Fort Larned, 6 miles west of Larned, Kansas, is a National Historic Site. The remarkably preserved sandstone fort buildings were in service through the 1860s and 1870s during the Indian Wars, and soldiers stationed there were known as the “Guardians of the Santa Fe Trail.” The fort is home to nine historical buildings. Officer’s Row was built to house the officers from four companies. Two halls, each with four rooms, housed a lieutenant and captain.
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The rear of each building housed a kitchen and staff bedrooms. Officer’s quarters are outfitted with period furnishings and demonstrate what life was like for those stationed on the frontier. Games, taxidermy, books, and music were among the main leisure activities. The Old Commissary, the fort’s oldest building, and the quartermaster’s storehouse are examples of the warehouses and storage units at the fort. An issue room is stocked with the uniforms, boots and supplies that were allotted to soldiers. Shops at the fort demonstrate the role of civilians in army life. A blacksmith shop, bakery, leatherwork shop, and carpenter shop were all staffed by civilians or soldiers looking to earn extra wages. The barracks were designed to hold up to four infantry and cavalry companies. On average, 150 troops were stationed at Fort Larned, although the barracks could hold up to 500, and this number was briefly reached in 1868.
Today, visitors to the barracks can see the bunks lined with bed sacks made of grass ticking as well as the period furnishings of a squad room in the late 1800s. One of the barracks is furnished as a hospital, just as it was in the 1870s. A third barrack’s building has been renovated to serve as the park’s visitor center and museum. Staff and volunteers at the fort dressed in period clothing bring history to life through reenactments and demonstrations. Living history staff may be encountered at the blacksmith shop demonstrating their craft as well as at the schoolroom, hospital or arsenal, and can also be found demonstrating their weapons. An historical heritage garden behind the officers' quarters contains vegetables that would have been grown during the time of the fort’s use. A blockhouse is the only building on site to have been used solely for defense. The hexagonal building included an underground well in case of prolonged attack. Eventually, as the threat of attack lessened, the building was put to use as the fort’s prison. There are no restaurant facilities at the fort, but a picnic area near the entrance provides shaded tables, water, and restrooms.
Fort Larned was involved in major military conflict against the Cheyenne in 1867, in what was known as Hancock’s War. The conflict ended the same year with the Medicine Lodge Treaty, which was negotiated at Fort Larned. The 10th U.S. Cavalry’s Company A was stationed at Fort Larned. The all-black company was one of just two authorized by the U.S. Congress after the Civil War, known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” and was sent to Fort Larned to patrol the area and protect against Native American threats. The company routinely dealt with racism, resentment, and aggression from the white infantry soldiers also on duty at Fort Larned. In 1869 tensions escalated. While Company A was out on patrol, a fire was set at their stables, with another attempted at their barracks. The 10th Cavalry was sent to Fort Zarah soon after to avoid additional conflict, and would not be replaced at Fort Larner before the fort was abandoned in 1878.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Ranger-led tours are available throughout the year. The 1-hour tours provide a perspective on life at Fort Larned during the Indian Wars and the time of the Santa Fe Trail. Tours take guests through the buildings and enable them to interact with the living history interpreters. 2017 marks the 150-year anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers and several special events at the park are scheduled to honor their service and remember their history. Events include kids’ days, author talks, and reenactments.
The Santa Fe Trail was at one time a major thoroughfare between the United States and Mexico. Ruts from the wheels of covered wagons are still visible approximately 5 miles from the Fort Larned site. Visitors to the fort who would like to see the ruts can travel south on gravel roads to the parking area. Once there, the ruts may be viewed from a short walking path or a platform, which allows visitors to view the historic landscape from above.
1767 KS Hwy 156, Larned, KS 67550, Phone: 620-285-6911