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Filed under: prairie musings, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 5:53 pm

Here are a picture of the  new projector at the Kanopolis Drive In Theater. Hopefully, this will insure the Kanopolis Drive-In Theater will be showing movies for many years to come. The install seems to be on schedule with the techs from Sonic Equipment in Iola, KS doing a fantastic job.  Stay tuned for movie schedules.




Filed under: prairie musings, Ellsworth Sites, Kanopolis, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 9:55 am

Kanopolis Reservoir, State Park, and Wildlife Area

Kansas’ first state park, with towering Dakota sandstone bluffs.

From the towering Dakota sandstone bluffs to the caves and crevices of Horsethief Canyon, the park and surrounding area offer rugged beauty. The park is split into two areas north and south of the dam. A marina, beaches, picnic areas, full-service camping areas, volleyball courts, and softball diamond make the area an all-round recreation spot. Horsethief Canyon, offers 26 miles of trails for hikers, horseback riders, and bicyclists. The 3,500 acre lake and 12,500 acre wildlife area provide anglers and hunters abundant fish and game. Nestled near the Smoky Hill River toward the northwest portion of the wildlife area is Faris Caves, which were carved by early pioneers and served as milkhouse, school house, and living quarters.



Filed under: prairie musings, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 8:09 am

Dalton’s Heart Walk will be Saturday, April 3rd in the city park of Kanopolis.   The lunch stand is open at noon with the walk starting at 2 p.m.  If you can’t be there, please make a donation.  Contact Kendra Ploutz.



Filed under: prairie musings, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 10:52 am

The Family Fun Circus will be performing at the Kanopolis Community Center Tuesday March 9th at 7:00 p.m. for one show only.  There will be acrobats, jugglers, dare devils, funny clowns, beautiful girls and impersonators with acts subject to change.  Children must be “attended”.  The doors open one hour before the show.  Popcorn and cotton candy will be available.  One paid adult ticket will admit two children.



Filed under: prairie musings, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 3:04 pm

If you live in Ellsworth, you better lock your car when you leave or you’ll find it filled with zucchini when you return.  It’s that time of year.

I visited with my long time friend, Ivy, this morning who said she can’t communicate with her grandchildren very well.  Her college age granddaughter came to clean her house for her and when Ivy reminded her to “Babo the tub”, she looked at her with complete puzzlement.

Then, when she was complaining about telemarketers to a grandson, she said she just hung up on them.  “Hung up what?” he asked. They were thinking of going to a movie so she said she’d go get the Journal.  “What for?”, they asked.  “To see what’s showing”.  They just pulled out their Blackberry’s and gave her options before she could even find the right section of the paper.  Alas.

I hear Joe Pruitt’s barbecued pineapple on a skewer was a huge hit at the food stand in Kanopolis today.  Fresh pineapple, brown sugar and a cherry….all toasted over hot coals.  Yum.

I don’t know how you feel about “baked beans”, but when someone advertises them as “baked beans”, how much trouble is it to really bake them into a thick brown, lip-smacking savory dish that contains chopped onions, bacon, molasses and brown sugar, seasonings, etc. ?  Opening a can of runny, cheap beans and passing them off as baked beans is not a good thing, imo.

We’re going to try the steaks in Holyrood tonight at the K Jack Bar and Grill.  They are getting them from Ellinwood Packing so they should be good.   They use local steaks and handbread their chicken fries, then freeze them.  What they do with them after that, I don’t know but we’ll hope they don’t run them through a fryer.  I hear the place was packed with people last night.

Mugs has some interesting rainbow colored roses at the flower shop that I’ll blog one of these days. I received a nice bouquet of daisies from her shop for my birthday the 23rd of June and they lasted until today.  I have really good luck with her flowers lasting a long time…particularly daisies.

It’s 93 degrees and tolerable outside, but very humid.  The air feels thick and heavy like I was back in East Texas.

Thanks for tuning in…



Filed under: prairie musings, friends, Ellsworth, Kanopolis, Heritage turkeys/chickens — Peg Britton @ 11:28 am

The Star Spangled Spectacular fireworks display is tonight at 10:00 at the Rec Center.  Prior to the skyworks,  you can join family and friends for hot dogs, hamburgers and the yearly splurge in eating a funnel cake.  It’s an evening of fun for families, camaraderie and hanging out listening to music.  Don’t miss it.

