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Old Fort Supply

Chapter V - Life At A Frontier Fort

[Written by William Hankins Hughes, 1931 B. S., Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Submitted to Department of History, Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, Partial fulfillment of requirements for degree of Master of Arts, 1941.]

Chapter IV - The Later Years
Number of men stationed at the post ... Morale of the men ... Desertion common ... Attempts to provide schools ... Problems of health ... cost of maintenance .. Means of communication ... Blizzards of 1885 and 1886 ... Present investment of the State of Oklahoma and the number of patients and employees at the hospital.

Undoubtedly, the history of Fort Supply is typical of many such posts established in the plains region during the middle of the nineteenth century. As previously mentioned, the fort came into being as a result of an emergency campaign against certain Indian tribes of the plains region. Despite the fact that its establishment was to have been temporary, it was continued and improved from year to year throughout the twenty-six years of its existence.

During the years from 1868 to 1894, a considerable force of men were stationed at Fort Supply. The average number, according to the available reports of the Adjutant-General, was almost 300. The greatest number in any one year was in 1870 when there was a total of 638, and the smallest number was recorded in 1876, when there were only eighty-six. The unusual low figure recorded here was due to the withdrawal of troops to aid in the subjugation of the uprising in Wyoming in which General Custer and his men lost their lives.

As a rule, the commanding officer held the rank of colonel or Lieutenant-Colonel although there were years when a Major or even a Captain commanded the fort. Other officers included a medical officer, two to seven captains, three to eleven subalterns and in some years a post chaplain, regimental adjutant and regimental quartermaster. The least number of companies was three and the greatest eight. In many cases, there were divided equally between the infantry and cavalry, however, there were years when there were more infantrymen than cavalrymen.

Because of the isolation, there were certain difficulties in maintaining the proper morale among the men. One outstanding source of complaint among the troops was the lack of something to do. There were many days during the winter months when the weather was inclement and on such days the usual drills could not be conducted. Genreal Merritt recommended in his report of 1888, that shelters be constructed in which the drills could be held and these could also serve as a gymnasium where some form of athletics could be enjoyed.

Drinking was quite common among the troops, although the sale of intoxicating liquors was prohibited within the Indian territory. In 1884, Inspector-General D. B. Sackett reported the situation in these words:

"At frontier posts, where the reservations are large, men will go until they find a place from which to obtain liquor; they get intoxicated upon the vilest of compounds, and the result is often utter incapacity to return ... In my opinion the sale of liquors of such quality and quantity as post commanders guided by the post council, may dictate, would be far better than prohibition."

Desertion was, of course, quite common. There were many contributing factors to this condition of affairs. Captain Arthur Marray, acting Judge-Advocate of the Department of Missouri, reported in 1888 that:

"Three-fifths of the desertions were from no apparent cause or from dissatisfaction with the service; also that about four-fifths occurred in the 1st and 2nd years of enlistment. From this it would seem that the majority of the deserters were men who enlisted without fully comprehending what a soldiers life is, and who, after giving it a trial and finding it unsatisfactory, concluded to desert rather than serve out a five years enlistment."

Very little effort was made to retake these deserters. Out of 257 desertions recorded in the report, only twenty-three were retaken. Major J. J. Coppinger, acting assistant Inspector-General stated in his report of October 27, 1883, that there was 'too much labor imposed upon the men.' They worked alongside civilian laborers who received two or three dollars per day and with mechanics who received four. Major Coppinger also stated that the system of paying the men every two months was conducive to 'Thriftless lavishness' which encouraged drunkenness which in turn caused desertion.

