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Fort Scott, Kansas is the outgrowth of a frontier military outpost, lies on the south bank of the Marmaton River, five miles west of the Missouri Line. A city of "jogging" streets and fine old trees, with buildings older than Kansas itself sandwiched in between modern structures, Fort Scott is a blend of pioneer and modern America.

At the junction of three railroads, the city is important as a distribution and shipping point and also as a manufacturing center in southeastern Kansas. The Saturday afternoon bustle of farmers and their wives in and out of stores, produce stations, and cafes indicates the place of agriculture in the community's economy.

The business district extends south from Market Square, a triangular plot bounded by Market, Oak, and National Avenues. National Avenue, which bounds Market Square on the west, bisects the town from north to south. Immediately adjacent to the business section on the south and west is Fort Scott's older residential district, center of the social activities of the i88o's and 1890's. Gabled brick and stone structures for the most part, with broad porches and deep windows, the houses are in good repair and in many instances are occupied by descendants of the original owners. Great elm trees form long green arches over the streets in this section, and stone hitching posts still stand in front of many of the houses.

Approximately one mile from the business section on the south and west are the newer residential districts with recently paved streets, straight young trees, and rows of trim frame and stucco houses. Three railroads cut through the north portion of the city near the river and the industrial section.

Fort Scott has one of the first municipally owned junior colleges in the State, with an enrollment of approximately 400. Schools, churches, lodges, and clubs are centers for the community's social and cultural life. Owing, no doubt, to the town's early military history and to the fact that many of the residents are descendants of the first soldiers stationed at old Fort Scott, patriotic organizations have been especially active within the city from its earliest days and residents make even the lesser patriotic days gala occasions. Carroll Plaza, today as in the past, is the scene of these celebrations.

Provisions were made for a camp between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Gibson when the old Military Road between the two was surveyed in 1837, but it was not until 1842 that a fort was founded at a point approximately midway between the two and named in honor of Gen. Winfield Scott. Designated as the "Plaza," a parade ground was laid out and by the summer of 1843 a number of military buildings, including officers' quarters, soldiers' barracks, stables, a hospital, and a guardhouse, were completed, all facing the parade grounds. Surrounding the square and its buildings was a stockade, built of huge timbers 12 feet high. An iron gate in the west side of the stockade was the only opening.

Fort Scott was garrisoned until 1855, when the Government abandoned it, selling the lumber in the stockade and auctioning off fort buildings. After the sale of the buildings Fort Scott carried on as a tiny settlement; travel continued over the Military Road and the town grew in importance through trade with soldiers, settlers, and Indians. Lying only five miles from the Missouri Line, the town, before and during the Civil War, became the rendezvous for both Free Staters and proslavery sympathizers, and guerrillas and ruffians along the border plundered and stole from both sides.

One of the old fort's officers' quarters was occupied by the Free State Hotel in the late 1850's, so named because it was a favorite stopping place for such Free Staters as John Brown, Charles Jennison, Capt. James Montgomery, and scores of sympathizers not so well known. The hotel became nationally known through the columns of the New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore papers as the headquarters of Captain Montgomery, who made widely publicized raids upon pro-slavery sympathizers in the vicinity.

Local tradition in Fort Scott asserts that the term Jayhawker originated with the patrons of the Free State Hotel. Pat Devlin, an Irishman and a member of Captain Montgomery's band, so the story goes, returned late one afternoon from plundering pro-slavery farmers along the Missouri-Kansas border. Asked where he had been he replied that he had been "jayhawking." "The jayhawk," he went on to explain, "is a bird in Ireland that catches small birds and bullyrags the life out of them like cats do mice. I'm in the same business myself and I call it jayhawking." Jayhawker was taken up by Captain Montgomery as a nickname for his band and finally stuck as a name for all Kansas.

The Western Hotel, stopping place for pro-slavery men, stood directly across the Plaza from the Free State Hotel in the days preceding the Civil War, and rivalry between the two hostelries was as bitter as that between the North and the South. Here, it is said, the Marais des Cygnes massacre was plotted and here two pro-slavery men organized a Blue Lodge by which they hoped to drive Free State men from the Territory by scaring them off their claims. The Free Staters, in turn, organized the Self Protective Association headed by Captain Montgomery.