Then ….get ready for FORT HARKER DAYS in  Kanopolis on July 10 & 11th and a  “Boot Scootin’ Good Time”.

It all starts on Friday, July 10 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM with a hamburger feed at Commanding Officer’s Quarters.   $5.00 donation per plate.   Sponsored by the Ellsworth County Historical Society.

You can recover from all this just in time to take part in the Wilson Czech Festival the end of July.  There is always something going on around here….so don’t let it escape your attention.

It’s only 87 degrees right now.  What a pleasant change from the recent heat wave.  My friend from Shreveport left today for Denver as her worldly treasures in her car that she’s relocating to Denver were being baked to death…computers, family pictures, electronic gizmo’s, CDs and stuff that isn’t supposed to be baked.  The “stuff” in her trunk was so hot we couldn’t even touch it.  She decided another day in our Kansas heat was too much to endure.  She made a good decision to move on but I miss her presence.

My friend, Lori in Denver, sent another side to the chicken story.  You can read about it here.  I do know what Ryon says is true.  I’ve struggled with him through his chicken  deaths and know how much care and attention he devotes to his flocks.  It is a constant battle as he won’t use the common preventative of constantly feeding his birds deadly chemicals as many do.  If he has to treat his birds for some illness, it’s only for a day or two.  A couple of friends of mine who are new to the chicken raising business have only a rare death now and then because the commercial feed they buy for them is loaded with  chemicals.  Read his comment in the following blog.  You’ll find it interesting.
Thanks for tuning in.



Filed under: prairie musings, Ellsworth, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 3:41 pm

Grab a bowl of soup before the EHS play, Sat. March 7th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Kanopolis,  sponsored by the Jr. Hi Catholic Youth for Christ.

There will offer homemade beef vegetable soup, homemade chicken noodle soup with homemade noodles, chili, dessert, water and tea for a free will offering. “To go” containers will be available.

Proceeds will be used to support youth mission projects.



Filed under: Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 11:00 pm

By Jesse Manning

It’s hard to imagine that a place as small as the town of Kanopolis, Kansas could have much of an interesting, varied, or lengthy history. Towns of this size across the United States are all too often passed by when travelers drive through. Their miniscule populations and minimal resources, however, often hide long and colorful histories of which can easily be overlooked by even the residents of the area. This bigotry against small town life must be overcome to see the beauty and richness in our past as well as in our present.

Kanopolis, for instance, is now home to 543 people, according to the United States Census Bureau. Its own school system was integrated into that of Ellsworth’s 35 years ago, and any sort of lodging for visitors to Kanopolis has not been available for nearly half a century. Churches, local businesses, and restaurants are indeed few in number in Kanopolis. The typical small town “main street” trails for just one block. Furthermore, Kanopolis is 13 miles from an Interstate highway and even a 20 mile drive (on paved roads) from the lake named after the town.


All of these and more current facts about life in Kanopolis can be presented as disadvantages to its modern day situation - the same situation facing countless small towns throughout Kansas and the Midwest. Kanopolis, it can be said, is dying. Census data gathered each decade confirms that people are slowly but surely moving away from Kanopolis to seek opportunities not available in central Kansas, and certainly no new business or industry looking for monetary benefit and a ripe pool of employees will choose such a small community to settle in. Kanopolis’ population is growing older, and recent census estimates show that an average of 56 people are leaving Ellsworth County each year, with Kanopolis itself giving up five citizens annually.


Of course, if estimates continue (though they will likely fluctuate wildly in one direction or another) it would be more than a century before Kanopolis is abandoned entirely. But losing just a handful of citizens each year will begin to take its toll on the town. Businesses will fade away, industry will falter without available employees, and houses will sit empty with no one willing to move in. Unfortunately, the “estimated” future for Kanopolis and similar towns across Kansas looks bleak. With all of this current information staring passersby in the face, it’s easy to see how they could think that a town like Kanopolis is nothing more than just a bump in the road with nothing to contribute and no stories to tell.


People who subscribe to that theory of thought, however, couldn’t be more wrong. Not only do small towns offer fascinating histories, but they also have unique, friendly personalities in the present day.

