Random Observations and Connections
[The Tombstone Epitaph, December, 1997]
The picture of a stockaded fort somewhere on the frontier is one of the most recognizable images associated with the history of the west. In 1965, the University of Oklahoma Press brought out Forts of the West: Military Forts and Presidios and Posts Commonly Called Forts West of the Mississippi River to 1898 by Robert W. Frazer. For anyone interested in military history and the institutions through which it was partially played out, this book is a treasure trove. The observations and connections which follow are all grounded in the masterful research which is displayed throughout the volume. State by state, western forts are alphabetically listed; relevant available information is then presented. History, of course, didn't happen "state by state" nor do its principal events and actors play out their roles in alphabetical sequence. Inescapably, one who peruses the volume begins to discern patterns and perceive connections that it was not the purpose or intent of the author to detail. What here follows are some of the observations and connections that occurred to this writer as he browsed through the wealth of information Mr. Frazer so diligently gathered. Numbers in this article reflect the fact that some posts bore several names during their existence; thus, the number of names exceeds the number of forts.
Frontier forts had quite a variety of namesakes: politicians (such as Senator Douglas from Illinois), presidents (Lincoln is an obvious example) and Indian tribes (Fort Apache and Fort Assiniboine, for instance; the former is arguably most famous because the movie director, John Ford, appropriated the name as a title for one of his trilogy of films about the United States Cavalry). Without question, though, the most frequent source of designations for western military posts was the military itself in the form of the names of officers and men whom they wished to commemorate. The individuals who supplied the names not only ranged from generals to enlisted men, but also from those who survived for a long life as well as those who died in combat or as a result of wounds received therein. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that there are numerous instances of military posts in different parts of the country, and some in different time frames, which bore the name of the same thus remembered soldier.
NAMES ARE THE SAME
Fort Atkinson provides our initial example. The first of the posts bearing this name was established in September, 1819, about nine miles north of present-day Omaha on the Iowa side of the Missouri River; it was subsequently moved to the top of the topological feature which even then was called Council Bluffs. On January 5, 1821, Secretary of State John C. Calhoun ordered that the post be named Fort Atkinson after Colonel Henry Atkinson of the 6th U.S. Infantry who had established the post. It was abandoned almost six and one-half years later on June 6, 1827.
More than twenty years later, on August 8, 1850, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner of the 1st Dragoons ordered the creation of a post (first called Fort Sumner after him) on the Arkansas River just west of present-day Dodge City, Kansas. The following year, on June 25, the post was renamed Fort Atkinson for the purpose of honoring the same Colonel Henry Atkinson who had died on June 14, 1842. This fort was abandoned in October of 1854.
One more Fort Atkinson should be noted. In North Dakota, there was a trading post bearing that name in the years 1858-59 which was purchased by the American Fur Company of John Jacob Astor. The post was then given the name by which it made its mark on western history-Fort Berthold.
Fort Buford, North Dakota, was established in mid-June, 1866, near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in the same general region as the American Fur Company post of Fort Union. Named for Major General John Buford who had died in December of 1863, the post was maintained until October, 1895. Less than a month after this fort was established another establishment came into being. Located a mile or two from the Laramie River near the present-day town of Laramie, Wyoming, it also was originally designated "Fort Buford". That conflicting designation was retained for less than two months before being altered to "Fort Sanders" after Brigadier General William P. Sanders who had been fatally wounded in November of 1863 in the battle at Knoxville, Tennessee.
First Lieutenant George Crook, 4th U.S. Infantry, established a post in California in July, 1857, which was, later that year, named after him; it was abandoned in 1869. Some thirty-five years later, a post originally authorized by Congress in 1888 and called the New Post of Fort Omaha (Nebraska) was renamed Fort Crook. The honoree, now a Major General, had died on March 3, 1891. The post is still active but is now known as Offutt Air Force Base.
Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was killed at Wilson's Creek Missouri, on August 10, 1861. A post in California, though never formally designated a fort, was named after him; the post was both established and abandoned in the same year-1862. Two years earlier, at the end of August of 1860, the government established a post on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado near present-day La Junta. Located near Bent's New Fort, the establishment was originally called Fort Fauntleroy for the colonel commanding the 1st Dragoons, then Fort Wise for the governor of Virginia. On June 25, 1862, the area was redesignated Fort Lyon. In early June, 1867, the Arkansas River flooded, forcing abandonment of the post which was replaced by Fort Lyon II. The latter was also located on the Arkansas River near the mouth of the Purgatoire (which many Anglos somewhat irreverently called the "Picketwire) River. Abandoned in the fall of 1889, the former post was turned into a United States Veterans' Hospital.
It might also be noted, that General Lyon, as a Captain in the 2nd Infantry, on July 31, 1856, established a post on the Missouri in South Dakota about ten miles up-river from today's Chamberlain. It was given the name which had earlier been borne by a Columbia Fur Company trading post located in the same general vicinity-Fort Lookout. It was abandoned in June of 1857.
Here again we encounter a fort whose name was successively applied to two different posts located within reasonable proximity to each other. Fort Wingate #1 was established in October of 1862 as a step preparatory to Colonel Kit Carson's campaign against the Navahos the following year. Its namesake was Captain Benjamin Wingate, 5th U.S. Infantry who was fatally wounded in the Battle of Valverde at the end of May, 1862. Six years later, the post was abandoned and its garrison removed to Fort Wingate II.
What became Fort Wingate II, originally was brought into existence in at the end of August, 1960, initially was called Fort Fauntleroy after Colonel Thomas T. Fauntleroy (about whom more later), 1st U.S. Dragoons who subsequently resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy. In September, 1861, his name was replaced by that of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon who has already been mentioned. With a Confederate invasion of New Mexico from Texas, the fort's garrison was withdrawn and not returned until the spring of 1868. At that time, it was garrisoned by troops transferred from Fort Wingate I and by troops engaged in escorting the Navahos who were being returned from imprisonment at Fort Sumner. With this reoccupation, the post was renamed Fort Wingate. After additional changes in assigned function, the post became, in 1960, Fort Wingate Ordnance Depot.
In 1855, Mormons established a fort in Nevada's Las Vegas Valley which they abandoned three years later. In December, 1861, Colonel James H. Carleton, Commander of the District of Southern California, ordered the occupation of the abandoned Mormon fort. Although the fort apparently was never actually established, it nonetheless was named Fort Baker to honor Colonel Edward D. Baker, 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, who was killed October 21, 1861, at Ball's Bluff, Virginia. A second Fort Baker was established in California in March, 1862, and abandoned the following year with still another post being designated Fort Baker on April 29, 1897. Colonel Baker had held one of California's Senate seats; he resigned and took a commission in the Union Army prior to his death.
An Arizona fort called Fort Tucson was established in May, 1862, but was renamed Camp Lowell in 1866 and again renamed in April 1879; on the latter occasion, its name became Fort Lowell after Brigadier General Charles R. Lowell who was fatally wounded in the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia. The post was abandoned in mid-September, 1864; reopened in May, 1865, and became a permanent installation at the end of August, 1866; it was abandoned on April 10, 1891.
In the same year Fort Tucson became Camp Lowell in Arizona, Camp Plummer was established by order of Brigadier General John Pope in New Mexico. This post's name, too, was subject to change; in July, 1868, it also became Fort Lowell, with the name serving until the post was abandoned in 1869.
Brigadier General Patrick E. Connor led an expedition into the Powder River country of northeastern Wyoming in 1865. As part of that venture, he established a post something over twenty miles northeast of the present town of Kaycee, Wyoming (whose name brings back memories of the Johnson County War-but that's another story for another time!). This supply base was initially called Fort Connor, but in November of that year it was re-designated Fort Reno, honoring Major General Jesse L. Reno who was killed in 1862 in the Battle of South Mountain. As a result of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Fort Reno was abandoned in August; the post was burned by Indians as soon as troops were withdrawn. Eight years later, Cantonment Reno was established near the site of the destroyed post. Cantonment Reno, now renamed Fort McKinney, was relocated to a site just west of the present town of Buffalo, Wyoming; Fort McKinney was named after First Lieutenant John A. McKinney, 4th U.S. Cavalry, who had been killed by Indians in November of 1876. The post was abandoned in November, 1894; in 1903, the area was converted into the State Soldiers' and Sailors' Home.
