"Old Fort Wise-Lyon, Colorado"
USGS Aerial Photograph

Old Fort Wise/Lyon Colorado

     Fort Wise, near the location of Bent's New Fort was described by a Colorado militiaman. "Inside of the loose stone corrals no furniture was seen -- nothing but bare walls and dirt floors. Decreasing snow banks marked the deficiencies in the roofs, and there was not a foot of lumber within 200 miles with which to remedy the defects. Nice quarters, were they not?"

     The Colorado militia exercised their talents to improve their lot. As reported in the memoirs, "We stole and cut up wagon boxes for bunks and tables, bought a set of dishes and some cooking utensils and lived to suit ourselves while we remained there."

     They also broke into sutler's store, rationalizing their action by his "outrageous prices and the fact that he was secesh in principle." They regretted the petty thievery,, "especially since it had been found out," but were saved from court-martial by their officers. The latter chipped in to make up the sutler's losses and ended the incident by "reading us a severe lecture on our dishonorable proceedings, which we could but acknowledge we richly deserved."

     Fort Wise's genealogy continues to June 25, 1862, when it lost its name -- what Federal fort could continue to be named after a Confederate governer at this late date? It was renamed in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, killed in Missouri in 1861.

     In later years, the Fort Wise tag was retained in referring to the site in order to avoid confusion with its direct descendant, the Fort Lyon near Las Animas, Colorado to which it moved in 1867.

     The time for history to strike again came to the post on November 29, 1864, with one of those affairs that are called "battles" or "massacres," depending upon the point of view. In 1861 the government had entered into a treaty with the Arapaho and Cheyenne which guaranteed peace along the Santa Fe Trail in the area. By the summer of 1864, this had deteriorated to the point that officially the area was considered in the throes of a general Indian war.

     The governor of Colorado announced that all friendly Indians, depending upon their tribe, were to go to Forts Larned, Wise, or certain northern forts. The Cheyennes under Chief Black Kettle went to Sand Creek, 40 miles north of the fort. They raised the American flag over Black Kettle's tepee and waited for the Army's representatives.

     At dawn of the 24th of November, the Army came, but to fight not to talk with the Indians. Their commander, Colonel John Chivington, had been instructed by the district commander: "I want no peace until the Indians have suffered more."

     Chivington had 750 cavalry men and his cannons were loaded with grape shot. The cannon razed the village before a defense could be organized. The cavalry charged in, shooting, slashing and burning.

     A Congressional investigation was held at Fort Wise and the government publicly repudiated the affair paying reparations to the tribe. Chivington, a hero, tried newspapering and politics in the East, then returned to Colorado where he died a condemned or admired man, depending upon the point of view.

     In 1866, Fort Wise was flooded by the Arkansas River and a hasty evacuation to the new site was make. Two years later, Captain George Armes passed the site and "found the old fort or buildings on fire and plenty of fresh signs of Indians all around us. W arrived just in time to put the fire out. The post having been abandoned, the Indians concluded to burn the buildings, but our arrival was just in time to save the fort."

Old Fort Wise/Lyon Colorado

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