The following information supplied with gratitude from the
Wyoming Division of State Parks, Historic Sites & Trails
Fort Phil Kearny has been designated a Registered National Historic Landmark under the provisions of the Historic Sites Act of August 21, 1935. This site possesses exceptional value in commemorating and illustrating the history of the United States. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 1963.
THE LAND: The land under view, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, was once the Red man’s land of milk and honey. Then, as now, teeming with wildlife, it was a most productive --- thus favorite --- hunting ground. But it was also a natural route for north-south travel, used from time immemorial by nomadic men and migratory beasts. Lying hundreds of miles beyond the 1860 frontier it was treaty-confirmed Indian Country. Here came a frontiersman, John Bozeman, pioneering a wagon road which followed buffalo, Indian and trapper trails. His time and energy-saving short cut led to the booming mining fields of western Montana. This interloper was followed by others whose habitual frontier callousness easily stifled any scruple over trespass of an Indian passageway. Faint wheel marks soon became a beaten road known as the Bozeman Trail. High plains and mountain Indians, notably Sioux and Cheyenne, watching this transgression, resented both the physical act and the implied contempt of solemn treaty. They made war. The white transgressors called upon their army for protection. In the end the Indians won a brief respite --- partly because a developing railroad far to the south canceled the Bozeman Trail’s short cut advantage.
THE FORT: On July 13, 1866, Colonel Henry B. Carrington, leading four companies of the 18th Infantry, arrived at this site. Carrington, a competent engineer, immediately put his men to work. Through diligent labor they built, by October of that year, the basic units of what became an outstanding example of the complete, stockade, “Indian Wars” military establishment. From here, as you face across this tablet, extends the ground where Fort Phil Kearny once stood. Replacement posts mark the original corners of the 800’ x 600’ stockade. Beyond, salient points of contiguous cavalry and quartermaster corrals are marked. At the southwest end an animal watering gap jutted into Little Piney Creek. The Bozeman Trail passed roughly parallel to the northeast side. Fort Phil Kearny was usually garrisoned by four to six infantry companies, plus one or two companies of cavalry. However, so closely did Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, under the tactician Red Cloud, invest the post that these troops were frequently unable to perform Bozeman Trail convoy duty. Incidents of hostility were the daily rule and several of the most famous engagements of the “Indian Wars” relate to this fort. The military abandoned the Fort in August, 1868, and it was burned by a band of Cheyenne.
HEROIC MEN AND WOMEN … Bravery and courage were their hallmarks. Bravery and courage are not the possession of men alone for women served here also; both inside the stockade and in the Indian villages. They too shouldered the isolation, grief, loneliness, cold and hardships. Neither are bravery and courage the possession of white men alone for red men also fought here with bravery and courage. Bravery and courage have no relationship to whether the cause they serve is “right” or “wrong!” Wherever, and by whom, bravery and courage are manifested, and in whatever cause they serve, these qualities merit respect and are worthy of honor for themselves alone. We will do an unforgiveable disservice to those, both red and white, who here did their duty if their bravery and courage are not remembered and honored. We will also have failed those who come after us if we do not protect and preserve this ground and provide, as best we can, a means of enabling posterity to KNOW, to APPRECIATE, and to FEEL the great events which took place here in the shadow of the Big Horns. Charles Weaver Margolf
IN PRAYER: VISION OF HOPE The distant words of memory return to touch upon the battle that was fought here. The memories stir with the thought of that long ago past with the battle cries and the sound of guns of two nations at war. But the sound of wars have long been silent. The important lessons of learning to accept the fact of existing side by side as two nations has become a way of life. But today, I choose not to return to the wars of the past. In prayer, I search of the better way in which my people, the Northern Cheyenne, and all Native Americans can accept the life today without losing the spirit of their Indian heritage. I humble myself before our Creator, the Power of all Creation, and ask a blessing for the good of life to be present today and in the future. In prayer, I look to the future with hope that the children who have yet to walk upon this land of freedom might also experience the touching of the earth with the same understanding and knowledge we share today. Finally, I gather all the spoken and the many unspoken concerns of the heart. I beg the Sacred Grandfathers to give us their special blessings so that our Creator will give us a new dawn of hope and that the goodness of life will be our constant companion in our pursuit of justice, happiness and freedom for all Americans. Bill Tall Bull and Rubie Sooktis -Members of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes fought the U.S. Army at Fort Phil Kearny.