Friction between the two factions came to a head in October 1857, when Judge Joseph Williams of the United States District Court, a pro-slavery sympathizer, began to hear the lawsuits between the Free State and the pro-slavery men over homestead claims. Declaring that all decisions were going against the Free State claimants because of partiality shown by the court, the anti-slavery faction set up its own court in a log cabin a few miles from town. This they called the "Squatters' Court" and, as no Bible was handy, witnesses were sworn on an old medical book, Dr. Gunn's Family Physician.

Pro-slavery sympathizers arrested a man named Rice, who was charged with the murder of one of their comrades, and held him at the Free State Hotel pending his trial in the district court. Montgomery, with about 70 men, returned to Fort Scott to release the prisoner. A storekeeper named Little, who was also United States marshal, fired into the group outside the hotel from the transom of his shop. Immediately one of Montgomery's men returned fire, shooting Little through the forehead as he looked out. Shots rang out through the Plaza for several minutes. Montgomery and his party surrounded the store, believing it garrisoned with pro-slavery men. Ruffians in the band looted nearby stores. The Free Staters broke into the store and Montgomery stopped the looting. The Free State man was released. By 1860 the border was quiet again.

After the outbreak of the Civil War Fort Scott again assumed importance as a military post, large quantities of supplies being stored there for the use of troops stationed as far south as the Red River. Lt. Col. Lewis R. Lewell, commanding the Sixth Kansas Cavalry, was appointed Post Commander in 1862, and fortifications, consisting of breastworks, stockades, and three blockhouses Fort Henning, Fort Insley, and Fort Blair were erected. Gen. James H. Lane, who was appointed Union commander for recruiting in the department of Kansas in July 1862, also established his headquarters at the fort.

Fort Scott, during the 1860's and 1870's, was noted for its gaiety. Even during the tense days before the war the Free State Hotel was as gay a spot as was to be found in southeastern Kansas. Here, according to early newspaper accounts, the "elite of the town" gathered and frequently "danced and joshed each other until seven o'clock in the morning."

The Wilder House, just off the Plaza on Main Street, replaced the Free State Hotel as a rendezvous in the late i86o's. Famed in the vicinity is the reply of the hotel-keeper when new arrivals asked, "Is this the Wilder House?" "You stay here awhile," he would drawl, "and you'll find there ain't a wilder house in the country."

The Tri-Weekly Stage ran between Kansas City and Fort Scott in the 1860's, the name of which, as the town wags explained it, meant "to go out one week and try to get back the next." The fare between the two points was $10 and "carry a rail," the term of the day for walking alongside the stagecoach when the roads were bad. "If the roads were good," an historian writes, "a man passenger only had to carry a rail about a third of the way. But it was worth the price to ride into the Wilder House with a grand flourish."

Cohn's Restaurant and Confectionery on East Wall Street became the social hub of the town in the 1880's. "The Delmonico of the West," one local newspaper called it, "a royal restaurant with dining parlors handsomely painted and papered in the highest style of art, the popular and stylish resort of the city. . . ." Cohn, restaurateur of parts, among other elaborate dishes contributed "Quail a la Marmaton" and "Turkey a la Pawnee" to the art of cuisine.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, social life was greatly subdued. The town was developing as a manufacturing and trading center. Then in the early 1900's came a slump in business activity, a gradual let down after a half century of bustling activity.

For years farmers in the vicinity produced grains and vegetables with only moderate success. In 1910, however, a survey was made and Fort Scott business men offered to promote the establishment of ice cream factories and creameries if the farmers would devote their resources to the raising of dairy cattle. Local banks extended credit to farmers who bought dairy cows and marketed their milk in Fort Scott. Progress was slow in the beginning for money was scarce and a limited market retarded production. In 1918 the Borden Company erected a condensery, furnishing a year-around market which insured the success of the dairying program.

In 1938, thirty milk trucks covered the territory, carrying approximately 150,000 pounds of milk a day into Fort Scott. Farmers receive almost $1,000,000 yearly for the dairy products, the greater portion of which is spent in this vicinity or deposited in local banks. Dairymen and business men promote a Dairy Show annually. In addition to the dairy industry Fort Scott has two railroad shops, an overall factory, a monument factory, foundries, and paving brick plants. A hydraulic cement plant just north of town is among the largest of its kind in the Middle West and deposits of coal, which accompany the cement rock deposits, furnish fuel for the plant's operation. The mining of coal is an industry of steadily increasing importance in the area.

Fort Scott was the home of Eugene Fitch Ware, author and editor.

