Park History: Fort Scott National Historic Site Tells Many Interesting Stories

Fort Scott National Historic Site. Photo by Nationalparks via Wikipedia.

Fort Scott National Historic Site in eastern Kansas celebrates its 30th birthday today, October 19. As the park’s website proclaims, “The story of Fort Scott is the story of America growing up”. This park preserves and interprets historic resources associated with the opening of the West, the “Permanent Indian Frontier,” the Mexican-American War, Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War, and the expansion of railroads. The park even commemorates several significant socio-cultural events that took place at Fort Scott, including the rare-for-the-times mustering and training of black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War.

The park’s website includes an excellent Virtual Resource Center. If you are interested in this place and this time in history, and regardless of whether you visit the park or not, this Virtual Resource Center comes strongly recommended.

Fort Scott NHS encompasses just 17 acres, but serves as proof that a national park doesn’t have to be big to be interesting. In addition to the historic parade ground the site has 20 historic structures and a sample of tallgrass prairie.

Eleven of the park’s buildings are original structures that have been restored. Among them are the Post Hospital, Officers Quarters 1, 2, and 4, the Quartermaster Storehouse, Bake-House, the Old Stone Building, and Stone Outbuildings. (The fort’s Carriage Houses were built ca. 1855-1865 by and for civilians.) The other buildings at the site are reconstructions.

To the surprise of many visitors, there is no wall or stockade. Like other western frontier military forts, Fort Scott simply didn’t need a wall or stockade enclosing it because it was defended by well trained, heavily armed soldiers and had artillery that could engage an attacker at distances up to three-quarters of a mile in the wide-open terrain. (Defensive walls or stockade style construction were features typical of fur trading posts manned by lightly-armed civilians.) True to Army expectations, the fort never had to repel an attack of any sort.

Although cultural/historical resources dominate Fort Scott NHS, the Park Service has not entirely neglected the natural history of the place. A tallgrass prairie restoration project encompasses five acres of land situated on the east side of the grounds and behind the officer’s quarters to the north. This is, of course, but a tiny shred of the vast prairie ecosystem that once existed here. If you’d like to see a more representative example, visit the 17-square mile Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, Kansas.

Visitation at Fort Scott NHS has been declining slightly in recent years and was just 22,314 last year. That’s a shame, since this park deserves a lot more attention that it gets