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Fort Hays Dress Jacket

James Oakes' dress jacket, worn at Fort Hays in the 1870sThe commander of Fort Hays wore this army dress jacket during the 1870s.  His years of Kansas service were the culmination of a long and distinguished career.

West Point's class of 1846 was one of the more notable groups to graduate from the United States Military Academy.  These soldiers would earn their stripes on the battlefields of the Mexican War and Civil War.  During the latter conflict, 22 class members became Union or Confederate generals, including George McClellan, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and George Pickett.  Also among the list of distinguished soldiers from this class was James Oakes, whose career eventually took him to Kansas. 

Born in Pennsylvania in 1826, James Oakes entered the United States Military Academy in 1842.  He graduated a 2nd Lieutenant and soon served in the Mexican War (1846-1848) during which he was promoted twice.  Oakes remained in the West where in 1850 he was wounded in a skirmish with Comanches.  This resulted in a lung wound that caused health problems for the rest of his life.  These early experiences were highlights in Oakes' career and earned him recognition as well as promotion.

6th U.S. Cavalry shoulder boardsRising through the army ranks, Oakes became a Major at the beginning of the Civil War (serving mostly off the battlefield in the recruiting and mustering service) and Brevet Brigadier General at its conclusion.  He remained in active service, becoming a full Colonel and commanding the Freedman's Bureau and the District of Austin, Texas. 

Oakes' career took him to Kansas in the 1870s.  He served at Fort Leavenworth before moving West to command Fort Hays, an important base for troops defending the railroad and white settlements in the area.  It was while commanding Fort Hays that Oakes wore this dress uniform coat, prescribed by army regulations from 1872 to 1879.  The shoulder boards indicate his rank of Colonel in the 6th U.S. Cavalry.  The coat has a tailor's tag for maker Samuel W. Owen of Washington, D.C.  An English immigrant, Owen briefly served as an officer in the Civil War before resigning and returning to his shop, where he specialized in military uniforms until his death in 1874.

James Oakes' spurs, early 1900sJames Oakes retired from active service in 1879, leaving Fort Hays for Washington, D.C., which he called home for the rest of his life.  The spurs date from his retirement and were made by the Harpham Brothers of Lincoln, Nebraska, during the first decade of the 20th century.  Oakes died in 1910 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

His great-grandson, William Q. Martin, Jr. of Smith Center, Kansas, donated these items from Oakes' military career to the Society’s Kansas Museum of History in 2010.  Also received were uniform buttons issued by the U.S. Cavalry during the Indian Wars period, and a pair of shoulder boards suggesting the rank of Captain in the 14th U.S. Cavalry—puzzling because Oakes never served with that regiment.

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Entry: Fort Hays Dress Jacket

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: July 2011

Date Modified: December 2014

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