While these events were transpiring in the Powder River country, on the southern plains another similarly named post was also brought into being. The Oklahoma Fort Reno, also named after the Civil War officer, was established on the North Canadian River in July, 1874, largely for the purpose of controlling/ protecting the Darlington (Cheyenne-Arapaho) Indian Agency. It remained a military post until early in 1908, when it became an army remount station; thirty years later it was converted into the Reno Quartermaster's Depot and eleven years after that the military reservation became the Fort Reno Livestock Research Station.
Of course, not all forts bearing a common designation in fact honored the same individual. Fort Bennett, Washington, for example honored Captain Charles Bennett, an Oregon Volunteer, killed in the 1855 fighting near the site of Waiilatpu Mission near Walla Wall. Fort Bennett, South Dakota, on the other hand, was named after Captain Andrew S. Bennett, 5th U.S. Infantry, who had been killed in a skirmish with Indians in Montana in early September of 1878.
In like manner, Fort Brown, Texas, was established in March, 1846-just prior to the outbreak of the Mexican War. Located near present Brownsville, Texas, the post was named after Major Jacob Brown, 7th U.S. Infantry who was fatally wounded when the Mexicans bombarded the post. In 1870, Camp Augur, a sub-post of Fort Bridger established a year earlier, was reorganized as a separate post and its name was changed to Camp Brown. Although never officially recognized as a fort, the post was named after Captain Frederick H. Brown, 18th U.S. Infantry, who was killed on December 21, 1866, in what whites called the "Fetterman massacre" and the Indians "The Battle of the Hundred Slain".
Finally, in 1849, Fort Lincoln, Texas, honored Captain George Lincoln 8th U.S. Infantry, who had died in the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847. In 1872, Fort McKean, North Dakota, was re-designated Fort Abraham Lincoln. The former name derived from Colonel Henry Boyd McKean, 81st Pennsylvania Infantry, a casualty at Cold Harbor in June, 1864; the latter name, of course, is that of the assassinated President.
CIVIL WAR-INDUCED RENAMING
Not too surprisingly, a few forts were renamed when their namesakes forsook the Union and opted for rank in the Confederate States Army. What may be somewhat surprising is the fact that not all such forts did, in fact, have their designations changed. A few examples. Fort Breckinridge, Arizona, was established in May of 1860, its designation honoring Vice-President John C. Breckinridge. When the war broke out, Breckinridge, of course, "went south", the post changed hands twice-and was then renamed Fort Stanford after California's governor. On the other hand, in June of 1857 a post was established in California and named after Captain Braxton Bragg, 3rd U.S. Artillery. Captain Bragg becoming General Bragg, CSA, led to some demand that the name of the post be changed. Although it was abandoned before the Civil War ended, its designation was never changed. A somewhat different situation attended the establishment of Fort Davis, Texas on October 7, 1854. It was named after the then Secretary of War of the United States, Jefferson Davis, who subsequently became the first (and only) president of the Confederate States of America. Even so, the post was never renamed, very likely because Union troops abandoned it in April of 1861 and did not reoccupy and rebuild it until July, 1867. A historical sidelight-Fort Davis was reoccupied and rebuilt by troopers of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, the famous "Buffalo Soldiers", under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt. It was not abandoned until June 30, 1891.