Attempts were made on various occasions to interest the enlisted men in attending school but with little success. After the men had completed their days work, they had little inclination to attend classes. The instructors were generally soldiers who were always subject to military duty and when called out, school was temporarily dismissed. In 1880, an appropriation of $2323.00 was set aside to construct a building at Fort Supply to be used as a chapel, school and reading room. In 1890, the attendance report of the twelve post schools in the entire department of Missouri only totaled 426 of which 316 were enlisted men, nine were children of officers, sixty were children of enlisted men and forty-one were children of civilians. The rooms, as a rule, were quite inadequate and the students furnished their own books. In 186, the Quartermaster-General reported an expenditure of $276.00 for school-teachers at Fort Supply and, in 1888, $212.00.

The health of the men stationed in the various posts in the plains region was apparently good. In his report of 1886, Surgeon-General J. H. Baxter reported that, in the Department of Missouri, "The only diseases showing any special prominence were the malarial fevers, diarrheal diseases, tonsillitis, and other digestive diseases."

It is quite apparent that, in their isolated position, a balanced diet was difficult to maintain. In 1873, an expenditure of $4,824.00 was authorized for the construction of a hospital at Fort Supply and in the following years, additional appropriations were made for its repair and improvement. Additional reports of the Quartermaster-General show an expenditure of $1780.00 in 1875, $415.00 in 1876, $766.00 in 1879, 346.00 in 1886, and $379.71 in 1888. In 1888, assistant-Surgeon J. L. Powell reproted the following concerning the water supply at the post:

"For the past three years or more this supply has been obtained from driven wells situated in close proximity to the post corral and cavalry stables, and in the midst of various quartermaster's buildings, etc. These wells are pumped by an engine, which collects the water in a reservoir on a neighboring elevation, from which it is distributed in pipes throughout the garrison. It is hardly possible to conceive of a site within the garrison or its vicinity that would ahve been more unsuitable for the purpose for which it was selected. With a view to obtaining the safest and best water supply for all purposes in the garrison, I have made an examination into all the sources in the neighborhood, and have found a short creek, about one and a half miles distant, which yields the least amount of solid residue, of all the samples examined, and is, at the same time, less liable to pollution than any water iin the neighborhood of the post. On evaporation this water yielded but 14 grains of solid residue to the gallon. The source consists of a number of springs, in close proximity to each other, which emerge from a bed of siliceous sand, and unite to form a bold and rapid stream that has never been known to go dry."

The Quartermaster-General's report in 1890, stated that a water supply and sewer system was under construction at the post. The report of 1891 records its completion and refers to the source of water supply as Water Cross Canon. An additional report in 1894 stated that the capacity of the reservoir was 80.000 gallons.

The expense involved in maintaining Fort Supply was quite large, especially during those many years preceding the projection of the Southern Kansas Railroad into the Indian territory in 1885-86. The post was supplied by way of Fort Dodge and Dodge City, a distance of approximately eighty-six miles. It was necessary to let contracts to private concerns to haul the freight. comparatively little material was available in the immediate neighborhood for the fort, however, immense quantities of hay were cut in the valleys of Wolf and Beaver creeks. Firewood and some building logs were obtained along the streams in the area.

The report of the Quartermaster-General of 1886, gave a list of skilled workmen stationed there permanently. Included in the group were one forage-master at seventy-five dollars per month, one guide and interpreter at one hundred dollars, one farrier at fifty dollars, one blacksmith at sixty dollars, one engineer at sixty dollars, one saddler at sixty dollars, four teamsters at thirty dollars, and one wheelwright at sixty dollars.

In additon to these men, it was customary to engage additional men for extra duty. These included school-teachers, mechanics and laborers. Immense quantities of coal and wood were hauled for fuel. A contract with J. M. Ferguson, dated June 6, 1888, showed a total of 360 cords of wood delivered at $14.34 making a total of $5,162.00. Another contract of the same date with Mr. Ferguson reported the delivery of 480 tgons of coal at $11.48 making a total of $5,510.00. Other contracts of similar nature included one with S. C. Douglas, dated May 1, 1889, for 450 cords of wood at $9.75 totaling $4,287.50 and one with W. E. Thomas for 2,500,000 pounds of coal at thirty and four-fifths cents per hundred weight totaling $7,700.00. One other contract dated June 9, 1883, with W. M. D. Lee reported the delivery of 2,500 cords of wood at $15.48 making a total of $27,616.32.