Fort Harker, which succeeded a faltering Fort Ellsworth, played an important role in Kansas history between 1867 and 1872. Defending westbound settlers against Native Americans of central and western Kansas, Fort Harker was conveniently located by the Smoky Hill Trail, the Butterfield Overland Despatch (and successive stage lines), and the new Kansas Pacific railroad. Though Fort Harker had a relatively short run as a military base, it served an important purpose and led to the founding of Kanopolis in the same area in 1887. The Ohio syndicate, that sold plots of land in Kanopolis, had great plans for the community to be the county seat of Ellsworth and the future state capital of Kansas. The town was laid out for 150,000 residents, and four square blocks at the north end of the city were reserved for a capitol building. Obviously the state capital dream never came to be, and Ellsworth narrowly won the vote to be the county seat, leaving Kanopolis seemingly without a purpose. The story of Kanopolis could easily end with these devastating blows, but the community persevered with the people, businesses, and industry that had been drawn in by the allure of high hopes for this new city.

The story continues as rich salt veins near Kanopolis gave rise to three salt mining operations, of which the Independent Salt Company still operates today. Rich clay deposits in the area allowed Kanopolis’ infrastructure to be built with brick that was produced locally. Buildings and businesses sprang up along main street, and Kanopolis continued to grow. European immigrant farming families made up the bulk of Kanopolis’ population until the mining industry drew in immigrants from Mexico, which has given rise to the rich Mexican heritage that the town now celebrates. Landmarks in the area, such as Feris Caves, Fremont Knob, Mushroom Rock State Park, and even the Kanopolis Drive-In have deep histories that add to the historical character of the town.

While the documented history of Kanopolis is intriguing, it cannot quite compare to the stories that can be told by the citizens of Kanopolis. Several have lived through much of the history of the area and have unique perspectives on people, places, and events. County history doesn’t record what many of these residents remember: a theater where Orozco’s Portales Café is now located, the weekly dances at Kanopolis’ dance hall, and a fierce rivalry with Ellsworth that is now all but forgotten.

While dwindling statistically in population and suffering from a stagnation of business and industry that has affected small towns across Kansas for decades, the spirit of Kanopolis is strong. Most lifelong residents of Kanopolis (and those who have left the town only to later return) will display a certain affection for the town that cannot be replicated in larger, more urban, and more impersonal cities. Most older Kanopolis residents love the town because of the easy going lifestyle and the friendly atmosphere.

The problem is getting people my age (or more generally, my age group: those between 16 - 24 years old) to recognize the uniqueness of small town life and to appreciate Kanopolis history. It’s not surprising to hear small town residents of this generation deriding the places that they’ve grown up. That seems to be the status quo for young Kanopolis residents as well. The problem is not that the attitude is abnormal - in fact, it’s quite normal considering 16 - 24 year olds most likely want to be far away from home to experience the world on their own.

The problem arises when this attitude follows these former residents later on in life. If an appreciation for one’s small home town doesn’t develop, an interest in that town’s history doesn’t develop either. It would be a shame for the unwritten stories and unique bits of history that haven’t been recorded in any county records to be lost because one generation resented the situation and location in which they grew up. If one neglects the present, it is almost definite that they will neglect the past.

It has been a goal of mine for several months now to compile a history of Kanopolis in one source. Of course, Kanopolis history will never fill volume after volume of reference books, nor will it have its own section on a library shelf. However, I believe that preserving this history - that which is written in many different sources now as well as that which has never been written - is vital to preserving the small town spirit of Kanopolis. After doing some initial research, I realized that Kanopolis history is much more varied, long, and more widely spread out over many sources than I originally realized. Finishing a comprehensive and readable history of the town will take many months, if not years, of research with several different types of sources: federal, state, and local records, military records, newspapers, fossil and antique research, as well as personal interviews with lifelong residents of Kanopolis. I hope that I am up to the task; after all, as a history major I should be well prepared to take on a project such as this.

Kanopolis, like so many small towns across the country, may be fading into modern obscurity, but we do not have to be resigned to historical obscurity. Contrary to the prima facie view of towns like Kanopolis, we have played and can still play an important part in the world. Neglecting our present and forgetting our past will only sentence Kanopolis to a quicker demise. With a well compiled and thorough history (put together with plenty of help from Kanopolis residents), Kanopolis will never fade into history, but our mark, albeit a small one, can be imprinted forever.


The United States Census Bureau, Kansas Incorporated Place Population Estimates, Sorted Alphabetically: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2002,, August 28, 2003.

Oliva, Leo E., Fort Harker, Kansas State Historical Society, Mennonite Press, Inc., Newton, KS. Copyright 2000.