No discussion of the impact of the Civil War on the naming of western forts would be complete without some mention of Colonel Thomas T. Fauntleroy of the 1st U.S. Dragoons. In 1853, Colonel Fauntleroy recommended the site on which Fort Riley, Kansas, was eventually constructed. Some seven years later, on August 31, 1860, Fort Fauntleroy, New Mexico, was designated in his honor. When the Colonel resigned his commission and accepted appointment in the Confederate States Army, the name of the post was changed to Fort Lyon, an act described in more detail earlier. Interestingly enough, virtually the same actions were repeated in Colorado during roughly the same time frame. What became Fort Wise originally was called Fort Fauntleroy when the post was first established at the end of August, 1860. As previously noted, Fort Wise became Fort Lyon in June of 1862. Thus Colonel Fauntleroy had a hand in the establishment of three forts, but was eventually deprived of formal connection with any of them. Such are the fortunes of war!
In addition to being named after presidents, political figures, military officers and high ranking officials, half a dozen or so forts were named after individuals who were deemed to merit the distinction for a variety of reasons. Fort Zarah, Kansas, for instance, was named by Major General Samuel R. Curtis, Department Commander, after his son. Major Henry Zarah Curtis was killed on October 5, 1863, during the Baxter Springs massacre perpetrated by William Clark Quantrell and his followers. The post was abandoned in 1869. Fort Livingston, Louisiana, a post not completely constructed until 1861 bore the name of Robert Livingston, one of the negotiators of the Louisiana Purchase. Although never officially designated a fort, Cantonment Burgwin, New Mexico (established August 14, 1852 and abandoned May 18, 1860) was named after Captain John H.K. Burgwin, 1st U.S. Dragoons who was fatally wounded in the Taos uprising of 1847, the same clash that also claimed the life of Charles Bent, one of the three founders of the near-legendary Bent's Fort on the Arkansas. First Lieutenant Charles Radziminski, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, contributed his name to a Camp in Oklahoma by virtue of the fact that he died of tuberculosis on August 18, 1858; on September 23rd of that year, Camp Radziminski came into being. Finally, on December 24, 1853, Fort Thorn, New Mexico was established. The post changed hands several times during the Civil War, but was not permanently garrisoned thereafter. First Lieutenant Herman Thorn, 2nd U.S. Infantry, was honored by having the short-lived post named after him. Lieutenant Thorn's claim to fame? He drowned in the Colorado River on October 16, 1849.
Although neither establishment played a noticeably significant role in the history of the west, note should be taken that two forts were named for women. Fort Henrietta, Oregon, was named for the wife of Captain Granville O. Haller, 4th U.S. Infantry; the post, established because of Indian "troubles" in 1855, was abandoned the following year. Fort Elizabeth Meagher, Montana, established near the present-day town of Bozeman in the spring of 1867, was named for the wife of Thomas F. Meagher, secretary and former acting governor of the territory.
ASSOCIATED WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT OF FORTS
The history of frontier forts includes reference to names of individuals who, at the time, were not particularly prominent but who subsequently acquired some distinction. Albert Sidney Johnston, a Confederate General who bled to death from a wound received at Shiloh, ordered the establishment of Fort Johnson, Texas when he was Secretary of War for the Republic of Texas; he also formally designated Fort Bridger, Wyoming, a military post in June of 1858. At the time of the latter action, Colonel Johnston, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, was on his way to Salt Lake City as part of what came to be called "The Mormon War".
We now proceed chronologically with additional examples: Winter of 1805-1806-land upon which Fort Snelling, Minnesota, was subsequently constructed was purchased from the Sioux by Zebulon Pike, 1st U.S. Infantry, who is far better remembered as the namesake of a well-known peak in the Colorado Rockies. July 7, 1849-Fort Lincoln, Texas, was established by First Lieutenant James Longstreet, the future "Old War Horse" of Robert E. Lee. June, 1851-Camp Stuart is established near the site of Fort Lane, Oregon, by Captain Phil Kearny of the 1st Dragoons, a professional soldier who served in the French Army in Algiers and Italy as well as the Union Army in the Civil War, whose name was destined to be attached to a fort associated with the second greatest military disaster on the northern plains, the so-called "Fetterman Massacre". 1856-Fort Bellingham, Washington, was garrisoned by troops of the 9th U.S. Infantry, commanded by Captain George Pickett, who had graduated last in his class from West Point (a "distinction" he shared with George Armstrong Custer) and would in a less than a decade lead one of the most famous infantry charges in U.S. history. 1856-a sub-post of Fort Hoskins, Oregon, was placed under the command of Lieutenant Philip Sheridan, the future destroyer of the Shenandoah Valley. August, 1856-The construction of Fort Wise, Colorado was directed by Major John Sedgwick, 1st U.S. Cavalry. Major General Sedgwick was killed by a Confederate sharpshooter at Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864. On September 27th of that year, a post on the South Platte River near the present-day town of Julesburg, Colorado, was re-designated "Fort Sedgwick". Ten years after his participation in the disastrous defeat on the Little Big Horn, Major Frederick W. Benteen established Fort Du Chesne in Utah.
