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Early Statehood: 1842 - 1865

  1. Historic Trails and Forts
  2. Bleeding Kansas
  3. The Civil War

Historic Trails and Forts

Map of Historic Trails and Forts


Trails - Red Cowtowns - Green
Historic Forts & Trail Sites - Black Rivers - Blue

Western Missouri and eastern Kansas were starting points during the mid 1800s for many historic trails that led to the western part of the United States. Travel across Kansas was hazardous because of the lack of water, harsh weather and hostile Indian tribes.

bulletThe Santa Fe Trail had been in existence since the 1820s as a trade route to New Mexico and the West. One of the landmarks on the trail that marked the halfway point in Kansas was known as Pawnee Rock.
bulletThe Oregon-California Trail crossed the northeastern part of the state and led to the west coast during the Gold Rush days from 1842 to 1860. Over three hundred thousand people used this trail to travel to Oregon and California.
bulletThe Smoky Hill Trail went through the middle of the state and opened in 1859 when gold was discovered in Colorado. It was known as the Starvation Trail because of the difficult conditions travelers experienced along the trail.
bulletThe Pony Express route crossed the northeast corner of Kansas. It operated in 1860 and 1861 as a mail route to the west coast. The beginning of the Western Union telegraph system ended the need for the Pony Express. The Hollenberg Station was one of the stops the Pony Express made in Kansas.

Two other trails passed through Kansas as cattle drive routes from Texas.

bulletThe Chisholm Trail led to cattle towns in the central part of Kansas, such as Wichita, Newton, Abilene, Ellsworth and Caldwell in the late 1800s. From these towns the cattle were shipped by rail to the eastern United States.
bulletThe Western Cattle Trail passed through western Kansas and served as a route for cattle drives to Dodge City, the Dakotas and Montana from 1874 to 1890.

The U.S. Army forts in Kansas played a major role in the westward expansion through the state. During the mid 1800s, these forts were built to protect white settlers in Kansas and travelers along the historic trails through Kansas.

bullet Fort Leavenworth began operating in 1827. It originally served to protect trade on the Santa Fe Trail. During the Civil War, it was a primary base for the Union Army in its western campaigns. Today, Fort Leavenworth is the headquarters of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
bullet Fort Scott was established in 1842 to maintain order on the Indian frontier. Its troops conducted many marches throughout the southwestern part of the country and also served in the Mexican war. The fort was shut down in 1853, but was opened again during the Civil War. It was closed permanently in 1873.
bullet Fort Riley was built in 1853 to protect travelers on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. In 1866, the 7th Cavalry led by Lt. Colonel George Custer was formed there. The fort continues to operate today and is the home of the 1st Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division.
bullet Fort Harker began operations in 1864, originally as Fort Ellsworth. It provided protection for the Kansas stage line and military wagon trains traveling to Fort Riley. It closed in 1872.
bullet Fort Larned was established in 1859 to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. It served as an agency of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs during the 1860s, and tried to maintain the peace as Indian hostilities increased due to the influx of white travelers and settlers. The fort was closed in 1878.
bullet Fort Hays was built in 1865 along the Smoky Hill trail. It was a major supply depot for shipments to other forts in southwestern and western Kansas. During its existence, it was home to the 7th Cavalry, the 5th U.S. Infantry, and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The fort was closed in 1889.
bullet Fort Dodge was also established in 1865 and served as a supply depot and military base for campaigns against the warring Plains Indians. The fort was closed in 1882 and eventually deeded to the state of Kansas for use as an old soldier's home. It still operates in that capacity today.
bullet Fort Wallace was another fort established in 1865 and protected travelers along the Smoky Hill Trail. It was the westernmost outpost along the trail in Kansas. The fort was closed in 1882.

Additional Resources

bulletMore information about historic trails is available at Kansas Historic Trails.
bulletRead first hand accounts of life during this time in the Kansas Collection - On the Trails.
bulletMore information about historic Kansas forts is available at Kansas Forts and Frontier Forts.
bulletLearn more about the Buffalo Soldiers.

Study Guide Questions

  1. Why was travel across Kansas on the historic trails hazardous?
  2. Why did so many people make the long journey on the historic trails through Kansas?
  3. What were the roles of most of the forts built in Kansas during the mid 1800s?
  4. What was life like in the historic forts in Kansas during this period?

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