Filed under: History, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 10:45 pm

Ellsworth County, Kansas
by Larry & Carolyn Mix

General Orders No. 22 issued on November 17, 1866, by General Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Division of the Missouri, directed the Name of Fort Ellsworth be changed to Fort Harker, in honor of General Charles Garrison Harker. Harker was born in New Jersey on December 2, 1835. General Harker died on June 27, 1864, from wounds received in an abortive offensive action during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain.

By December of 1866, a site for the new post of Fort Harker had been selected approximately one mile northeast of the old Fort Ellsworth. The Fort Ellsworth post office was discontinued on December 3, 1866. It was moved to the new site and reopened as the Fort Harker post office. Vincent B. Osborne, the post sutler, served as the first post master of this new post office.

Records of the new post indicate that construction of the new fort may have started as many as five months earlier in July of 1866. However, the presence of a master carpenter, a master mason, five carpenters, and fourteen masons at the fort in September 1866 strongly suggests actual construction was underway.

In an article in the Army and Navy Journal additional evidence that construction was under way at the new site of Fort Harker in the winter of 1866/67 can be found.

There have been no drills here the past Winter, the soldiers being all occupied in building quarters. Isn’t it a mistake on the part of the Government to require enlisted men to work as common laborers, with no opportunity to perfect themselves in drill? An officer cannot have proper discipline in his command under such circumstances. The men, too labor somehow under silent protest, desertions are more then frequent. February 16, 1867.

The large numbers of civilian construction workers no longer appeared on the post returns after June of 1867. This is a good indication that the majority of the fort structures were completed by the early summer. However the surgeon’s records continued to list numbers of civilian employees at sick call through January of 1868.

On December 21, 1866, an order that an inspection of the new post and troops at Fort Harker was to be conducted. Post returns indicate that a Colonel Elmer Otis, 1st U.S. Cavalry, was at the post from January 4 to 12 1867. the inspection was completed on January 10, 1867. The Special Inspector Otis focused on all aspects of the fort including the site selected, construction activities, building finished, in progress, and planned, living conditions, competence and appearance of officers and enlisted men, Quartermaster and Commissary departments, book and record keeping, quality and care of livestock, the post sutler, and other topics.

Well to make a long report short, Otis found very little that impressed him about the new Fort Harker. Everything from the site location, construction of the post, additional laborers needed, no hospital had been built, no guard house, no warehouses, living conditions of the few officers at the new post, cleanliness and sanitary conditions of the enlisted barracks were generally poor, the quarters of the 3rd U.S. Infantry company were described as unclean, with floors dirty and wet, slop and dirt thrown about the quarters indiscriminately. Poor police or sanitation was a problem that Inspector Otis noted for the post in general.

The inspector noted that under the management of General Alfred Gibbs, 7th U.S. Cavalry, who arrived at the fort on January 5, the situation appeared to be improving. Otis believed Gibbs would do the best possible for the comfort of the Troops. Later on things seemed to improve for the better. Otis generally was favorably impressed with the commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers serving at Fort Harker. Otis, inspection report of January 10, 1867.

The move into the new post was made as soon as the buildings were ready. Many men and officers continued to live at old Fort Ellsworth while working at the new fort, “until their new quarters were ready for occupation.”

Soon the quarters were finished, and we emerged from our dug-outs and log huts into our respective homes. We soon were settled and felt as if living in palace compared to our former abodes. But not for long did we enjoy our comforts. In June of 1867 the buildings remaining at the old Fort Ellsworth were ordered torn down.

The Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, was completed to Fort Harker on July 10, establishing rail communication with the East. The railroad ran through the military reservation approximately three hundred yards north of the parade ground. The depot was situated one third mile northeast of the post. Quartermaster’s and Commissary departments was established at the post, and two large storehouses were erected close to the railroad track for their use. From these depots, during the greater part of the years 1867/68, all the posts on the Arkansas and many in Colorado and New Mexico were supplied.

The Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division continued to build to the west from Fort Harker to Fort Wallace during the summer of 1867. The Indians of the area increased their resistance to this encroachment. But nothing was to compare with the problem that was about to rear it’s head at Fort Harker.