The names of two forts of the frontier reflect a unique relationship between their holders-Fort Collins in Colorado and Fort Caspar in Wyoming. The former was named after the commanding officer at Fort Laramie, Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, under whose orders a fort was established on the Cache la Poudre near the town of the same name in October of 1864. The site of Fort Caspar was well known to emigrants on the Oregon-California Trail since it was the site at which the North Platte River had to be crossed. The Mormons constructed a ferry here in 1847; Platte Bridge Station took its place in 1858. A bridge across the river was completed the following year and the post continued to be called Platte Bridge Station until 1865. In November of that year Major General John Pope, Department Commander, ordered a change of name. Henceforth it would be known as Fort Caspar in honor of First Lieutenant Caspar W. Collins, 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, who was killed leading an attempted rescue of a wagon train under Indian attack on July 26, 1865. Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins and First Lieutenant Caspar W. Collins were father and son. The present town of Fort Collins, Colorado, continues to honor the father and Casper (an accidental change in spelling occurred through the years), Wyoming, the son. Fort Caspar is now maintained as a historic site open to the public.
TRADING POSTS CONVERTED TO FORTS
Quite a number of frontier outposts were originally intended to service and serve the fur trade. Of these, at least half-a-dozen or more deserve mention because they subsequently were taken over or replaced by military installations.
FORT DALLES, OREGON
In 1820, the Northwest Company operated a trading post on the Columbia River at The Dalles. Some years after its abandonment, in May, 1850, a military post was established; initially called Fort Drum, in 1853 it was renamed Fort Dalles. The post was substantially rebuilt in the late 1850's. The town which had sprung up around the post was chartered as Fort Dalles in 1857, but the name was quickly changed to Dalles City. The Post Office Department continued to refer to the new town as The Dalles, which is its present name. The military post was evacuated in 1867.
FORT UNION, NORTH DAKOTA
Located on the Missouri River about three miles above the mouth of the Yellowstone, an American Fur Company Trading Post called Fort Union was in full operation in 1828. The longevity of its active period in the fur trade contrasts vividly with the brevity of its military service. Occupied by troops on August 18, 1864, the post was evacuated by the military a bit more than a year later-August 31, 1865. Two years later, the Government bought Fort Union, tore down its buildings and used the materials for the purpose of enlarging Fort Buford.
FORT PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA
The military "career" of Fort Union was almost matched by that of Fort Pierre in the southern most of the two Dakotas. Located near the present town of Pierre, the trading post was established in 1828 by Bernard Pratte and Company; it was named for Pierre Chouteau, Jr., who figured prominently in the fur trade. Fort Pierre's military service did not begin until April, 1855, when it was purchased by the government; about two months later the post was occupied by troops. Not long after, it became apparent that the supply of grass, timber and hay was not adequate to support the military function for which the post had been acquired. Consequently, on May 16, 1857, it was abandoned.
FORT LARAMIE, WYOMING
The year 1834 was, if you will, a good year for the establishment of trading posts along what would, a decade or so later, become the Oregon-California Trail. Both Fort Laramie in Wyoming and Fort Hall in Idaho count that year as their date of founding. [Parenthetically, it might be noted that, a year earlier, the Bent brothers, William and Charles, along with Ceran St. Vrain, established what became an equally famous post on the Arkansas on the southern plains-Bent's Fort. Bent's Fort, however, never became a military establishment, though the New Bent's Fort was for a time used by the Army for the storage of supplies.
