By David K. Clapsaddle
Santa Fe Trail historian David K. Clapsaddle authored installments that profiled the 19-year tenure of Fort Larned from its inception as Camp on Pawnee Fork through into deactivation in 1978. These stories were originally published in 2008 and 2009 to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Fort Larned’s founding. The Fort Larned National Historic Site helped with background information.
Fort Atkison — Fort Larned’s Precursor
ln order to understand the establishment of Fort Larned it is necessary to be aware of its predecessor, Fort Atkison, located at the western edge of present Dodge City in 1850.
The post’s buildings, constructed of sod, were surrounded by a palisade of the same material. Because of the obvious lack of building materials in the area, commanding officer Capt. William Huffman recommended that the post be moved to the Pawnee River where there was more timber.
ln March 1851, the order was issued for the relocation, but such never transpired. Finally, in 1854, Fort Atkison was abandoned.
However, five years later, Camp on Pawnee Fork was established some six miles west of present Larned in a bend of what was generally known in the mid-1800s as Pawnee Fork. ln time, the little outpost would be relocated to its present site and renamed Fort Larned.
Morning Drill 9
at Fort Larned
Shortly before Camp Alert was removed to its new location and renamed Fort Larned, young Jesse Crane came to the post, appointed as sutler. The sutler, long a civilian presence in military settings, was appointed by the War Department to operate a retail establishment at frontier posts. During the Civil War the sutler developed a bad reputation for profiteering, but on the frontier he often escaped that charge. Crane continued to operate the sutler’s store in the new location, where he built a substantial store building, a comfortable residence, and a cafe known as the sutler’s mess.
ln 1867, the War Department changed the title from sutler to post trader. This was the first in a series of changes related to civilian commerce at military posts. At a later date when objections were voiced concerning the sale of liquor, post trader stores were replaced by canteens which disallowed traffic in alcoholic beverages. Finally, the canteen was superseded by the post exchange, which remains today as the ordinary fixture at military bases, commonly called the PX.
Morning Drill 10
Not Quite Wal-Mart
ln the previous installment, mention was made of Jesse Crane’s sutler store. While the soldier was able to obtain uniforms and footwear from the quartermaster, other items such as braces (suspenders) had to be obtained elsewhere such as the sutler’s store.
Items included song books, fishhooks, coffee pots, guitar strings, saddles, lanterns, Epsom salt, cloth, pots and pans, hats, matches, needles and thread, spices, nails, revolvers, buttons, sulphur, hair dye, turpentine, wallets, tin buckets, molasses, axes, padlocks, scissors, mirrors, beads, and horse liniment.