As the busy season of routine patrols, escort duty, and Indian attacks were getting underway, a different kind of problem arose at Fort Harker, this being Asiatic Cholera! The disease appeared at the fort soon after the arrival of four companies of the 38th U.S. Infantry in June of 1867. It was suggested that they may have brought the disease with them from Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis where cholera had broken out during their stay, but conditions at Fort Harker also may have been to blame. The first case at Fort Harker occurred on June 28. A civilian who was employed by the beef contractor, and lived on the Smoky Hill River about a mile from the fort, was stricken and died. Later that same day Private George Groom, a black soldier from Company H, 38th U.S. Infantry, in route to New Mexico, was sent to the post hospital, where he died the next day. Cholera soon spread to other troops stationed at the fort, the quartermaster’s employees, civilians traveling through, and settlers in the vicinity.

Post returns from Fort Harker for the summer of 1867 make several references to the cholera epidemic. Captain John N. Craig made the following comment about the progress of the disease in the July post return, “Epidemic cholera which has prevailed at this post through the month is decreasing.” The Post Quarter Master reported that 58 citizens were buried during the month. In the August post return, Captain C. C. Parsons reported that “a strict Sanitary Police” had been enforced during the month, the result being fewer cases of cholera reported.

During late June through December of 1867, 392 cases with 24 deaths were reported among the white troops at Fort Harker and 500 cases with 22 deaths among the black troops at this post. Many of these soldiers were encamped at or near the fort but were not part of the command assigned to Fort Harker. At least 36 additional black troopers from the 38th U.S. Infantry died after leaving Fort Harker on assignment.

After a relatively quiet winter, the soldiers made preparations during the spring and early summer of 1868 for a continuation of encounters with hostile Indian parties. During the fall of 1868, General Sheridan removed his headquarters from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Harker. Major Inman claimed that plans for Sheridan’s campaign during the winter of 1868/69 against allied hostile tribes were designed in the officers quarters at Fort Harker, with contributions from Sheridan, General Forsyth, Colonel Andrew J. McGonnigal, and Major Inman. Rumors spread during 1869 that General Custer would be assigned to Fort Harker to command two companies of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. Instead however, on August 25 Brevet Colonel Joseph G. Tilford was sent to Fort Harker. General Miles was in command of Fort Harker at this time. Troops D and K, 7th U.S. Cavalry, wintered at Fort Harker, but without Custer. These two cavalry troops left Fort Harker on February 22, 1870, to confront roaming hostile bands of Indians.

Between May 3 and 15, 1870, Custer and four troops, F, I, L, and M of the 7th U.S. Cavalry left Fort Leavenworth and arrived at Fort Harker. After receiving and forwarding reports of Indian attacks on a train near Willow Springs and Lake Stanton, Custer and his troops continued west to Fort Hays, Kansas. Major General John Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri, placed General Custer in charge of protecting the Kansas frontier during the summer of 1870. He instructed the commanding officers at Fort Harker and Fort Hays to provide Custer with troops as needed, and he also placed 7th U.S. Cavalry forces under Brevet Lieutenant Colonel J. G. Tilford under Custer’s command.

In June 1871 the post commander ordered a board to “examine and report upon the condition of the two sets of log Company Quarters here.” Surgeon Fryer was the board’s senior member. The report of the board indicated that the log barracks were unsafe and unfit for occupancy. The board’s report was forwarded to Department Headquarters, with positive results. By October work was underway repairing the log barracks. Roofs were repaired and new floors were laid.

In anticipation of Fort Harker’ closing, Surgeon Fryer was relieved as Post Surgeon on March 27, 1872, by Acting Assistant Surgeon C. C. Arms. Fryer, who had been at the post for several years, was sent to Fort Union with the 15th U.S. Infantry. Orders for the abandonment of the post were received at Fort harker on April 28, 1872. With the exception of some items to be sold, Medical Department property was sent to Fort Hays, and Medical records were sent to the Office of the Surgeon General. Most of Companies D, E, and F of the 5th U.S. Infantry had already left the fort on April 26. A small detachment of Infantry, consisting of one commissioned officer, a sergeant, and five enlisted men, was left to garrison the post. Company C of the 5th U.S. Cavalry left Fort Harker on May 7. Post returns for June/September 1872 were filed by 1st Lieutenant E. L Randall, who commanded a detachment of five-six enlisted men remaining at the post. Surgeon J. W. Brewer made his last monthly entry in October, indicating that he left the post on October 5, 1872.