Constructed on the bank of the Laramie River about a mile above its confluence with the North Platte River, the post constructed under the direction of William Sublette and Robert Campbell was originally named Fort William after the eldest Sublette brother. The original owners sold their interests to the newly formed Rocky Mountain Fur Company (among whose owners/founders were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Milton Sublette and Jim Bridger) in 1835; the American Fur Company of John Jacob Astor, which proved to be too much competition for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, acquired the post and changed the name to Fort John. The popular designation for the area quickly came to be "Fort John-on-the-Laramie". In June of 1849, the post was purchased by the government and converted into a military post which retained the name "Fort Laramie", reflecting its location on the river of that name. The name itself derived from a French/Canadian fur trapper, Jacques La Ramee, who reportedly was killed by Indians in 1821. Today, the name is applied not only to Fort Laramie National Historic Site (the military post was abandoned in 1890; readers interested in a more detailed treatment of this post might want to consult the article "Tales of Old Fort Laramie" which the Epitaph published in November, 1981), but also to the Laramie River, the Laramie Mountains, Laramie Peak, the Laramie Plains and the city of Laramie (location of the University of Wyoming).
FORT HALL, IDAHO
As already noted, Fort Hall was established as a trading post by Nathaniel Wyeth in 1834, who sold it to the Hudson's Bay Company two years later. This establishment became one of the principal stations supporting travel on the Oregon-California Trail during most of the middle third of the 19th century. In August of 1849, the first military post (frequently called Fort Hall but formally named Cantonment Loring after Lieutenant Colonel William W. Loring, Commander of the Mounted Rifles/Oregon Expedition) was established on the Snake River about three miles from the trading post. This post was abandoned in the spring of 1850 for essentially the same reason as Fort Pierre, insufficient forage and other provisions. Fort Hall II was established in May of 1870. Though located east of the trading post near the present town of Blackfoot, the military establishment was named for the original trading post. It was abandoned in June of 1883.
FORT BRIDGER, WYOMING
The second of Wyoming's east-west "book end" forts, Fort Bridger was constructed by Jim Bridger and Luis Vásquez near the present town of Fort Bridger on Black's Fork of the Green River. Though the post (named, of course, after Bridger) "opened for business" in 1843, construction had been largely undertaken the previous year. Located so as to tap into emigrant needs on the Oregon-California Trail, Bridger became involved in on-going disputes with Mormon authority in Utah. Whether the latter drove or bought the former out, there is no question that Mormons took over the fort in 1853. After adding significantly to the post (part of the "Mormon Wall" is still visible), Mormons abandoned it in 1857 with the approach of federal troops under the command of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston at the start of the so-called "Mormon War". In November of that year, Bridger lease what remained of the post to the government and in June of the following year, Colonel Johnston formally designated the establishment as a fort. Bridger collected about $6,000 from the U.S. Government for "improvements" made to the post, but was unable to substantiate his title to the land (the area was part of a Mexican land grant) and, therefore, was never paid for the post itself. In the spring of 1878 the post was abandoned, but reoccupied two years later during the "Ute War" which included the Meeker Massacre. The fort was finally abandoned in November, 1890; it is today a State Historic Site. Readers interested in further information on this area can refer to "Fort Bridger: Glimpses of the Past," The National Tombstone Epitaph, November, 1985.
FORT SUMNER, NEW MEXICO
A licensed trading post operating in the Bosque Redondo on the Pecos River since 1851 became a military post in 1862. Named Fort Sumner after Major General Edwin Vose Sumner who had previously commanded the department, the primary function of the fort was to "supervise" perhaps 7,000 Navahos (and several hundred Apaches) who had been captured by the 1st New Mexico Infantry commanded by Colonel Kit Carson when they were driven out of the Cañon de Chelly-an event still remembered by tribal members as the "Long Walk". The post was abandoned in 1868 when the imprisoned Indians were finally permitted to leave.