SULLIVANT RIDGE Fort Phil Kearny, built of wood and fueled by wood, required a never ending supply of wood. A supply obtained despite hostile activity by Sioux and Cheyenne. Source was the “Pinery” four miles west against the mountains. The route followed the crest of Sullivant Ridge – permitting observation of hostiles and preventing opportunity for an ambush.
LODGE TRAIL RIDGE Lodge Trail Ridge divided the drainages of both Piney Creeks with the drainage of Peno (now Prairie Dog) Creek. Up this divide, north beyond Phil Kearny, climbed the Bozeman Trail on its route to Montana. There, December 21, 1866, in violation of explicit orders, Fetterman led his command of eighty-one men. There were no survivors to return.
JOHN “PORTUGEE” PHILLIPS: One of history’s great but little celebrated rides was made between midnight December 21st and Christmas night December 25th in the year 1866. From here at Fort Phil Kearny, where annihilation of Fetterman’s force had left the garrison in desperate straits, this ride spanned 236 miles to strategic Fort Laramie, the nearest hope for any succor. John “Portugee” Phillips, shrouded in snow and driven by an arctic wind, made that ride. He rode the Commanding Officer’s superb thoroughbred and he rode by night and hid by day, or used the bitter yet advantageous storm to hide his movements and blot his tracks. Thus he eluded pursuing Indians who, anticipating a necessary dash for aid, sought to intercept the speeding pair – resourceful messenger and courageous steed. Read excerpt from M. Carrington' book.
SAWMILLS: Wood was the life blood of Fort Phil Kearny. Founding soldiers had carried into this wilderness a sawmill. It was set up without the walls of the stockade. Supplied by logs carried in wagon trains returning from the “Pinery,” were sawed the boards from which the Fort’s structures were built. LANE & BODLEY sawmill. This was one of two steam-driven sawmills brought west for Colonel Carrington’s command. The sawmills were used to cut lumber into boards for construction of buildings, furniture and other items. Logs were also edged for stockade construction or cut up for firewood. The sawmills had an extensive history at the fort. One was initially located at the fort while the other was located at the Piney Island wood-cutting area in present day Story. (A third mill, horse powered, was broken and never set up.) Both mills were eventually set up near the fort where the steam whistle was used to sound Indian alarms. One mill was burned by Indians and although it was never rebuilt at this fort, its parts were transferred to Fort C.F. Smith for use there. The two steam sawmills were 25 and 15 horsepower, the more powerful one built to run two saws. Although initially poorly managed and maintained, the sawmill eventually produced over 400,000 board feet of lumber for post construction. Close examination of the frame shows numerous repairs including cold chisel cuts, babbiting and wrought iron welds.
PILOT HILL: Pilot Hill Picket Post overlooking Piney and Little Piney Creek Valleys, the Bozeman Road, the Sullivant Ridge with its wood road was a constantly manned lookout. From this post the sentry signaled to the Fort news of events as they occurred – how the wood detail progressed, what travelers fared the Bozeman Road, where and how a skirmish was developing, who was in desperate need of reinforcements.
THE BOZEMAN TRAIL: So ran, through treaty guaranteed Indian Land, a white man’s route of commerce. Like any road it was an environment and ecology disturbing intrusion. Which, in this case, made it a challenge bound to produce a Redman’s reaction – a resort to arms. Thus the white man’s government, supporting its citizens in violation of its own treaty, found justification to found a Fort Phil Kearny.
