place. During the next two years the trail was bloodied frequently

     The successful completion of the Red River War guaranteed the safety of buffalo hunters in the Panhandle and in turn doomed the Indian buffalo culture to extinction. The Military Road was to be free of Indian harassment after the spring of 1875, although there were Indian scares, there were no major incidents related specifically to the trail. With the threat of Indian depredations removed, the country south of the Kansas opened for settlement, and civilian travel increased dramatically. New status was given to the old Temporary Camp when it was designated Fort Supply in December 1878.

     As it turned out, just as the camp was officially recognized as a significant and permanent military base, the military importance of the old road declined. The exclusive military character had begun to wane when the buffalo and hide hunters turned to it as a major route to the eastern Panhandle herds. By 1875, travel was considered safe enough to relax escort service and to turn the mail contracts over to civilian contractors. The traffic was altered by then and the trail became more of an artery of commerce than a military supply line. Way stations and road ranches replaced the redoubts once used to protect the trail travelers. Even the name changed in common parlance from the Military Road to the Dodge/Supply Trail or the Fort Supply Trail.

     The second phase of the Dodge City/Fort Supply Trail ushered in the civilian dominance. Military operations in the eastern Panhandle continued for a time, but when the hide men began using the trail, military traffic became secondary. The northern terminus shifted from the military post at Fort Dodge to the commercial and shipping center of Dodge City. After 1874 a major inducement to use the Dodge City route was a new toll bridge, but even before it was completed the town, with growing commercial facilities and an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail connection, was far more active than the old fort and it's military traffic ever was.

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