Custer Lives!

Fort Hays, Kansas

 

In July 2009 I visited the Fort Hays, Kansas State Historic Site. Unfortunately I visited the Monday after the 4th of July weekend and the office, museum, and buildings were not open. On the positive side I had the place to myself. The only other persons there were a young couple with two small kids. They lasted about fifteen minutes in the 95 degree heat and vanished. The former fort is now surrounded by a golf course, which was quite busy. I live in a neighborhood that winds through a golf course so poorly hit golf balls don't distract me.

Four of the Fort's original buildings have survived. The blockhouse, the guardhouse, and two Junior Officer quarters. The museum building was completed in 1967 and is administered by the Kansas Historical Society. There are information signs posted through out the grounds to show where former buildings stood. Most are in great shape and have pictures, along with easy to read text.

The blockhouse was completed in the fall of 1867 as the main defensive position of the Fort. It originally had only rifle slots to shoot from and no windows. In 1870 it was remodeled into the Fort's Headquarters. The guardhouse was built in 1872 to replace a wooden structure. Three cells were on the end of it, while the rest was offices related to the military jail. Some prisoner scrawlings are still visible on it. Even though I couldn't get inside I was able to read the displays and see well enough to photograph the interiors. In addition to the two remaining Officer quarters, seven additional foundations remain. Again, I could see very well inside on the ground floor and was able to easily take photographs.

The bake house and oven foundation is still visible. One of the four well structures has survived. They were dug thirty to fifty feet deep in 1867. The Fort cemetery is now empty. The military dead were moved to Fort Leavenworth after Fort Hays closed. Sentinel Hill was used as a lookout post. It's about two miles away. You can get close in a vehicle, but you must walk about 100 yards to the top. There's a ghost story tied to Sentinel Hill and Fort Hays. Elizabeth Polly was the wife of post hospital steward Ephriam Polly. Elizabeth volunteered to help during an 1867 cholera outbreak. Unfortunately she contracted the disease and died. Before dying she asked to be buried on top of Sentinel Hill where she liked to visit. There was too much rock on top and she was buried at the base of the hill. While Soldiers buried in the Fort cemetery were moved to Fort Leavenworth and civilians to Hays City Cemetery, Elizabeth was left behind at Sentinel Hill. Elizabeth’s ghost allegedly roams Sentinel Hill and Fort Hays in a long blue dress and white bonnet. Her ghost is said to emit a blue light, hence her local name as The Blue Light Lady.

A massive buffalo statue and monument now stands on the parade grounds.

General George Armstrong Custer and the famed US 7th Cavalry were stationed at Fort Hays. General Nelson Miles, General Philip Sheridan, and the Buffalo Soldiers of the US 10th Cavalry were also stationed here at various times. Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody also play a part in the Fort's history.

Originally established on October 11, 1865 as Fort Flecther, it served as a frontier post to protect military roads, defend travelers on the Santa Fe Trial, construction workers for the Union Pacific Railroad, and guard the U.S. mail. The Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians made frequent attacks in an effort to keep out White intuders. The name was changed to Fort Hays, for US Civil War Brigadier General Alexander Hays, on November 11, 1866. During the height of the Plains Indian Wars nearly six hundred hundred Soldiers were stationed here.

 The entrance sign.

The offices and museum building.

The remaining Blockhouse building.

The site of the bakery.

The well site.

The guardhouse.

The former site of the cemetery.

Sentinel Hill is inside the red circle.

One of the Junior Officer quarters.

The buffalo monument.

 

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