PROTECTING THE TRAVELERS …or the Garrison? The mission of the Fort Phil Kearny garrison was to guard travelers on the Bozeman Trail, but it soon became apparent that the guards would also need protection. Therefore, on July 13, 1866, Captain Tenador Ten Eyck began building a fort which had been designed by Colonel Henry Carrington before they left Fort Stephen Kearny. The fort’s 800 by 600 foot long walls were made of 11’ by 12” logs buried three feet in the ground. There were firing notches cut along the banquet at every fifth log, and blockhouses or gun-bastions on two opposite corners to provide enfilading fire along the walls. The main gate was located on the east wall, and smaller, five foot wide officer’s gates were originally located on each of the other walls. Each gate was provided with a locking mechanism. Five guard stands were located to provide 24 hour surveillance of the grounds both inside and outside the post. Before you is a reproduction of the stockade, guard stand, officer’s gate and artillery bastion as originally built at Fort Phil Kearny. From this position we know Col. Carrington fired artillery at the Native Americans who opposed the fort. At the time of construction few military forts in the West had stockades. Would it have been better to train the raw recruits to protect the travelers? Was the time used to build the 2800 feet of stockade wasted?
GUIDE TO FORT PHIL KEARNY: Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site is administered by the Wyoming State Parks and Historic Sites Department and supported by the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association. All parties are committed to the preservation and interpretation of the many aspects of the site. The Historic site has three components. Two of the components, the Fetterman and Wagon Box fight sites, are approximately five miles from the fort. These sites offer interpretive trails with signing and help the viewer more fully understand the dramatic history of Fort Phil Kearny. At the fort site the visitor has several options. The interpretive center offers many exhibits describing the fort’s mission, archaeology, the Native Americans, provides a video overview of the fort, distributes a site brochure, and offers a wide variety of books which further explain the area’s history. The Civilian Conservation Corp cabin interprets the living conditions of an officer or enlisted man. Outside the fort-proper interpretive signs explain crucial landmarks surrounding the fort and outlying structures. On the fort grounds visual and audio interpretive signs describe the structures, personalities, and short history of the post. To best view the fort clockwise route.
OFFICERS ROW: SURGEONS, CHAPLAINS, AND CAPTAINS AWASH IN CONTROVERSY Officers Row was a group of seven to ten non-descript log structures providing housing for officers and their families. They were probably a combination lumber, log, canvas, and dirt construction with one room, seldom larger than 24 by 30 feet. These were the last living quarters built at the fort. Officers were expected to ensure that their men’s quarters were complete prior to building their own quarters. In the military culture of the time officers and their families were considered of a higher social order than the enlisted men. They were expected to remain aloof from their command except during duty and never socialize with the enlisted men. Among the officers, the numerous social events included dances, picnics, teas, horse rides, and more. Fort Phil Kearny was assigned a contingent of 16 to 20 officers in ranks from lieutenant to colonel. Unfortunately, half of these men were on detached duty elsewhere. Occupations on post ranged from Company Commanders to Quartermaster and Surgeon to Chaplain. There is a record of considerable infighting among these men. The main controversy was whether to go on the attack of just defend against the Native American’s actions. Strong feelings developed, some officers supporting Carrington and others supporting Fetterman before and even after the Fetterman disaster. This division of purpose effected the men’s activities at the fort and far into their future.
POST HEADQUARTERS, SOLIDER QUARTERS and more: Fort Phil Kearny’s design was based on standard military models of the time, with the post’s buildings located around a 400 by 400 foot parade grounds. The parade grounds were divided into four 200 by 200 quadrants, with walkways surrounding the parade grounds and dividing the quadrants. Soldiers were forbidden to walk across the open areas of the parade grounds except when performing official duties such as drill, parades or answering the Call to Arms. The military stockade was a constantly evolving complex of structures during the two years of Fort Phil Kearny’s existence. Many of the original buildings were improved or replaced over the life of the post. Some examples of these changes were the addition of brick chimneys, and the buildings of basement kitchens under the existing barracks and those newly constructed during 1867-1868, which not only helped save space in the cramped confines of the fort, but also provided some additional warmth for the barracks’ occupants.
