Old Fort Supply
Chapter III - A Permanent Post
Chapter III - A Permanent Post
Camp Supply was originally established for the purpose of supplying the troops in the field during the Washita Campaign. It is not unusual then to find records of recommendation to abandon the post. General Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri reported in 1870 in the following words:
General Pope also recommended that all the smaller forts in the Department of Missouri be abandoned and the troops concentrated in larger posts. He reasoned that it would then be possible to operate summer field camps to patrol the plains region during the season when the Indians were on the move.
General Sheridan, on the other hand, hesitated to accede to the recommendations of General Pope concerning the abandonment of certain posts and voiced his opinion in these words:
Thus, the temporary camp became a permanent post and eventually attained the status of a fort.
The maintenance of an army post on the plains frontier was a difficult and expensive endeavor. In previous years, the frontier was a single line which moved westward at all points. In 1869, it was necessary to scatter the army over a wide expanse of territory. Furthermore, it was necessary to transport the supplies great distances in wagons which increased the cost of maintenance two or three times.
Camp Supply received the major portion of its supplies by rail to Dodge City, Kansas, and then by wagon train to the post, a distance of eight-six miles. The freight was hauled by private contractors. A contract with Edward Fenlon, dated June 23, 1876, stipulates a price of eighty-six cents per hundred weight.
The post, as originally constructed, was of the stockade type with logs which stood on end and enclosed log building within the stockade, but as the years passed, lumber was hauled and frame buildings constructed. One of the old log buildings is yet in use and, according to Dr. J. L. Day, probably dates from 1869. Many cedar logs have been found on the grounds and cedar trees are quite plentiful in the canyons to the northeast.
Since the post was situated on the tongue of land between Wolf and Beaver Creeks, both fresh water streams, a water supply was easily obtainable by sinking shallow wells in the immediate vicinity and it is apparent that such a supply was used until the later years of its existence.
The Cheyenne and Arapahoe agency, which had formerly been at Fort Larned, Kansas, was temporarily transferred to Camp Supply and, in 1870, permanently located at Darlington, where the Chisholm trail crossed the North Canadian River.
Since the Indians were now to be confined to reservations, it now became obligatory for the Federal government to furnish them with food especially during the winter season. Many times these rations were of poor quality and were distributed at unsuitable periods of the year. Mr. R. M. Wright of Dodge City, Kansas, who with his partner Mr. Anthony were working a hay contact near Camp Supply, describes such an issue in the following words:
Thoughout these early years, the troops were concerned chiefly in watching the movements of the Indian tribes, to the south. Every effort was made to keep them on their reservations. General Pope, in his report of 1870, stated that "There has been little trouble with the Indians during this season ... these Indians have been fed and furnished with nearly everything they have asked for."
Camp Supply was garrisoned at that time by two companies of the Sixth Infantry, two companies of the Third Infantry and four troops of the Tenth Cavalry. A very serious obstacle confronted the troops in maintaining order. The regulations of the Indian Bureau stated that the troops could not enter the reservation in pursuit of the Indians. General Pope reported that it had become customary for the Indians to organize and carry out a raid and when danger of pursuit was eminent, rush back to the reservation. The commanders of the various military posts received much criticism from the public for the conduct of the Indians and it can readily be understood how their hands were tied.
It is quite apparent that the military authorities were far too optimistic concerning the reservation system. General Pope, in his October report of 1871, remarked that, "The danger from these tribes may be considered substantially at an end." Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Davidson, commanding Camp Supply, proved very capable in forestalling any hostile action of the Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Kiowas who ranged in the country around the post during the year. He was highly commended by General Pope for his succdessful supervision of the area.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Indians were quite peaceful during this period, it was necessary that the military be constantly on the alert to prevent minor depredations and murders. In March, 1873, three surveyors were murdered on the Cimarron by a party of Cheyennes. In the late fall, a party of some two hundred Cheyennes left their reservation and passing far to the west of the military posts went as far north as the Kansas Pacific railroad at Riverbend, Colorado. They killed a few cattle and stole some cooking utensils.
By March, 1874, the depredations became more numerous. Several persons were killed along Medicine Lodge Creek. A small detachment under Major Compton, Sixth Cavalry, returning north from Camp Supply was attacked but the Indians were soon dispersed. General Pope was of the opinion that the difficulties were dcaused by white traders at Adobe Walls, who had been secretly selling the Indians whiskey, arms and ammunition.
Other serious depredations occurred. The agent at Darlington was compelled to abandon his post and many lives were lost in the vicinity of the agency. A determined attack was made on the traders at Adobe Walls but after several days fighting, the Indians were repulsed.
In the meantime, the military had urgently requested permission to enter the reservations and punish the marauders. This authority was received on teh 21st of July, 1874, and soon an expedition was in the field under the command of Colonel N. A. Miles. He organized his campaign and proceeded southward from Camp Supply. Major W. R. Price moved down the Canadian from Forts Bascom and Union to join Miles near the Antelope Hills on the Washita. Colonel Miles encountered the Indians on the Washita and after a series of running fights, drove them out across the Red River on the Staked Plains.
He was then forced to return to the Washita for supplies which were to be conveyed from Camp Supply by Captain Lyman and Lieutenant Lewis with a small train-guard of about sixty men. This train was attacked before reaching the Washita. Their plight is well described iin the following letter from Captain Lyman to Lieutenant-Colonel in the following letter from Captain Lyman to Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Lewis, the commandiing officer at Camp Supply.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis immediately responded to the request of Captain Lyman and ordered out all the available men at the post. The following letter in which he made his report to the Department of Missouri demonstrates the ready response.
General Sheridan did not agree with General Pope concerning the causes of teh outbreaks. He expressed his conception of the difficulties in the following words:
From July 21, 1874, until February 12, 1875, the Indians were kept continually on the move. The troops were well supplied and kept the field. The Cheyennes under Stone Calf surrendered themselves in March, 1875, the Kiowas and Comanches went into Fort Sill and in June the Quahade Comanches surrendered to Colonel Mackenzie. Following an extended questioning of the leaders of the various tribes, about seventy-five Indian prisoners were sent to Saint Augustine, Florida.
It should be noted that the Cheyenne prisoners who were taken to Florida were returned to the agency in the spring of 1878, with the exception of a few of the younger men who wished to remain there and attend school.
Following this series of outbreaks, the Indians again settled down on their respective reservations and the troops at Camp Supply again returned to their routine work. They were, however, called upon to perform numerous duties. General Sheridan outlined the work to be performed in his report of 1874. The military were to protect the frontiers from the depredations of Indians, to assist the Department of the Interior in maintaining order on reservations, to explore and survey unknown territory, to aid civil authorities in outlying districts, to escort National boundary, State and Territory surveying parties and to protect the railways of the west.
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