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Fort Harker

This article by Marsha K. King appeared in the March-April 1996 issue of the KAA Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 2. 

The first forts established in what later became the state of Kansas were created to protect the permanent Indian frontier, keep Euro-Americans from encroaching on Indian lands, and reduce conflict among the various Indian tribes and between whites and Indians. In December 1866 the site for the new post of Fort Harker was selected, replacing temporary Fort Ellsworth. A time line of events relevant to Forts Ellsworth and Harker is provided on pages 11 and 12.

Fort Harker was located in Sections 25 and 36, approximately one mile northeast of the earlier post. According to an 1870 report, the main buildings were located near the center of the reserve and were arranged on the sides of a rectangular parade ground, measuring 252 by 120 yards. The parade ground enclosed by the buildings was divided by graveled walks and margined by a broad roadway. Trees had been planted and were growing well. The west end of the parade ground was marked by a substantial two-story stone guard house with six small cells on the second floor. Four frame buildings used as stables for the cavalry were situated at the west end of the parade ground behind the guard house. The eastern end of the parade ground was defined by 11 buildings used as quarters for officers. Three were built of red sandstone. The largest of these stone buildings, occupied by the commanding officer, contained eight rooms and a kitchen. Each of the other two stone houses contained four rooms and a kitchen. The remaining six sets of quarters were built of wood. Three of them were two-storied with six rooms; the other three each contained five rooms on one floor. All were heated by wood-burning stoves. There were no bath-rooms in any of the houses, and privies were located behind each.

There were four or five sets of enlisted men's quarters or barracks at the post. Two of the enlisted quarters were of balloon frame construction, and two others were built of logs. Each set was intended to accommodate a single company of soldiers. The company's kitchen and mess-room were located in a separate building behind the barracks. A sink or privy was located approximately 150 feet behind each of the company quarters. These frame privies were constructed over 10-foot-deep, wood-lined pits, measuring 13 by 8 feet and providing space for a double row of seats.

Manure from the stables, slops, garbage, and other items to be disposed of were collected in barrels daily, under the direction of the police sergeant, and hauled a mile from the post and buried. The hospital and three officers' quarters had their own wells, but most water was obtained from two springs, located 300 yards west of the post adjacent to Spring Creek. The water was carried down slope in wooden pipes to water tanks below and conveyed in water-wagons to barrels placed near the barracks and quarters. A large frame ice-house, with a capacity of 400 tons, was built near the springs in 1867, and it was filled with ice cut from the Smoky Hill River.

Eight frame buildings southwest of the guardhouse were built as workshops and later converted to quarters for married soldiers and laundresses. Three large frame storehouses were constructed for quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance stores. The building used for a chapel was formerly the office of the depot quartermaster. The post bakery, located north of the west end of the parade ground, was a large frame building. The sutler's store was north of the bakery. No general laundry or schoolhouse was ever built at Fort Harker.

The post hospital was a substantial building of dressed sandstone south of the east end of the parade ground. It had a central, two-story administration building and two wings containing wards, each furnished with 20 single beds. The frame building identified as the "dead-house" was located within the fenced yard behind the hospital. The cemetery was reported as being about 1/4 mile southeast of the post. By 1870 it contained 183 graves, mostly cholera victims from the 1867 epidemic.

After the fort closed in 1872, the town of Kanopolis grew around the site. Four of the original sandstone buildings survive as private residences and a museum, operated by the Ellsworth County Historical Society. The Fort Harker guardhouse and officer's quarters were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and 1974--a tribute to the historic importance of Fort Harker and the action of the Kanopolis community to preserve these historic structures.

© Kansas Historical Society, 1998 - Fair use standards apply to individuals' use of this material. Requests for commercial use should be directed to the Director of the Library & Archives Division.

Created 6/27/97 by volunteer Carlene Vaughn.

Revised 3/1/99


Wild Bill Hickok is at far left in this photograph of a group at Fort Harker in 1867.

Entry: Fort Harker

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: April 2010

Date Modified: October 2010

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