POST COMMANDER’S QUARTERS: THE BEST STRUCTURE ON POST 1867 quartermaster inspections of Fort Phil Kearny indicated the poor condition of many of the buildings on post and that they need rebuilding. These included the barracks, officer’s quarters, post headquarters and more. The post commander’s house was a 48 by 32 foot frame construction structure, built of fire dried trees, shingled, with a 22 by 13 foot attached kitchen, and brick chimneys. This was probably the best structure on post. The house was built by the regimental band for Colonel Carrington. It initially housed the Colonel, his wife Margaret, their sons Jimmy and Harry, and butler George. It was then occupied in turn by later Post Commanders Henry Wessells and Jonathon Smith. Two archaeological pits have been left open for viewing. They show the remains of the interior ground structure of the commander’s house.
STORING MUNITIONS AND MORE: All military posts had a magazine for storing munitions. At Fort Phil Kearny the Magazine was 16 by 16 feet, with a 11 foot dirt covered ceiling and it was buried eight feet in the southwest quadrant of the parade ground. It is referred to in numerous historical records. Carrington shows its location on his as-built map, and he did a design for its construction. Samuel Gibson indicates its location on his map of the fort. Margaret Carrington describes the location as “being in the center of one of the squares.” There are many colorful accounts centered around the magazine. Colonel Carrington was constantly frustrated with his lack of munitions and the shortage of ammunition at the post. This became very apparent following the Fetterman Fight when men were sent to guard the stockade with only five rounds of ammunition each. When Carrington left the fort on December 22, 1866 to retrieve the bodies of Fetterman’s command he left secret instructions which Francis Grummond recounted. “If, in my absence, Indians in overwhelming numbers attack, put the women and children in the magazine… a last desperate struggle, destroy all together, rather than have any captured alive.” Result of the 1999 archaeological study provide no evidence of the magazine being in the southwest quadrant as historical records indicated. At present the magazine’s exact location is unknown, still one of the many unanswered questions about Fort Phil Kearny.
QUARTERMASTER CORRAL: CIVILIAN QUARTER, STORAGE, AND SHOPS While not as well built and fortified as the military stockade to the north, the quartermaster’s stockade provided protection for the Quartermaster Department’s supplies, draft animals, work shops and civilian employees. Most of the supplies brought to the fort, either by wagons up the Bozeman Trail or by contractors working local resources, came into the quartermaster’s corral. As with the military stockade, the buildings in this area were often improved or replaced over time, as needs, available material and labor allowed. By April 1867, the Quartermaster Department was employing 52 civilians, including mail carriers, guides, carpenters, wagon masters, coal miners, stock herders, and others. Maintaining Fort Phil Kearny was expensive: laborers were paid $35-$45 a month, three times the salary of an army enlisted man, while guides made from $5 to $10 a day, almost as much as an army colonel.
QUARTERMASTER AND COMMISSARY BUILDINGS: SUPPLYING THE POST The quartermaster and commissary departments provided the two categories of supplies for maintaining military posts. Quartermaster supplies included items like weapons, clothing, saddles, blankets, beds, and more. Commissary supplies were mainly food stuffs. At this fort these items were stored in five or more warehouses varying in size from 24 by 84 feet to 32 by 160 feet. The buildings were of board and batten construction with shingle roofs and one building contained a cellar. Records indicate that some civilians bunked in the larger warehouse. Due to the theft by soldiers and civilians guards were placed at all warehouses. Included in this complex of buildings was the Quartermaster’s office. This building was 32 by 64 feet, board constructed with a shingle roof. It straddled the stockade wall and from here the Quartermaster acted as liaison between civilian workers and the military. Captain Frederick Brown was the first Quartermaster and upon his death Captain George Dandy took over the duties.