FORT BERTHOLD, NORTH DAKOTA
A trading post which was called Fort Atkinson in 1858-59 was purchased by the American Fur Company in 1862 at which time it was renamed Fort Berthold. Although this post was never owned by the government, troops did occupy it (and build some structures just outside the fort) in 1864-65; even so, no rent was ever paid for the use of this private property. The military withdrew in June, 1867, and the fort continued as a trading post until 1874.
BATTLES IN WHICH FORT NAMESAKES WERE KILLED OR SUSTAINED FATAL WOUNDS
Sixteen of the forts covered in this article were named after individuals killed during the War With Mexico. Of these sixteen, all but three were located in the State of Texas; one was located in Minnesota (Fort Ridgely) and two in Oregon (Fort Drum and Fort Hoskins). Fort Ridgely is unique in at least one respect; it was named after three officers who died in different actions while in Mexico. Only two battles of the Mexican War provided more than one name to a future military establishment: Molino del Rey (4) and Monterrey (3). The other fort namesakes died in the assault on Mexico City, a bombardment of Fort Brown, a skirmish near Fort Brown, the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, the Battle of Buena Vista, an attack on San Antonio; and the Battle of Palo Alto.
THE CIVIL WAR
Thirty-six forts were named in honor of men who died during the Civil War, including six in New Mexico and four each in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. Five battles accounted for two fatalities each: Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, Valverde, and Chantilly, Virginia. The twenty-two battles of this fratricidal conflict ranged from those well-remembered (Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, Shiloh, Stone's River, Antietam, Ball's Bluff and Bull Run) to those largely forgotten except by military historians and/or Civil War buffs. Included in the later category would be Pichaco Pass (Arizona), Cedar Creek (Virginia), Wilson's Creek (Missouri), Kenesaw Mountain, Baster Springs (Kansas), Laurel Hill (Virginia), South Mountain, Chantilly (Virginia) and Opequon (Virginia).
THE INDIAN WARS
Twenty-seven forts were named after military personnel who became fatalities in the decades-long struggle with the tribes of the northern and southern plains. Five of these forts were located in Wyoming and three each in Montana, New Mexico and Washington. Unlike the Mexican War and the Civil War, the Indian Wars did not generate many "battles" in the sense in which that word is normally used by military historians. Rather, the namesakes of these twenty-seven establishments died in engagements and actions spread over an exceedingly wide geographic area involving relatively small numbers of combatants on both sides (at least when compared with the 1861-65 blood-letting). The Battle of the Little Big Horn accounted for three of the names (Custer, Keogh and Yates), the Fetterman "massacre" for two (Fetterman and Brown) and two each were ascribed to "action against the Spokane Indians" and "killed in action against Navaho. The other single names were drawn from actions the location of which was occasionally noted but frequently undesignated. Forts were named after individuals whose demise was described thusly: Killed pursuing Geronimo; Killed fighting Northern Cheyennes at Punished Women's Fork, Kansas; Battle of Big Hole; Action against the Brulé Dakota east of Fort Laramie; Killed by Indians in Wyoming; Killed by Indians in the Quinn Valley; Died of wounds received fighting Paiutes; Killed by Apaches; Killed by Rogue River Indians; Killed by Bannock Indians in Montana; Killed in skirmish with Nez Perce; Killed in attack on Indian village on the Washita River; Killed by Ute Indians; Killed fighting Indians in Washington; Killed at the Platte River Bridge,; Killed by Indians in 1876; Killed by Indians near Miner's Delight, Wyoming. And, finally, and perhaps uniquely, General Canby who was killed by Modoc Indians while engaged in peace negotiations.
One final observation. Whether well-remembered or largely forgotten, the forts (the personnel who garrisoned them, and their wives, laundresses, servants, teamsters, sutlers, etc.) of the frontier of the American west played a significant role in the history of this country. Some still occupy a recognized place as state historic sites or as part of the National Park Service-all deserve to be remembered. And Robert Frazer merits the unending thanks of the historically interested for having provided, in his Forts of the West, a cornucopia of information that is the necessary point of beginning for such remembering.
Robert L. Munkres
Copyright Robert Munkres 1981-2009 All Rights Reserved