Much of what is known about the layout and appearance of Fort Harker comes from just a few sources. Military plans, daily reports, and other records provide a good indication of the types, number, and locations of the buildings, corrals, privies, wells, springs, and trash dumps. The best single description of Fort Harker was written by post surgeon Dr. Blencoe E. Fryer. His handwritten report, bearing the date of May 1870, is some what longer and more detailed than the printed version that appears in a repost on Barracks and Hospitals with Descriptions of Military Posts, from the U. S. Surgeon General’s Office dated December 5, 1870.

At Fort Harker more of the distinguished generals of the war have slept or been entertained than any other post in the U.S. Some of the well known were; Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Terry, Howard, Schofield, Marcy, Grierson, Custer, A. J. Smith, Sully (son of the celebrated American Artist who painted Queen Victoria in her youth) and others have camped there. It’s commanders were Custer, Gibbs, Sully, A.J. Smith and Miles.

Today four of the original stone buildings from the fort era are being restored to be used by the Ellsworth County Historical Society as part of their museum complex.

The museum for Fort Ellsworth/Harker in the town of Kanopolis, Kansas is located in the old “Guardhouse” from Fort Harker days.

East of the Guardhouse Museum about two block there are two of the junior officers quarters on the north side of the street.

The commanding officer’s quarters sits on the south side of the street at this location. These are small reminders of what was once a large military complex and for a brief time, in the 1860’s, one of the busiest military posts on the Kansas frontier. No great battles are associated with Fort Harker, and no major incidents occurred there. It performed its mission well, including supply depot, command headquarters, and active military post.

An in depth study by Leo E. Oliva on Fort Harker can be found in his book “Fort Harker, Defending the Journey West” The book can be ordered through the “Last Chance Store” along with many other great book by this author.

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
St. John, Kansas © “Forever”


Filed under: Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 8:11 pm

Kanopolis Drive-In Theater web site

You don’t know what to do on a hot summer night? The kids are restless? Since 1952 this nationally recognized drive-in has been playing movies on their big outdoor screen for people of all ages. Here in this open prairie land at the north edge of Kanopolis, the price of admission is relatively low and the family atmosphere is high. There is a genuine feeling of hospitality about this family owned business. They show first run movies, have a good refreshment stand and plenty of play area for the kids “down in front” so you can keep an eye on them. Bring a lawn chair for yourself. This nostalgic drive-in is one of three remaining in Kansas.


Filed under: Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 8:10 pm

Located at the east edge of Kanopolis on the low road from Ellsworth
Fort Harker Guardhouse Museum web site

Established as Fort Ellsworth in the summer of 1864 by Lt. Allen Ellsworth and the 7th Cavalry, this fort provided protection to the Kansas Stage Line and military wagon trains traveling the Fort Riley Road and Smoky Hill Trail. In November 1866 the name was changed to Fort Harker. A three-day peace council at the fort failed, with the Cheyenne vowing to drive the soldiers off the Plains. In January1867, it was relocated to its present site where Kanopolis now stands.

The famous Butterfield Overland Dispatch began operation in 1865 along the Smoky Hill route to Denver and the fort was established to guard the stage line against attack from Indians. In 1866 young Bill Cody took his first scouting job at the fort. The next year, while hunting buffalo for the railroads, he became known as Buffalo Bill.


Because of the hostilities, various forts, now known as the Kansas Forts Network, were established on the Kansas frontier. Fort Harker’s unique position at the division of the Smoky Hill Trail and the Fort Riley Road made the fort important. Fort Harker was one of three forts established to protect travelers, railroad workers, local settlements and the Santa Fe Trail.

For a time Fort Harker was the headquarters of the district of the Upper Arkansas and the supply depot for all military forts west, including Colorado, New Mexico, and portions of Arizona. Fort Harker served as a supply depot and distribution point for all the forts in Colorado, A cholera epidemic swept through Fort Harker and the newly established town of Ellsworth in July 1867 where it claimed more than 200 lives. This established Brevet Major George Sternburg as an authority on epidemic diseases. The epidemic took the life of his wife.

It was Fort Harker in the fall of 1868 that General Phil Sheridan planned his winter campaign of 1868-1869 which finally subdued the southern Indians.

In 1873 the military abandoned the fort as the railroad had put an end to its usefulness. The military reservation was opened to settlement and the buildings were sold in June 15, 1880. Fort Harker was then given the new name of Kanopolis.

The original guardhouse contains military and Indian artifacts from the 1860’s discovered during the summer of 1996 at an archaeological site organized by the Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Archaeological Association. Three barracks buildings of the early Fort Harker remain standing in the same area and one junior officer’s quarters is in the process of being restored. The senior officer’s and commandant’s house was recently purchased from a private owner by the Ellsworth Historical Society which manages all the Ft. Harker property.