The expense incurred in maintaining troops of cavalry at one of these frontier posts was another important financial item. The average cost of a cavalry horse in the Department of Missouri, in 1890, was $133.24 and a mule $158.32. Once the animals were obtained, the supplying of feed was a matter of great import. Athough the hay was obtainable nearby, the expense was yet very high. $5,107.00 was paid Owen James Martin for 800 tons of prairie hay in 1889. In the same report $3,090.00 was expended for oats, $1,305.00 for bran and $4,600.00 for corn. In 1884, W. M. D. Lee delivered 1,008,000 lbs. of hay at $17.95 totaling $8,077.50, and in 1886, $6,546.50 was paid for hay at Fort Supply.

Food and clothing for the men, and furnishings and equipments for the post were brought in from the outside. The report of 1886 showed that $3,105.20 was paid M. F. Weiglien and W. F. Murphy for freighting between November 14, 1885, and June 30, 1886.

New buildings and the repair of previously constructed buildings was another important financial problem. In 1885, $6,478.45 was expended for this purpose, in 1886, $18,381.00, in 1887, $769.00. In 1888, $3,271.00, in 1889, $2,331.29, and in 1890, $1,270.57. These buildings included quarters for the officers and men, as well as bath-houses, a guard house, storehouses, shops, stables, corrals, library, schoolhouse and magazine. There were also quarters for married men.

It should be noted that some steam power was used at the post. In 1888, the Quartermaster-General reported the cost of a steam power plant for pumping water to be $790.00 with a yearly cost of maintenance of $1890.00. A steam plant was also secured for sawing wood at a cost of $498.50.

It is thus apparent from the foregoing reports that the maintenance of a frontier post was a great responsibility and perhaps the problem of keeping the men content was even more difficult. There was, of course, constant contact with other posts and the outside by means of the telegraph. This was used for official purposes, however, and teh majority of ordinary communication came by way of the stage from Ddoge City. Captain Richard T. Jacob was ordered to Camp Supply in the fall of 1870 and stated that they received their mail once each week, however, soon after his arrival, he was sent to Fort Dodge to arrange to have the mail brought to Camp Supply twice each week. There were two relay stations between Fort Dodge and Camp Supply "where a few soldiers were posted with extra mule teams for the mail hack." In time, the stage made a daily trip to the post. In 1885, with the extension of the Southern Kansas Railway, a stage was inaugurated from Kiowa, Kansas, a distance of sixty-eight miles. Eventually, the Dodge City stage was discontinued and the Kiowa stage remained in operation a few months until the railroad reached Woodward. From this date, a stage was in operation between Woodward and Fort Supply until the abandonment of the post in 1893-94. It is interesting to note that the stage fare to Dodge City was $10.00 per person.

Undoubtedly, life at Fort Supply was quite pleasant during the major portion of the year, especially for those who enjoyed the great outdoors. Wild game was plentiful thoughout the years of its history. Mr. J. N. Innis of Supply, Oklahoma, was employed as a teamster in 1891 and remained there at the fort until the last mules and wagons were removed to Fort Sill on December 25, 1895. Mr. Innis stated that antelope and deer were plentiful and occasionally a black bear was killed. In additon, there were many flocks of wild turkeys especially in the canyons to the north and east. It was customary for the soldiers to take frequent hunting trips lasting as long as ten to fourteen days. The climate was bery agreeable for the major part of the year. However, the blizzards which are common on the plains during the winter months, proved severe and very destructive in the seventies and eighties when there was very little protection afforded on the prairie. On January 13, 1885, the "Topeka Commonwealth" carried the following news item:

"The Fort Supply stage which was due at Dodge City last Wednesday did not arrive until Saturday. The driver encountered the blizzard at a point about two miles south of Appleton, in Clark County. He struck a haystack, which gave food and partial shelter to his four horses. The driver took refuge in an abandoned dugout nearby, where he remained forty-eight hours without food, water or fire. The horses also had to go without water. Near this dugout lived an old lady and two daughters. They attempted on Wednesday night to walk to the residence of a son of the old lady, on an adjoining claim. The daughters perished in the snow. The mother succeeded in reaching the son's, more dead than alive."

