Friday, April 9, 2010

Fort Dodge, Home of Heroes

My great grandfather, Adam Spahn spent his final years here, at the Fort Dodge Soldier's Home in Fort Dodge, Kansas. I had visited him there shortly before he died. The memory of the visit, with him in his wheelchair, lined up alongside many other wheelchair bound soldiers has never left me.It was difficult to see him in his final stages of life.The only other time I remember being out at Fort Dodge (besides Christmas 2008, when I took the above photograph) was as a small child, during a school field trip. I never really thought much about the fort. But, now I realize what a huge roll it has played in not only my great grandfather's life, but that of my great great grandfather, Asbury Gaskill who also spent the twilight of his life as a resident here.
I was completely unaware of a second relative at the fort until I began tracing my Gaskill ancestors  Asbury served in the Civil War but was discharged shortly after for "disease of the chest". He spent some time in 1900 at the Leavenworth Soldiers Home but at some point ended up here, at Fort Dodge. I have ordered Asbury's complete military file from the National Archives in Washington, DC and even though it can take up to 4 months for the packet to arrive I'm hoping it will tell me when he began living at Fort Dodge. Having ordered that file, I am now interested in ordering military records for my great grandfather, Adam Spahn who was in WW1, my grandfather, Eugene Duesing and his brother, Anthony Duesing who were in WWII. Unfortunately, a fire in 1973 destroyed most of the Army records (both Adam and Eugene were in the Army) so it may be a more difficult task than it was ordering the Civil War file of Asbury but I shall try and see what I can get!
For is a little bit of history on Fort Dodge:
Fort Dodge, was one of the most important forts on the western frontier. It is located to the southeast of Dodge City. The fort was established on April 10, 1865 by Captain Henry Pierce, by order of Major General Grenville M. Dodge. The fort’s primary purpose was to protect the wagon trains on their way to New Mexico.

The need for a fort at this location was great; an unusually large camp site for the fort was situated where the dry route and the wet route of the Santa Fe Trail intersected. The dry route came across the divide from Larned on the Pawnee River, while the wet route followed the river.  The dry route, often called the Hornado de Muerti, the journey of death, was often without water the whole distance and trains would lay up to recruit after making the passage. When the Indians discovered this popular stopping off point, they began to attack the many unwary emigrants and freighters traveling through the area.
Buffalo hunter Ralph Morrison killed and scalped by Cheyennes in December 1868, near Fort Dodge, Kansas. Photographer: William S. Soule (1836-1908)

Initial fortifications were crude earth dugouts excavated along the north bank of the Arkansas River. Many men first stationed there were Confederates who preferred a fight with the Indians to languishing, perhaps dying, in northern prisons. The soldiers had no lumber or hardware, so they had to use the available materials, grass and earth, to create the 70 sod dugouts. These were 10 X 12 feet in circumference and seven feet deep. A door to the south faced the river and a hole in the roof admitted air and light. Banks of earth were bunks for the soddies that slept from two to four men. Sanitation was poor and spring rains flooded the dugouts. Pneumonia, dysentery, diarrhea and malaria were common that first year in the isolated fort.

In 1867 Fort Dodge was relocated and rebuilt in stone buildings. In 1868 Comanches and Kiowas attacked Fort Dodge, killing four soldiers and wounding seventeen. As a result, General Philip H. Sheridan came to Fort Dodge in the summer of 1868. He pitched his camp on the hill north of the fort and started outfitting his command against the Indians.

In the fall of 1868, General Alfred Sully took command at the fort in preparation for winter campaign against the plains Indians. When the preparations for the expedition were well under way and his army practically ready to march, General Sully was sent home and General George A. Custer carried on the campaign.

The abandonment of Fort Dodge in June, 1882, created surprise among the Dodge City people who were terrified of the Indian raids.
After its abandonment, part of the buildings were demolished, some removed.  The military reservation was transferred to the Interior Department on January 12, 1885 and was converted to the Kansas Soldiers Home in 1889. When rebuilding and repairing began on the Soldiers Home, the character of the famous old post was sustained.

The Kansas Soldiers Home now includes a library/museum, a modern intensive nursing home, a recreation center, five residence halls, and 60 cottages. Veterans of the Mexican, Civil, Indian, Spanish-American, Philippines, Boxer Rebellion, World War I, and II, Korean and Vietnam Wars have all been occupants.

The peaceful park, quiet shaded tree lined walks, dignified buildings, both old and new, and other markers seem a far cry from the dugouts and forsaken soldiers barely existing on the Arkansas River bank in 1865.

Fort Dodge Hauntings –  There have been many reports of strange occurrences at the old fort over the years. At a barn upon the site, it is said that at 3:30 every morning all the lights go on and off and the doors mysteriously open by themselves.

info courtesy of Legends of America

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