Filed under: History, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 5:52 am

by Ron Welch

The prairies and plains of Kansas were dotted with military forts during America’s westward expansion in the 1800’s. Strategically placed, these early forts provided protection for both settlers and native Americans as well as travelers negotiating such difficult trails as the Santa Fe, Oregon and the Smoky Hill. While many of the early forts were sort-lived, an important lesson in American military history can be learned by touring those - both historic and active that remain.

When General Nelson Miles moved to Fort Harker he found it “more agreeable and more within the confines of civilization” than his former duty station, Fort Hays. The garrison was located within a few yards of the Kansas Pacific Railroad and mail arrived twice a day.

Because of its central location next to the Smoky Hill River, near the old Santa Fe Trail in Ellsworth County, the post was a point of rendezvous for many troops and their commanders. It also was an important supply stop for other forts in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.

The original installation, known as Fort Ellsworth, was built a mile away from Fort Harker’s present site in 1864. It was moved in 1867. That same year, one George A. Custer passed through the post enroute to an unauthorized meeting with his wife that later resulted in his being court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year.

A cholera epidemic claimed more than 200 lives at Fort Harker in the late 1860’s and, and by 1873, the post had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned. Wooden materials used in its construction were salvaged by settlers nearby.

Remaining structures include a two-story stone guardhouse and three stone officer’s quarters now being used as private residences. The top floor of the guardhouse which is open to the public, had six 7′ x 3′ cells that proved almost unbearable to prisoners in the summer heat. According to the post surgeon, “the ventilation of the cells is defective and it is difficult to remedy this in the present building without giving many of the more daring prisoners chances of escape.”

A museum in the guardhouse displays military items and historical memorabilia.


Filed under: County Sites, Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 12:03 am

By Jim Gray

Bruce Scates, Jr. and Dortha Scates of Richardson, Texas were accompanied by Steven and Penny (Scates) Williams to Ellsworth, Sunday, March 9 2003 to visit the old home land.

Bruce’s great-grandfather, Elisha Scates, was one of the original settlers of Thompson Creek in 1866. The pilgrimage was the result of his daughter Penny’s interest in the family history. While researching the family, Penny ran across information on the internet that mentioned a Scates Cemetery in Ellsworth County. That was approximately one year ago. It was the first time that she or her father had ever heard of the cemetery that bore their family name.

Elisha’s son, John R. Scates moved to Ellsworth and became a mail carrier. Their youngest son, Bruce Randolph Scates was born in Ellsworth, Aug. 4, 1900. That is Bruce Scates, Jr.’s father. Penny’s grandfather. Most of the family eventually moved away. Elisa and Sarah joined a son, William, in Fairview, Okla. Elisha died there May 31, 1902. Sarah followed him, December 12, 1908.

Pearl Scates was another of Elisha and Sarah’s children. She married Earl Flanders and was the only Scates family member to remain in the area. They are both buried in the old Ellsworth Cemetery on the south edge of town. A visit was paid to their gravesite before traveling to Fort Harker. Jim Gray and Linda and Andrew Kohls were the guides for the day.

The Scates Cemetery is on the land that once was Elisha and Sarah Scates claim. The family gathered in front of the arched gateway for a picture and again at the monument dedicated to the “memory of pioneer days”. The view of Thompson’s Creek is an impressive panorama that bears witness not only to the Scates family origins, but to Ellsworth County itself.

Note: Jim Gray is a rancher, a historian and the co-owner of Drovers Mercantile in downtown Ellsworth. He and Linda Kohls are the founders of the C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society, an organization devoted to the preservation of the Old West.


Filed under: Kanopolis — Peg Britton @ 12:02 am

by Jim Gray

No matter where you may be in Ellsworth County or in most of central Kansas for that matter - the horizon of the late 1860’s no longer exists. Imagine nothing but grass as far as the eye can see. Except for a narrow band of timber growing along the Smoky Hill River, the panorama is uninterrupted. A distant black mass of buffalo can be seen moving ever so slowly in its never ending search for fresh grazing.

This picture can be painted in the most romantic of terms or exposed to stark reality. In reality, the settling of the plains of Kansas required a heroism that has been nearly forgotten in this era of automobiles and electricity.

