Fort Ellsworth/Fort Harker
Digging Into History
Two Historic Kansas Forts

     On June 1, 1996 and running through the 16th of June, 1996 the Kansas Archeology Training Program Field School began there annual dig at a place that once was called Fort Ellsworth in Ellsworth, County. The fort was in existence from 1864-1867. In the days of the Archeological investigation, the dig also spilled over into the place once called Fort Harker. Fort Harker was established after Fort Ellsworth was abandoned. The place called Fort Harker was around in the years of 1867-1872. The location of Fort Ellsworth is on the Smoky Hill River and is located on U.S. Corps of Engineers property. The fort consisted of a series of dugouts in the banks of the river. Fort Harker is what is now the present-day town of Kanopolis, Kansas. Fort Harker had about 30 buildings at one time. Now on the location there are only four that remain. These are; three officers quarters and the guardhouse. The surviving sandstone officers quarters survive as private residences today. Today the guardhouse is used as the museum for the forts. The guardhouse is in the process of being redone to accommodate the relic that are found on this dig.

     The field school, is a cooperative effort of the Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Anthropological Association. The program offers participants an opportunity to learn archeological concepts and methods through hands-on experience and classroom instruction under the supervision of professional archeologists from the state. Participants must be members of the Kansas Anthropological Association and must be at least 14 years of age. The cost for the school and the opportunity to learn from the pro's was $15.

     The dig began on June 1st with about 160 volunteers. The people with no or little experience were placed with one of the people who had done this type of work before. Two different classes were held for the people who wanted college credit through Emporia State University. These classes were held Monday through Friday mornings. The basic of Archeology was taught in one class and in the other a hands-on combination of field and lab work was available for the college credit through the University.

     Volunteers begun the dig by opening two of the three dugouts they found at the site of Fort Ellsworth. This dig consisted of digging trenches in hopes of finding the walls of the dugouts. The dirt that was excavated was put in a large sifter and worked up to recover any small artifacts that might be hidden in the dirt. The dig was also on the look out for what the experts say is the only above ground structure at the fort. In digging the dugouts the wall and the floors along with an 1863 Indian head penny, a gun tool, buttons, thimble, cartridge shells, tin cans, molten lead, pieces of canvas, a sword or knife, bottle glass and other artifacts were found. It was stated that some of the bottles will be reconstructed, if enough pieces were found.

     Probably the best and largest reported find was the discovery of a "Brick Oven" in one of the dugouts at the site of Fort Ellsworth. There was quite a difference in the two dugouts they are digging, the dugout the oven was found in is much larger then the other one. It is much larger then normal dugouts. In the tall natural grass of the area were a lot of blue flags marking the spots where metal detectors got a signal that a piece of history may be laying just out of eye site. While some of the blue flags produced nothing of importance, some of the sites uncovered artifacts relating to the time period of the old fort, but most were modern day hardware of modern day travelers instead of the troops that were stationed at this location.

     While the Fort Ellsworth site was being dug up by one group of archeologist, the site of Fort Harker was being invaded by it's own little army of volunteers to do a variety of tasks. It was reported that at Fort Harker a "POT OF GOLD" may have been found. Now that I have your attention I will state that it was only a "fort related deep feature," as one of the archaeologists called it.

     Now to us who might have grown up on the plains and used one of these "deep features" we call it a privy or outhouse. For some reason one of these privies can yield much need information from the time of the fort. Two such privies were dug, one was behind one of the barracks for the enlisted men and the other was across the street at the commanding officer's quarters. The commanding officer's privy contained items such as, bottles, ceramics, military buttons, a powder flask, a horse jaw, window glass, a heel of a boot, a platter, plate, a doll's head and a child's china tea set. This privy was dug to the depth of 8 feet, it shows to be 8 feet long and 26 inch wide. Now in plain old plains language this must have been a "Two Holer." The two privies showed how the officers lived in comparison to how the enlisted men lived. There is a real difference in the items found. One of the things it shows is what they ate, the enlisted men's yielded a lot of soup bones and a ketchup bottle while, the commanding officers privy had chicken, turkey and beef roast bones in it along with what is believed to be quail bones. Eggshells and burnt coffee beans are a few examples of the breakfast items an officer would have eaten.

