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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ft Scott National Historic Site celebrated its 175th birthday

On May 30, 1842, the US Army established a new post on the frontier - Ft. Scott (KS) named for General Winfield Scott. As settlers rode west, they encroached more and more upon Indian lands. The US had promised a "permanent Indian frontier" and forts were opened from Minnesota to Louisiana to protect this right. Ft. Scott was one of those forts.

Soldiers did their best to keep peace between the white settlers, the native Indians and the relocated tribes from the East. It couldn't have been an easy assignment.

Officers' quarters
Life was neither exciting or easy for the infantry soldiers and dragoons (soldiers who fought both on horseback and on foot). The infantry soldiers built the fort while the dragoons patrolled the surrounding area.

By 1842, Texas had declared its independence from Mexico and was recognized as the Republic of Texas. Traffic was increasing along the new Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. As conflicts arose, the dragoons were sent to keep peace. They rode escort on the trail in 1843. In 1844, they marched into Pawnee country to settle issues with the Sioux. In 1845, they patrolled the Oregon Trail.

Then in 1845, Texas became a state. President Polk, in his expansionist mode, wanted the lands that are currently California, Arizona and New Mexico. He instigated the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) by occupying disputed border lands.

Ft Scott sent troops to fight in the war. Some dragoons marched with Stephen Kearney into New Mexico and California and other served with Zachary Taylor at the Battle of Buena Vista (where the US defeated Santa Ana's troops). Infantry soldiers also took part in General Scott's march to Mexico City.

Meanwhile, westward expansion continued. The war ended with Mexico ceding California, Arizona and New Mexico to the US. By this time, all thoughts of a permanent Indian territory had gone by the wayside and Ft Scott was abandoned in 1853. I wonder if there are Indian re-enactors who portray what their ancestors experienced during those years.

Just a few short years later, the developing war between the pro-slavery folks of Missouri and the abolitionists descending into the Kansas Territory created a renewed need for the fort.

At the 175th anniversary celebration on June 3, re-enactors arrived from across the country to portray life in the fort in the 1840s. We watched artillery and cannon demonstrations, learned about the uniforms of the period and the various units, and watched dragoons conducting sword practice.

One of the speakers portrayed a soldier from the 1st Regiment of Mounted Volunteers from Missouri, which served under Colonel Alexander Doniphan. He explained that at the time, the regular army consisted of around 5,500 men eligible for battle. To build our forces, President Polk authorized Congress to raise 50,000 volunteers. Missouri sent five regiments of volunteers.

If you've never attended a living history event, you're missing out on an opportunity to learn about our past. Although I have very little knowledge of weapons and the various military units, I enjoy the presentations.

The noise and the smoke are two realities of battle that I never suspected until I attended a re-enactment. At this event, just a few muskets created both. It makes it a little easier to understand the deafening noise and eye-watering smoke that filled the air. Multiplying the number by thousands stretches the imagination. Add cannon fire and human voices and I suspect a soldier's ears rang and his nose burned for days after a battle.

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