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Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Picture of Fort Harker Guard House
Fort Harker Guard House
History

Established as Fort Ellsworth, this fort provided protection to the Kansas Stage Line and military wagon trains traveling the Fort Riley Road and Smoky Hill Trail. The famous Butterfield Overland Despatch began operation in 1865 along the Smoky Hill route to Denver. In 1866 young Bill Cody took his first scouting job at the fort. The next year, while hunting buffalo for the railroads, he became known as Buffalo Bill.

In November 1866 the post was renamed Fort Harker. A three-day peace council at Fort Harker failed, with the Cheyenne vowing to drive the soldiers off the Plains.

For three weeks in 1867, cholera swept through the fort. That experience led the post surgeon, Dr. George M. Sternberg, to become a leading authority on communicable diseases.

Fort Harker served as a supply depot and distribution point for all the forts in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Texas. Gen. Sheridan's winter campaign was developed here, and Col. George A. Forsyth's scouts were formed to seek out the enraged tribes. At the Battle of Beecher Island, Forsyth's scouts held off a main assault for eight days.

Today most of what was Fort Harker is private property. The Ellsworth County Historical Society manages the museum and grounds while overseeing ongoing improvement.

Picture of Fort Harker Junion Officers' Quarters
Fort Harker Junior Officer's Quarters
Events

Fort Harker Days, second weekend in July.

(913) 472-4071 (Chamber of Commerce Ellsworth/Kanopolis) West side of Kanapolis on KS Hwy 140.

Communities and Related Links
Fort Harker Web Site

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Further reading

1858 Butterfield Stage Ride

Waterman L. Ormsby's account of the 1858 run of the Butterfield Overland Mail from his book, The Butterfield Overland Mail. More Have you visited...

Burleson’s Fight

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria Ca. 23 December 1850; Loma Alta, Texas: Lt. Edward Burleson was taking his company of...