LESSONS LEARNED: ARCHAEOLOGY AT FORT PHIL KEARNY Documented archaeology began at Fort Phil Kearny in 1961 and reoccurred in 1970, 1991-92, 1999 and 2000. The initial work was done by Gene Galloway who salvaged artifacts during the country road construction. In 1970-71 George Frison studied the site, determining stockade, gate, southeast blockhouse and flagpole locations. Richard Fox searched for the southwest blockhouse, sutler store, and post commander’s residence in 1991 and 1992. In 1999-2000 Tom Larson and Lewis Somers studies, using subsurface mapping techniques, provided images of the under ground remains (see illustrations below) of the upper stockade and it’s diagonal blockhouses. These studies have provided a great deal of insight into understanding the fort site. Many historic features have been confirmed, including locations of the upper-stockade, main gate, blockhouse, gun bastion, sutler store, and commander’s house. Various construction techniques have been identified, including frame and post/pole, and many personal artifacts have been recovered. We now know that the period of historic maps are reasonably accurate, but questions remain. We do not know the exact location of the magazine, unidentified buildings have shown up on the ground radar research and historically recorded ones have not. The archaeology has provided us a better understanding of Fort Phil Kearny. It has given us some understanding of the reliability of the historical record, and pointed out new directions for study. There is still much to be learned.
LAUNDRESS ROW: NO HOG RANCH HERE All military posts had laundresses, with some having poor reputations as ladies-of-the-night, or for conducting shady activities. This may not have been the case at Fort Phil Kearny. There were four to five laundresses at this fort, each assigned to a company, and all but one being married to an enlisted man. They did not charge a fixed rate for their work but were paid “fluctuating mountain prices”. They and their husbands were housed in 10 by 24 foot jack-pole quarters with dirt roofs. These quarters, of which there were twelve, may have been connected in a row or scattered about. The laundress for Company H, a servant who came west with Captain Ten Eyck, may have been the exception. Her name was Susan Fitzgerald and affectionally known as “Colored or Black Susan”. She was apparently a very enterprising woman who was credited with an “excellent ability to make sausage, and good sausage at that, out of almost every kind of meat”. But her enterprise led to trouble. Captain Ten Eyck was reprimanded in a “strong order” from Colonel Carrington for allowing her to sell pies, made from quartermaster stores, to the troops for 50 cents.
THE CIVILIANS: FEW AND FAR BETWEEN It is a false perception that the frontier posts of the American West were garrisoned with large troops of cavalry. Actually a post’s usual population was largely infantry with a few cavalry for support, reconnaissance, escort, or mail delivery. Fort Phil Kearny was no exception. It was not until November 2, 1866 that any cavalry were stationed at the post. Though initially placed in a variety of quarters, they were finally houses in a large, new 100 by 25 foot log-panel constructed barracks with a shingle roof. Nearby was a 250 by 32 foot board and batten stable with corral, saddler’s shop, and a blacksmith. Company C, of the 2 U.S. Cavalry Regiment was assigned to Fort Phil Kearny. They arrived, armed with single-shot Starr Carbines on poorly conditioned mounts. Colonel Carrington replaced their weapons with the band’s Spencer Carbines, but little could be done for the mounts. Few cavalry were ever at the fort. They were constantly being requisitioned for mail, escort or other duties by military inspectors traveling the trail. Unfortunately, of those troops available on December 21, 1866, the majority were killed in the Fetterman Fight, leaving their quarters sorrowfully near empty.
THE FLAGPOLE: A RELIEF TO THE TRAVELER The sight of a 20 by 36 foot American flag flying atop a 134 foot flagpole came as a great relief to the traveler on the Bozeman Trail. It meant the viewer was in sight of a safe haven, temporarily free from the rigors of the trail, and safe from Indian attack. The pole which supported the flag was constructed of two pieces in a design similar to a ship mast. Made of lodgepole pine hauled from the wood-cutting areas on nearby Piney Island, the round poles were carved into octagons, painted black and the two pieces pinned together under the direction of civilian builder William Daley. The flagpole was raised on October 31, 1866, with much fanfare. The first United States garrison flag to fly over the land between the North Platte and Yellowstone Rivers was hoisted. The band played on an octagonal stand erected at the pole’s base. Colonel Carrington addressed the post’s residents, and soldiers, dressed in newly issued uniforms. He spoke of their hardships, losses, and tribulations, and he dedicated the new fort after nearly four months of occupation, naming it for a fallen Civil War hero.
