LARNED — Joe Snell, the state’s most renowned advocate of the Fort Larned National Historic Site, died recently in Topeka.
Snell was named Kansan of the Year in 1985 by The Topeka Capital-Journal. He served as director of the Kansas State Historical Society before retiring in 1988.
Snell was a founding member and first chairman of the Fort Larned Old Guard, the private support group than continues to enhance visitor services at Fort Larned.
The Old Guard’s largest contribution was the purchase of a restored Rucker U.S. Army ambulance. The Jordaan Foundation helped the Fort Larned Old Guard acquire the rare 1870s-era vehicle to the Fort Larned historic scene. Snell also led the protective acquisition of the Cheyenne/Sioux Indian Village site in Ness County.
Kevin McMurry Fort Larned superintendent, said Mr. Snell was a huge supporter and good friend of Fort Larned, the Santa Fe Trail and all the historic resources near Larned.
He would regularly attend Fort Larned events with his wife Ruth. He cultivated a positive relationship between the Fort Larned employees and the Kansas State Historical Society staff.
“In a very effective way, Joe used the resources of the Kansas State Historical Society to promote Fort Larned,” McMurry said. “He was one of the early supporters promoting reconstruction of the Blockhouse and replacement of the bake ovens.”
McMurry said Snell was a powerful leader in the drive to return Fort Larned to as close as possible how it looked in the late 1860s.
“He knew it was important to build public support for the Fort and as part of getting that support it was necessary to reconstruct missing elements such as the Blockhouse and bake ovens,” McMurry said. “Joe loved western history and had a vision for Fort Larned. He worked to make Fort Larned come alive for the enjoyment of the public.”
Fort Larned Ranger George Elmore said Snell had a passion for Fort Larned’s historical importance.
“He had an interest in military history and appreciated Kansas history,” Elmore said. “He was a strong believer in recreating the past and educating the public. He helped Fort Larned forge ties with the Kansas State Historical Society.”
Joseph Warren Snell, 83, of Topeka, died June 9, 2011 at Midland Hospice House in Topeka. Joe authored several books, most notably “Why the West Was Wild.”
Survivors include his wife, Ruth, his sons, Bruce and Michael, and grandsons, Tyler, Cody and Austin Snell.
The Fort Larned Old Guard was launched December 3, 1988, when a group met at Fort Larned. Charter board members included Bill Chalfant, Hutchinson; Ron Parks, Topeka; Al Campbell and Ruth Olson (Peters), Larned; Leo Oliva, Woodston; Gary Thomas and Steve Coen, Wichita; and Chuck Smith, Great Bend.
George Elmore, Carl Immenschuh, Bonita Oliva and Ruth Snell also attended the inaugural Old Guard meeting.
Fort Larned Superintendent Jack Arnold and Snell drafted bylaws and a memorandum of agreement that would be signed jointly by the Old Guard and National Park Service. Snell served as the Old Guard’s chairman of the board until 1991.
As a not-for-profit tax-exempt organization, the Old Guard’s purpose was, “to provide support for Fort Larned National Historic Site beyond that given by the federal government.”
The Old Guard helped Fort projects through the sale of reproduction Army coffee cups, commissions and enlistments and reprints of The Plains (Fort Larned’s 1865 newspaper).