Fort Hays Kansas - Protecting more than just the railroad
This military fort was first established as Fort Fletcher in October of 1865. Built to protect military roads, defend construction gangs on the Union Pacific Railroad, and guard the U.S. mail. It was also tasked with protecting the stage and freight wagons of the Butterfield Overland Despatch, the soldiers defended travelers from Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian attacks.
A year later, in November 1866, the fort's name changed to Fort Hays, in honor of Union Brigadier General Alexander Hays who had been killed in the Civil War.
They soon learned that building along Big Creek was not the best of plans, as the spring flood of 1867 not only took out the fort but killed several Buffalo Soldiers in the process.
The new site selected, about less than a mile from where Hays City would be established, had a number of substantial buildings on 7500 acres and housed nearly 600 troops. It was here that General Philip Sheridan headquartered and planned the controversial Black Kettle raid in 1868.
It was also the home of several well-known Indian War regiments such as the Seventh U.S. Cavalry, the Fifth U.S. Infantry, and the Tenth U.S. Cavalry, whose black troopers were better known as buffalo soldiers.
Some famous and infamous figures are associated with the fort, including Buffalo Bill Cody, who founded the failed settlement of Rome nearby. Others include Wild Bill Hickok, General Nelson Miles, and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.
Rome MonumentBuffalo Bill Cody established Rome in 1867 and it quickly grew to about 2,000. In a short time though it was abandoned as people moved across Big Creek to the newly established Hays City.
After twenty-five years of service, Fort Hays was abandoned on November 8, 1889, after the Indian Wars had ended. The military reservation was transferred to the Interior Department on November 6, 1889, and to the state, by a Congressional act on March 28, 1900.
Several buildings have been restored, though most of the original Fort was dismantled by 1900.
Displays through the historic site illustrate pioneer and military history. The museum was opened in 1967 and is administered by the Kansas State Historical Society. Part of the site is now the campus of Fort Hays State University.
Hays City, which grew near the Fort, is a bustling metropolis today, having beat out Buffalo Bill Cody's attempt at creating the settlement of Rome. You can read about that in our story about the city of Hays here.
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Stories like this one about Fort Hays, which is also home to a wandering spirit who helped the sick and injured at the Fort. HearHere tells our tale. Click to Listen now.
Ellis Lakeside CampgroundThe city of Ellis Lakeside Campground, with Big Creek in the background.
During our visit to Hays and Fort Hays Historic Site, we camped at the city of Ellis Lakeside Campground. Situated along Big Creek, this campground was a great deal for the price. $20 per night with full hookups and pull-throughs, lots of trees, and fishing just steps away from the campsite. During the off-season, it is only $15 per night (no water available during the winter off-season). Would recommend this as a great place to stop while traveling North Central Kansas. Located in Ellis, just south of I-70, west of Hays. Learn more at their website here.
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