PAWNEE COUNTY — Staff and volunteers at Fort Larned National Historic Site celebrated the National Park Service’s 100th birthday on Saturday by recalling life at the fort in the late 1800s.
Visitors walked across a footbridge over the Pawnee Fork of the Arkansas River and stepped into the past. Buildings constructed in the 1860s have been restored and furnished to recall the period when Fort Larned protected commercial traffic on the Santa Fe Trail.
There were events scheduled throughout the day. Birthday cake was served following a performance by the Fort Larned Post Band in the Quatermaster Building. The band includes students from Larned High School and Larned Middle School, as well as community members.
Dr. Leo Oliva portrayed Pvt. Robert Morris Peck, a soldier who was present at the founding of Fort Larned.
“I kept a diary all the time I was in the Army,” an older Peck (circa 1902) told the audience, recalling the stories of a soldier’s life.
Peck was in the U.S. Cavalry from 1856-1861. In 1901 he wrote his memoirs of his military service.
Guests could watch a blacksmith at work or step inside a Native American teepee. They could also sample current versions of foods representing the desserts and/or the heritages of the period. These included a German cabbage dish and Mexican sweetbread. Volunteer Christine LaRue said the fruit for the spicy pickled mango she served may not have been readily available in the 1860s Kansas, but it was an homage to the African American troops, the Buffalo Soldiers, who served at the fort. Likewise, plum pudding was served to represent a period Native American delicacy, chokeberry pudding.
Fort Larned will have another living history event Labor Day weekend, Saturday through Monday, Sept. 3-5. The fort is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is always free. (It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and on an occasional “snow day.”)