The Indian War of 1864 taught the first frontiersmen the harsh realities of claiming for themselves the traditional homeland of another people. The first settlement in Ellsworth County by Smoky Hill Thompson was abandoned in favor of breathing yet another day. For two years the dugout of that settlement fell silent of human activity.

Elisha Scates, Perry Campbell, Ira Clark and Robert Hudson, a hunting party from Davis County pressed westward, not only in search of buffalo but with an eye for new land to settle. They were from the town of Ashland. This town was not the Ashland of southwest Kansas that we are familiar with today. This Ashland, Kansas, was south of Manhattan. It had been declared the county seat of Davis County in 1857. When the county seat was moved to Junction City in 1860, Ashland began to fail.

While buffalo hunting that spring of 1866, the Scates hunting party happened on to Smoky Hill Thompson’s old dugouts. They probably ventured onto Tompson’s Creek by following the Salt Road, a trail that connected the Smoky Hill Trail to the Santa Fe Trail.

At the time, Salina, 30 miles to the east was the closest town. Fort Ellsworth was garrisoned by volunteer troops 6 miles northwest at the Smoky Hill cossing on the Fort Riley Military Road. Robert Hudson declared he was “home” and claimed the abandoned dugouts. Each man in turn located a suitable claim nearby along the meandering creek.

On April 19, 1866, Perry Campbell and Ira Clark returned with their families and began to build a community along the creek. They moved into the Hudson dugouts until their own claims could be improved. Families of Elijah Johnson and Robert Campbell settled in August. More families came in November and by Dec. 1 Robert Hudson, Elisha Scates, C. R. Davis and William Ewing were calling Thompson Creek “home”.

According to Luther Johnson, the total number of settlers that first year was fifty-six souls. Campbell and Clark raised a crop of corn and what was described as “very fine watermelons”. But, all was not heaven on earth in the new promised land. A son was born to Perry and Serena Campbell in September of 1866. She had undoubtedly suffered during her pregnancy from poor health as Dr. George Sternberg, the post surgeon at Fort Ellsworth was called to see her “during her sickness”. Campbell’s son was stillborn. He was buried on top of a hill not far above the dugouts. The hill overlooks Thompson Creek on the Elisha Scates claim.

An Indian scare in June of 1867 forced the settlers to abandon their claims and seek protection at Fort Harker. Cholera broke out at the same time, killing people at the post and at the newly organized town of Ellsworth. The Thompson Creek settlers endured the horror and soon were returning to their homes on the creek. George Campbell’s youngest son died suddenly of the cholera on August 10. He was about 9 years old. Young Campbell was the only one of the Thompson Creek folks to die from the epidemic. He was buried on the hill, in what settlers were calling the Scates Cemetery.

The Campbells contributed more than their fair share of interments on the hill. Perry and Serena Campbell buried twins in January of 1868. The boy was named Charles and the girl, Mary. They were buried next to the brother that had begun this pioneer burial plot.

The year of 1868 brought a summer of hot, dry winds. Crops failed. Indians were again on the warpath, but this time the settlers put their faith in their own defense. Robert Hudson had built a stockade around his dugouts and everyone moved there for protection. The location was dubbed Fort Hudson. Indians raided through the area, but cut a wide swath around the well fortified Thompson Creek pioneers.

Elisha and Sarah Scates also lost two children. Thirteen year-old Albert James Scates died April 21, 1876 and nine month-old Nancy J. Scates died August 23, 1873. They, too, were buried in the cemetery that bore their family name.

The first settlers, according to Luther R. Johnson, “…faced hot winds and drouth, grasshoppers and blizzards, Indians and cholera.” Some left, never to return. The Scates Cemetery fell into neglect for years. The prairie reclaimed its own with tall grass and wild roses. Some shrubs and perennials planted by loving family members, grew untended. In 1938, Mrs. J.L. Smith (Margaret Davis), descended from those early settlers, erected a monument in honor of the “… courageous men and women who braved the danger of the new west in order to find homes for their families.” Over 40 persons are memorialized on the monument. Most of them are babies and young mothers. “Erected in 1938 by one who cherishes the memory of pioneer days”.

Note: The Scates Cemetery is now administered by Empire township. It is listed on the U.S. Corps of Engineers self-guided tour, Legacy Trail. The map can be obtained at the Ellsworth/Kanopolis Chamber Of Commerce or at the Corps. Visitors Center, Kanopolis Lake.


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