     While the digging of the privies were taking place, metal detectors were in use around where the parade grounds once was located. The same thing was going on at several other location in the small town of Kanopolis, Kansas. Along with the digging and the metal detecting there was a team of volunteers going over all the existing buildings from top to bottom, mapping, measuring, and drawing all the information they could think of to include in this expedition to understand this old frontier fort. The existing buildings were gone over with a fine tooth comb inside and out. All this information will be taken down and turned in to reports and put into a computer by the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. This information then will become the property of the K.S.H.S.

     Also as the digging and the mapping of the two forts progressed there was another activity taking place in a makeshift lab set up in the Kanopolis Middle School, another set of volunteers were very carefully cleaning the artifacts that archeologist and the other volunteers had brought in. After the artifacts were sorted the volunteers determine what it is that they had found. The glass, charcoal and bones are washed in water. Metal objects are dry brushed to remove the soil, nails were placed between papers and lightly tapped with a hammer to remove the rust. Then the items are packaged, labeled and are ready to be returned to Topeka to be studied and entered into the computer database. Reports will be written from the maps of the buildings and archeologists will be able to tell what features have been added to the structures sense they were originally built in 1867. Display cases in the lab were filled with broken glass, ammunition, nails, screws, military buttons, clothing buttons, tin cans and a wide variety of "Whatits".

     The artifacts that were discovered at Fort Ellsworth, now located on Corps of Engineers land south of Kanopolis will become property of the Corps. Artifacts from Fort Harker will be taken to the historical society in Topeka where they will be held for study. They can be used as long term loans to other museums, but analysis has to take place first. After talking with several of the people in the town of Kanopolis, Kansas, the hope in this historical little town is that all of the artifacts will come back to the place where they belong, in the museum which is so nicely being restored to the way it was in the day of the old fort.

     John Ziegler an archaeologist for the Kansas City District of the Army Corps of Engineers, says that Fort Ellsworth may go national if he can have his way. He states that, "We can't excavate the entire site but I think it should be clear that we are going to try to have this site listed on the National Register of Historical Places." He also stated, "We're also going to try to put up some more interpretive signs, and at this point that's somewhere down the road. But it should be clear to people that this is Federal Government Land, and it is not legal to hunt artifacts." Ziegler states, "What we're finding here is archaeological evidence of everyday life in Fort Ellsworth, we're finding more or less the debris they left behind as evidence of their daily activities. This is definitely a habitation structure, that up there is an oven, a bake oven, and we're not certain it was inside a dugout. We would have to find some structural evidence, for example some evidence there would have been some support structures."

     The gates to the area have been double locked and history will soon be covered again. The Corps will be filling in the dugouts to prevent erosion. A clean layer of sand will first be filled into the depressions so it will be obvious as to which part was excavated if they decide to dig again at this site in the future.

     Thanks goes to the staff of the "The Ellsworth Reporter in the town of Ellsworth, Kansas for their help in finding the back issues of the paper so I could bring this article to you. If you are in the area of Ellsworth, Kansas stop by and pickup a paper. The paper covered this story with several articles in several of their weekly papers.

     A thank you to all of the wonderful and interesting people that I met in the town of Kanopolis, Kansas while researching this article. Over the many years the people of Kanopolis and the area have been more then helpfull. If you get a chance to visit the town, the forts and other places of interest do so, you will not be disappointed.
Thanks again to the people of Ellsworth County for keeping history alive!!!

"Fort Harker & Ellsworth"
     The forts of Ellsworth and Harker have a lot of neat history surrounding them. Fort Ellsworth was established in 1864; then on November 11, 1866 the name was changed to Fort Harker, and in January,1867 a new site was selected about one mile north-northeast of the old fort along the river, where the town of Kanopolis, Kansas now stands. Ellsworth was named after Lieutenant Allen Ellsworth. Fort Harker was named by General Hancock, who at that tine commanded the Military Division of the Mississippi.

     At Fort Harker more of the distinguished generals of the war have slept or been entertained than any other post in the U.S. Some of the well known were; Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Terry, Howard, Schofield, Marcy, Grierson, Custer, A. J. Smith, Sully (son of the celebrated American Artist who painted Queen Victoria in her youth) and others have camped there. It's commanders were Custer, Gibbs, Sully, A.J. Smith and Miles.

For an in depth study of these two forts, get the book:
"Fort Harker, Defending the Journey West by Leo E. Oliva"

Fort Ellsworth, Kansas Dig Artifacts - 2000
Fort Ellsworth, Kansas Dig - Photos - 2000
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