CARL OSLUND: A Contributor to History This plaque is in recognition of Carl Oslund’s contributions to the discovery and preservation of the historic features of Fort Phil Kearny and its surrounding sites. His contributions began in the 1960’s when he was asked by the Reynolds Mining Corporation to locate Fort Phil Kearny proper. This project sparked a never ending interest and dedication to the site. Initially he discovered the location of the flag staff. Then he moved on to the stockade lines, blockhouses, and buildings. It is through his research, mapping, and surveying expertise that the site staff is able to accurately interpret and depict the Fort’s construction and building locations. His contributions remain long beyond his passing, as historians and archaeologists continue Carl’s research for the hidden secrets of Fort Phil Kearny. Carl’s interests were not limited to the Fort. He researched and mapped the Fetterman Battlefield, contributing much to the battle’s theories. He helped in the research of the Wagon Box Fight and located many of the blockhouses along the road to the Pinery. He was a founding member and officer of the Fort Phil Kearny/Bozeman Trail Association. Always willing to share, his research, journals, and maps were open to any interested party. We miss Carl.
GUARD HOUSE: NOT JUST A JAIL Even through Fort Phil Kearny, like most frontier posts, had plenty of use for a jail this was not the main function of the Guardhouse. The 50 by 32 foot, shingled building with a brick chimney, was used primarily for guard-mount. Guard-mount was the duty of protecting the post. Soldiers would be detached from their companies to this building on a repeated schedule for guard duty. From this building an individual soldier would be assigned to a guard-stand where he would guard the post on intervals of 2-hours-on, 4-hours-off, for 24 hours. This was not an easy duty. During the harsh winter months the interval could drop to as a little as 20 minutes to prevent injury or death to the guard. Francis Grummond recounts a story in My Army Life of Indians sneaking up and shooting guards off the stand. One had to be vigilant. For soldiers convicted of serious crimes the building did serve as a jail. In August 1866 records indicate that 24 prisoners were being held under guard in tents awaiting the completion of this building. Their crime was desertion. Lessor crimes might be punished by extra duty, wearing a ball and chain, wearing a barrel with a sign stating your offense, or even flogging.
POST HEADQUARTERS: ADMINISTERING FORT PHIL KEARNY AND THE MOUNTAIN DISTRICT From this building the commander of the Mountain District of the U.S. Army issued orders to Forts Phil Kearny, C.F. Smith, and Reno. The Mountain District was made up of the 2nd Battalion 18th Infantry until 1867 when it was reorganized into the 27th Infantry Regiment. During this building’s existence, the 25 by 50 foot, one inch plank board and batten structure was an office for Colonels Henry B. Carrington, Henry Wessells, and John E. Smith. The building was also the communication center for Fort Phil Kearny. Flag signalmen located on a lookout stand attached to the building received and sent messages to Pilot Knob and other points. In 1867, Quartermaster Captain George Dandy described the building as “needing torn down”. Yet it continued to function in a number of ways until the closure of the fort. One use was a school house, in which Chaplain White taught classes for the 10 children of 17 families on post.
SUTLER’S HOUSE: A SOCIAL CLUB WITH EASTERN DELICACIES Even the most remote of frontier posts could not do without its Sutler Store. Fort Phil Kearny’s was established and built by John Kinney in partnership with others, including one Fenn Burnett. The building was 24 by 64 feet and constructed in a civilian style, having a shingled roof with overlapping log corners. The store was operated under a concession contract with the government and although these types of contracts were terminated in 1867, post commander Colonel Henry Wessells granted permission for continuing business at this location. The store’s inventory provided a number of items not available from normal military supplies. Inventory items included canned fruits, vegetables, seafood, weapons, clothing, tobacco, liquor, and many other things a soldier felt he couldn’t live without. Although prices were to be controlled by a review board, there are records of many complaints by both the enlisted men and officers about the exorbitant prices. The store also became an area for socialization. The men would meet in off hours to play cards, reminisce about their homes and families, listen to Jim “Old Gabe” Bridger tell tales of trapping and fighting Indians, and just relax. Here they could get away from their sergeants and forget the situation they were in.
