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Fort Harker

Page was created on 8 Mar 02 - Last update 17 July 02


Fort Harker Guard House

Fort Harker was established as Fort Ellsworth in August 1864 on the north side of the Smoky Hill River at the juncture of the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road and the Smoky Hill Trail. It was founded to counter Indian resistance in the region and help forward supplies to military posts farther west. It also served as command headquarters for the District of the Upper Arkansas.

Soldiers stationed at this strategic position on the overland trails, in cooperation with troops from other forts, helped protect wagon trains, stagecoaches, and other travelers through lands claimed by Plains tribes. The troops safeguarded the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road and portions of the Smoky Hill and Santa Fe Trails. The solders also protected railroads, during and after construction, and early settlements in the region.

Fort Harker served briefly as a supply depot, an intermediate post in the Kansas forts network. It was a link in the supply lines between Forts Leavenworth and Riley to the east and Forts Zarah, Larned, Doge, Hays, and Wallace to the west. It performed an important role in an era of rapid transition from overland trails to railroads and from Indian frontier to settled land. Within a few years Fort Harker fulfilled its assignment. No major battles were fought within its jurisdiction.

By 1867 Fort Harker embodied a four-company garrison, quartermaster supply depot, and command center, with more than seventy-five buildings. During 1867 it was one of the most active forts in Kansas, when scores of wagon trains carried provisions from the supply depot to troops in the field and to forts in western Kansas, eastern Colorado Territory, and New Mexico Territory. The post garrison furnished escorts for most of those wagon trains. The troops stationed there performed more escort duty in 1867 than those stationed at any other frontier post during the post-Civil War era. The post declined in importance after 1868 when the railroad and the scene of most hostilities moved west.

Fort Harkerís garrison lasted less than 10 years. The soldiers at Fort Harker performed usual garrison duties, including construction and maintenance of buildings, guard duty, policing the grounds, and practicing military maneuvers. When hostilities erupted in the region, soldiers went into the field to attempt to restore peace and punish offenders.

The ultimate goal of the army in Kansas was removal of the Indians from the area to Euro-American settles could occupy and develop the land. This was accomplished by the early 1870s.

Most frontier posts were closed within a few years after the Indians were forced to leave the area. The army closed Fort Harker in 1873 because its purposes had been fulfilled. Later the town of Kanopolis grew around the old post, utilizing some of the structures. A few of those buildings remain today. The story of Fort Harker is part of the saga of Indian-white relations on the Great Plains and the frontier army in Kansas.

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