Another blizzard, of even greater intensity, occurred the following winter. O. P. Byers of Hutchinson, Kansas, wrote the following report for the Kansas State Historical Society:

"Numerous stage routes were still in operation at that time. A number of stages became lost and wandered miles from their routes. A stage came into the military post at Camp Supply, Indian territory, with the driver sitting on the box frozen to death. The passengers inside knew nothing of the death of their driver until after they had alighted at their destination."

Thus, the record reveals a few of the interesting events that occurred in or near the old fort. In a personal interview with Dr. J. L. DAy, the present superintendent of the hospital, it was learned that the land occupied by the Western State Hospital of Oklahoma now totals 3,760 acres and the state has an investment of well over $1,500,000.00. There are thirty major buildings, housing 1500 patients and 135 employees. In additon to the old log building, previously mentioned, the old headquarters building, the guard house, and five sets of officers quarters are yet in use.

Wm. H. Hughes' List of Credits...

  1. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1870, I, p. 68.
  2. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1876, I, p. 42.
  3. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1869-94.
  4. Loc. cit.
  5. Report of Inspector-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1884, I, p. 83.
  6. Report of Captain Arthur Murray, Acting Judge-Advocate of the Department of Missouri, House Execdutive Document, I, p. 289.
  7. Loc. cit.
  8. Report of Major j. J. Coppinger to the Inspector-General of the Army, House Executive Document, 1883, I, p. 101.
  9. Loc. Cit.
  10. Report of A. McCook, Colonel and aide-de-canp in charge of Education in the Army, House Executive Document, 1880, I, p. 295.
  11. Report of Chauncey McKeever on Education in the Army, House Executive Document, 1890, I, p. 61.
  12. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1886, I, p. 360.
  13. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1888, I, p. 329.
  14. Report of the Surgeon-General to the Secretary of War, House Exsecutive Document, 1886, I, p. 599.
  15. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1873, I, p. 115.
  16. Report of the Surgeon-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1888, I, p. 727.
  17. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1890, I, p. 852.
  18. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1891, I, p. 548.
  19. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1894, I, p. 337.
  20. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive document, 1884, I, p. 75.
  21. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1886, I, p. 394.
  22. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1888, I, p. 556.
  23. Loc. cit.
  24. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1889, I, p. 619.
  25. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1884, I, p. 595.
  26. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1890, I, p. 742.
  27. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1890, I, p. 742.
  28. Loc. cit.
  29. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1884, I, p. 595.
  30. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1886, I, p. 350.
  31. Ibid., p. 407.
  32. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1885, I, p. 480.
  33. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1886, I, p. 423.
  34. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1887, p. 348
  35. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1888, I, p. 442
  36. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1889, I, p. 503
  37. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1890, I, p. 692
  38. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1888, I, p. 474
  39. Captain Richard T. Jacob, "Military Reminiscences," Chronicles of Oklahoma, March, 1924, II, p. 29
  40. Ibid., p. 30
  41. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1882, I, p. 50.
  42. Report of the Adjutant-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1882, I, p. 50.
  43. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1894, I, p. 337
  44. Report of the Quartermaster-General to the Secretary of War, House Executive Document, 1885, I, p. 540
  45. J. N. Innis, Supply, Oklahoma, September 4, 1940.
  46. Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1912, XII, p. 117
  47. O. P. Byers, "Personal Recollections of the Terrible Blizzard of 1886," Kansas State Historical Soiety, 1912, XII, p. 104.
  48. Dr. J. L. Day, Supply, Oklahoma, August 31, 1940.
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