Points Of Interest

CARROLL PLAZA, east of the business district and bounded by Marmaton, Blair, Fenton, and Lincoln Aves., is a grass-grown square, once the parade ground for soldiers stationed at the old fort. It is the oldest area in the city, having been laid out in 1842. Although the points of the square were undoubtedly intended to be directly north and south, a slight miscalculation was made and its sides lie diagonal to Fort Scott's main streets. On the square and facing it are the remaining fort relics.

Near the SE. entrance is FORT BLAIR (always open), a Civil War blockhouse. Originally built on the corner of 2nd and Scott Streets, it was moved to its site on the Plaza in 1924. The blockhouse is constructed of sawed slabs, thoroughly spiked, covered with shingles and weather-boarded with rough native lumber. Numerous openings in its sides were used as loopholes for rifle fire. A bandstand near the center marks the SITE OF THE OLD FORT POWDER MAGAZINE built in 1842. A stone canopy, near the bandstand, marks the SITE OF THE OLD FORT WELL that was dug immediately after the first soldiers arrived at Fort Scott. The canopy, constructed in the early part of the present century, is a reproduction of the original built in the 1840's.

The SITE OF THE OLD FORT STABLES, NE. corner Fenton and Marmaton Sts., occupied by a storage barn, is designated by a bronze marker. Another bronze marker, midway in the block, marks the SITE OF THE FRONTIER BARRACKS.

The FORT SCOTT MUSEUM, 103 Blair St., occupies one of the three remaining officers' quarters built during the first year of the fort's existence. The museum, the property of the Fort Scott Historical Society, contains souvenirs of the early fort, a collection of Indian relics, and, among other things, pictures of the town as it was in the i85o's and i86o's. These are framed and mounted on walnut pedestals made from pillars of a fourth officers' quarters that stood at the opposite end of the block. The museum building, a two-and-one-half-story house of Georgian Colonial design was operated as the Free State Hotel in the late 1850's. It was remodeled in 1938 as a WPA project.

The GOODLANDER CHILDREN'S HOME, 107 Blair St., is in another of the officers' quarters. The home, founded January 17, 1903, and named for C. W. Good-lander, who provided funds for its opening, is non-sectarian. It is supported by an annual appropriation of $500 from the State, monthly contributions from Fort Scott business men and residents of Bourbon County, and through the proceeds from "Tag Day" held annually in Fort Scott to raise money for improvements.

The OFFICERS' QUARTERS, in Blair St., the third of the remaining buildings, has been made into an apartment house although the building has undergone little change.

Immediately behind the three officers' quarters are several small STONE HOUSES used by the troops as store houses. Behind these are the FORT STABLES built with stone walls 14 inches thick. The stables are two stories high with a huge hand-hewn beam between the stories.

The SITE OF THE OLD FORT GUARDHOUSE, corner of Lincoln and Fenton Sts., occupied by the city jail, is designated by a bronze plaque. The guardhouse was built in 1843.

The FORT HOSPITAL, 106 Fenton St., is now used as a storage barn. Occupying its original site the old building has undergone little change except that the porches have been removed.

The NATIONAL CEMETERY, on E. National Ave. i m. E. of National Ave., was established by act of Congress in 1862 and dedicated as a burial place for United States soldiers. The cemetery's 10 acres are enclosed by a stone fence, with entrance through a folding iron gate. Four mounted cannon guard the rostrum on the knoll near the center of the grounds. From a tall shaft in the center of the rostrum the American flag flies over the graves of Civil, Spanish American, and World War soldiers. Here, too, is the grave of Eugene F. Ware.

East National Avenue, the approach to the cemetery, is known locally as "orphan street." Neither the city nor the State claim the thoroughfare, and it has been allowed to fall into bad condition.

The HOME OF EUGENE WARE (private), SW. corner Eddy and 2nd Sts., is known as the Drake Home. A two-story white frame structure, the house has been remodeled throughout since Ware made his home there in the 1880's and 1890's. Eugene Fitch Ware is best known for his Rhymes of Ironquill, which ran through 13 editions. He came to Kansas as a young man shortly after the Civil War, was admitted to the bar, and in the latter part of the century served for a number of years as editor of the Fort Scott Monitor.


Websites about Fort Scott Kansas:

  1. City of Fort Scott, Kansas 
  2. Fort Scott on Wikipedia 
  3. Bourbon County Government
  4. Visit Historic Fort Scott, Kansas  
  5. History and Culture of Fort Scott 
  6. Kansas Facts: Bourbon County Facts