THE BAND: FOR CONFLICT OR COMFORT The 18th Infantry’s 40-piece Regimental Band was housed at Fort Phil Kearny in a 24 by 64 green log, panel constructed, dirt roofed barrack. The band provided drummers and buglers for drill, ceremony, and combat commands during the day. In the evening they would gather at an octagonal bandstand surrounding the flagstaff to serenade the post with martial or popular music of the day. On special occasions they would orchestrate waltzes at post dances. Their duties were truly ones of extremes; besides sounding commands or music to march by, members might also be called on to act as messengers, medical orderlies, or combat soldiers. Band members at the fort also built Colonel Carrington’s house, in addition to serving as clerks or supply personnel. There is more historical information on the band at Fort Phil Kearny than some of the other units. It is known that the band members carried Spencer Carbines even though the men seldom went into combat as a complete unit. Following the December 6, 1866 skirmish, Colonel Carrington transferred these weapons to the cavalry, hoping to increase their fire power. All these weapons were lost in the Fetterman Fight two weeks later. Sadly, it is also known that the first death at Fort Phil Kearny was the Bandmaster, Master Sergeant William Curry, who died of typhoid and pneumonia, leaving behind a wife and two boys. “As we passed the Fort some distance we came to a halt for nearly an hour and a half… crossing the stream and ascending the bluffs beyond. As we lay there the brass band at the Fort commenced playing. Such sounds in such a scene! There was something in the wild, sweet strains that filled and floated through the deep reechoing valley that spoke of home; yet so far distant and in so wild a place that it partook of the nature of the scenes around it. It was like looking through the ‘glass of time’ into the dim Past…”. From the diary of Davis Willson, August 7, 1866, near Fort Phil Kearny.
THE HOSPITAL: ANY ATTEMPT TO RELIEVE THE SUFFERING… at Fort Phil Kearny was seldom successful at either of its two hospitals. The original hospital was a 24 by 84 foot structure similar to the barracks in construction. During this hospital’s short service it sadly served as the morgue for Fetterman’s command. During most of its existence the building functioned as an officer’s quarters and was home to Captain Powell during his time at the post. The second and primary hospital was built in 1867. It was an L-shaped structure incorporating panel construction and was 25 by 156 feet. The building either replaced or was attached to the bakery which was also located in this corner. The bakery attachment would have provided additional warmth ad soothing aromas for the occupants. Little else is known about this building. Suffering at the post was considerable. There was constant skirmishing with the Indians outside the post resulting in numerous battle injuries. In addition to combat wounds the occupants might be suffering from disease including dysentery, scurvy, or tuberculosis which, records indicate, were prevalent at the fort due to poor diet and sanitation.
ENLISTED MAN’S QUARTERS: BETTER THAN NOTHING Some of the first structures built at Fort Phil Kearny were the enlisted men’s barracks. The first four were 24 by 84 foot, green log, panel constructed buildings with dirt roofs and floors. In 1867 one additional 26 by 100 foot barrack was built to house the cavalry; kitchens were installed as basements in some of the previous barracks. Each barrack was expected to house an infantry or cavalry company averaging 87 men. With the exception of noncommissioned officers, who lived in small rooms within the barracks, all men lived in an open bay heated with cast-iron stoves. The buildings were said to be breezy in winter, cool in the summer, and by 1867: “fit to be torn down.” The roofs leaked in the rain, and provided homes for snakes, mice, and all sorts of critters. The green log building material shrank as it dried, leaving gaps in the walls, and the dirt floors turned to mud. All these factors made life in the barracks and for the enlisted men miserable. Some men came right from the Civil War, armed and clothed with four-year-old equipment. Others avoiding famine, and persecution in Europe emigrated, joined the army and came here. Their base pay was thirteen dollars a month supplemented with soured food for long marches and back breaking work. The enlisted man was poorly paid, poorly fed, and poorly housed. But it was better than nothing, if only slightly.