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Fort de Cavagnial

[pronounced Cav-an-yaw]

The first permanent European settlement and fort within the borders of present Kansas was Fort de Cavagnial. Located near present-day Leavenworth, the fort was named for its founder, Francois-Pierre Rigaud, baron de Cavagnial, marquis de Vaudreuil, French governor of Louisiana. Plans for the fort were drawn by December 1743 and construction began in the spring of 1744. The fort was occupied by French traders and soldiers and served as a fur trade center for the Kansa and other western tribes.

The French, like the Spanish, were eager to claim lands in the New World to engage in the lucrative trade, particularly for furs, with Native American tribes. The French exchanged European products such as firearms, axes, knives, beads, and cloth for furs, which very much altered the economy of the Plains Indians.

Fort de Cavagnial was one of the westernmost of the early trading posts established by the French. It was a small but substantial fort with a surrounding stockade of stout piles and with bastions at each of the four stockade corners. Internal buildings included a commandant's house, a guardhouse, a powder house, a trader's house, and a house for the trader's employees. The buildings were constructed of logs and most were covered with mud. At the height of its activity as many as 50 military personnel and civilians occupied the fort. Fort de Cavagnial operated until 1764, or shortly after the vast Louisiana Territory, including Kansas, had been ceded to Spain by France.

After its abandonment, the fort was never reoccupied. The stockade and building ruins were seen by Lewis and Clark during their famous 8,000-mile expedition through the West. Clark noted in his journal for July 2, 1804:

"the French formerly had a fort at this place, to protect the trade of this nation, the Situation appears to be a verry elligable one for a Town, the valley rich & extensive, with a Small Brook Meanding through it and one part of the bank affording yet a good landing for boats . . ."

In 1819 the fort was identified and description recorded by members of Colonel Steven H. Long's western expedition. This is the last historic reference to the fort; the exact location of Fort de Cavagnial is presently unknown. It remains as one of the active historical and archeological mysteries in Kansas.

Entry: Fort de Cavagnial

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: December 2004

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.