First used in 1865,
Overland Despatch (BOD) was touted as the best mail route from Atchison
to Denver, Colorado by its owner. You could cross this great
expanse of land for just $100. Stations were approximately 15 miles
apart and were given different jobs. One station would be a
"home" station that would feed the travelers while "cattle" stations
provided hay and "swing" stations provided fresh mules and horses.
The Smoky Hill Trail and the BOD greatly aided settlers in
traveling over hostile Indian country. However, Indian raids became too
there came a time when every wagon train had at least 22 wagons and 30
armed men. Many of the stage stops along the BOD route were
connected to a fort for the safety and security that the military
Wallace County had several BOD Stage Stops of its
own. The most prominent, namely the Pond Creek Stage Station, was
situated 1 1/2
miles west of present day Wallace. A "home" station renowned for
its food, this little stage stop saw so many Indian attacks that Camp
Pond Creek, a military encampment, was situated right next to it.
When the BOD was sold
to another company in 1866 (the Indian raids were so numerous by this
time that the business had become unprofitable), Camp Pond Creek moved
a few miles east to the Smoky Hill river and was renamed Fort Wallace
in honor of W.H.L. Wallace, a general who died at the Battle of Shiloh.
Although Fort Wallace was no longer attached to the
Butterfield Overland Despatch, soldiers stationed at Fort Wallace still
had their hands full trying to those settlers who were moving through
on their way west. Many of the most prominent trails that
pioneers used cut straight through the best buffalo hunting grounds.
Indians, whose livelihood depended on the buffalo, did not treat the
trespassers lightly. Instead, as buffalo began to scatter and become
scarce, Indians began to view their new neighbors with something less
than friendly eyes. This made the presence of Fort Wallace an absolute
necessity. Although according to official counts (details of the number
of men in each Company and Division were recorded every month, you can
see that count here
number of men stationed at the Fort never exceeded 350, these soldiers
saw more encounters with Indians than any other Fort, rightfully
earning Fort Wallace the distinction of being the "Fightin'est
Fort in the
West." General George Armstrong Custer
was stationed at Fort Wallace and saw his first battle with the Indians
not far from the fort. Other great frontier men, such as George
Forsyth, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok, were also stationed
Fort Wallace at various times.
The majority of the buildings at Fort Wallace were
made of native stone while the remaining buildings were wood.
Eventually 40 buildings were constructed, enough to house and support
four hundred men, even though the total number of troops topped 350
only a handful of times. Two Companies were usually enough to man
the fort, but in October of 1871 14 Divisions (most of them Infantry)
met at Fort Wallace. Despite the fact that Indian raids were constant
and expected, for a period of 4 years the total number of troops
stationed at Fort Wallace averaged just 75.
Despite the low population, the comfort level at
Fort Wallace was not very high.
Everyone had complaints about the food and soldiers spent a
considerable portion of their pay to supplement their diets.
With Fort Wallace being stationed so far from any major
town, problems with the food deteriorating or rotting were rampant.
Diseases such as dysentery and diarrhea killed
many soldiers as did an outbreak of cholera in 1867.
Fort Wallace as it
stood in 1867
In June 1867, Lt. Lyman Kidder and ten men from the
7th Calvary of Fort Wallace started from Fort Sedgwick, Colorado with
messages for Lt. Col. George Custer who was camped at the forks of the
Republican River near where Benkelman, Nebraska is today. Custer had in
the meantime left for Ft. Sedgwick, and Kidder (missing Custer's trail)
assumed that Custer had headed to Fort Wallace. When the Kidder party
reached Beaver Creek in present
day Sherman County on July 1, 1867, they were attacked by Indians and
no one survived.
Custer sent out a search party when he realized what had happened, and
on July 11, ten days after the massacre, the search party
discovered the murdered bodies of Kidder and his men. None could be
readily identified except for the Indian scout.
The morning September 11, 1874 was another sad time
in local history. One day's journey east of Fort Wallace, the John
German family, consisting of his wife and
seven children, prepared to continue on their way west when they were
attacked by a band of Cheyenne. Only the four youngest, all girls, were
spared. After having just witnessed the brutal murders of their family,
the four young children, Sophia, Catherine, Julia, and Adelaide were
allowed to live. All four girls were taken captive by the
Cheyenne. Due to the hard winter, however, the Cheyenne did not keep
all the girls for long, and the two youngest, Julia and Adelaide (aged
7 and 5) were left on the prairie in what is now the Texas panhandle.
They survived on their own for 6 weeks until they were finally
found by soldiers. They were 7 and 5 years old
respectively. Sophia and Catherine continued traveling with the
Cheyenne, although they were eventually split up and traveled with
different parties. Meanwhile, soldiers at Fort Wallace received
word of the massacre and began the search for the
remaining members of the German family, as well as negotiations with
the Indians. On February 26, 1875, largely due to efforts made by
soldiers stationed at Fort Wallace and elsewhere,
the Cheyennes released Catherine and Sophia German at an Indian
reservation. The two girls then traveled to Fort Leavenworth
where they were reunited with their sisters Julia and
Adelaide. (For more indepth information about the German Family
read The Moccassin Speaks
by Arlene Jauken or Girl
Captives of the Cheyenne
by Grace Meredith)
Fort Wallace was officially decommissioned on May
31, 1882, although a detachment of soldiers did remain for a time at
the fort in order to prevent settlers from using the Fort grounds. By
1886, however, settlers in the region began removing vital building
materials, and even entire buildings from the Fort. As there were
few trees for lumbar and little time to hew rock into bricks, the
ready-made materials that were Fort Wallace were especially desirable
to settlers. In 1888, the Fort
Wallace Reservation was opened for use to the settlers, but by this
time there was little of the Fort remaining. In just 6 years
nearly everything except the foundations had been removed.
Absolutely no buildings are left standing at the site of Fort
Wallace, and very few of the original materials remain.