One common misconception that persists about the Border War history of Freedom’s Frontier is that the raids and politically-motivated killings were carried out by people who crossed the state border, attacked and then retreated back across the border. While this is true in some cases, the reality of the Border War is much more complicated and much more interesting than the oversimplified myth that persists. A visit to Fort Scott and Bourbon County, Kansas, is truly a myth-buster.
Myth-busting at Fort Scott
Fort Scott was established in 1842 as one of a line of forts that stretched from Minnesota to Louisiana and enforced the “permanent Indian frontier.” The fort housed infantry soldiers and dragoons who kept peace between white settlers, native peoples like the Osage, and Eastern tribes that were relocated west. These troops also patrolled the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails to keep peace as settlers moved west.
As westward expansion began to override the “permanent” Indian territory, the need for soldiers at Fort Scott diminished and, as a result, the fort was abandoned in 1853. Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the buildings of Fort Scott were sold at auction in 1855 and became a new town. Fort Scott was dominated by citizens with proslavery leanings. Within the town, however, two hotels operated in old fort buildings. The Fort Scott Hotel hosted free-state guests in a former officers’ quarters. Directly across the square, the Western Hotel, a former infantry barracks, operated as a headquarters for proslavery men.
With these two factions in such close proximity—the countryside surrounding Fort Scott was dominated by abolitionist and free-state factions—Fort Scott was not a stranger to violent episodes. Raids of the town by free-staters occurred and in December 1858, John Little, a proslavery man, was shot to death at his father’s store in Fort Scott.
With the start of the Civil War, the U.S. Army reoccupied many fort buildings and worked to enlarge and reinforce Fort Scott. The location on a bluff overlooking the prairie and on the military road was a strategic point from which the army could help to secure Kansas from Confederate invasion. During the war, Fort Scott was a major supply depot and hospital for western Union armies. It was also seen as a safe haven for Native Americans, escaped slaves and farmers. Many of these refugees joined the Union Army at Fort Scott, including the troops who fought at the Battle of Island Mound. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry were also myth-busters. Reports from the Battle of Island Mound noted that the troops “fought like tigers,” putting to rest any lingering doubts that African Americans would take up arms for the Union army. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry was officially sworn in at Fort Scott.
Visit Fort Scott National Historic Site to learn all about the history of this fascinating, myth-busting site.
Unsung Heroes at Lowell Milken Center
The staff, educators and students who work on research projects at the Lowell Milken Center are myth-busters. Their research shines lights on “unsung heroes” and ensures allows for new ways to look at our shared stories. The Lowell Milken Center displays rotating exhibits on a variety of topics, local to international in scope. Current exhibits include the Osage, African Americans in Southeast Kansas, Adam Shoemaker (the abolitionist Sunday school teacher of Abraham Lincoln), the “Little Rock Nine,” and several other topics.
Gordon Parks Center for Culture & Diversity
Gordon Parks was born in 1912 in Fort Scott. Parks recorded his memories of growing up in segregated Fort Scott in a semi-autobiographical novel called The Learning Tree. Parks went on to write and direct a film by the same name, the first Hollywood studio film directed by an African American. Gordon Parks was an accomplished writer, director, composer and photographer. After his death, Parks left many of his personal effects and memorabilia to the Gordon Parks Museum and Center for Culture and Diversity. The museum celebrates the life and work of Gordon Parks and uses his life story to teach about artistic creativity, cultural awareness and the role of diversity.
While in Bourbon County, Don’t Miss
Pay your respects at the Fort Scott National Cemetery. Designated in 1862, the U.S. National Cemetery was one of the fourteen original national cemeteries designated by President Abraham Lincoln. Union and Confederate soldiers, Buffalo soldiers and Indian Home Guard are all interred at the National Cemetery.
Let the experts to the driving on a 50-minute narrated Shuttle Tour of Fort Scott. Get aboard Dolly the Trolley and enjoy a tour of historic landmarks and beautiful historic homes, including the Lyons Twin Mansion, now a bed and breakfast.
Make sure to stop and shop through historic downtown Fort Scott. Enjoy historic architecture, brick streets, dining and quaint shops. Plan some time to get pampered at the Courtland Hotel and Aveda Spa Salon.
Check out more at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center to plan your myth-busting visit to Bourbon County.