Fort Riley.Authorities do not agree as to the exact date when Fort Riley was founded, though it was some time in the year 1852. A circular issued by the United States surgeon-general's office in 1875 says it "was established in the spring of 1852, and was at first known as Camp Center, it being very near the geographical center of the United States." Percival G. Love, who was first sergeant of Troop B, First dragoons, at the time, says it was established late in the fall of 1852, and this statement is borne out by the fact that on July 31, 1852, Col. T. T. Fauntleroy, who had been commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth, wrote to Gen. Jesup, the quartermaster-general of the United States army, recommending the establishment of a military post somewhere near the junction of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers.
Col. Fauntleroy's suggestion found favor with the war department, and Maj. E. A. Ogden was charged with the duty of selecting the site for such a post. Accepting Sergt. Lowe's statement, which appears to be the logical one, Maj. R. H. Chilton, with Troop B, First dragoons, escorted Maj. Ogden from Fort Leavenworth to the junction of the two rivers, where "Camp Center" was established as stated in the surgeon-generals circular. On May 17, 1853, the name was changed to "Fort Riley," in honor of Gen. Bennett C. Riley of the United States army, who guarded the Santa Fe trail and fought in the war with Mexico.
TWO VIEWS OF FORT RILEY.
Temporary buildings were erected during the years 1853 and 1854, and in Dec., 1854, Congress made an appropriation for quarters and stables for five troops of cavalry, the buildings to be built of stone taken from the quarries in the vicinity. The post was built around a parallelogram 553 by 606 feet. The barracks for enlisted men consisted of six two-story stone buildings, each 40 by 88 feet with accommodations for one company. The officers' quarters consisted of six two-story buildings, each 40 by 60 feet. One of these buildings was for the commanding officer, and the other five each contained two sets of quarters. All the buildings were provided with broad piazzas. As the post grew in importance other buildings were erected, including a stone hospital, an ordnance building 18 by 117 feet, five stables each 39 by 256 feet and containing over 100 stalls, a brick magazine 16 feet square, with stone foundation, and a two-story guard-house 20 by 45 feet.
The reservation as at first established included a large tract of land along the left bank of the Kansas and Republican rivers, and extended across the latter to the Smoky Hill. But on March 2, 1867, Congress reduced the size of the reservation by releasing that portion lying between the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers, which was granted to the State of Kansas to aid in the construction of a bridge over the Republican river on the highway leading to the fort, with the understanding that the state was to keep the bridge in good repair and the United States was to have the free use of it for all time to come. Before the construction of this bridge L. B. Perry operated for several years a ferry between the fort and what was known as "Whisky Point."
Gen. P. H. Sheridan, who was appointed general-in-chief of the United States army in 1883, recommended the enlargement of the post, and in 1886 the Kansas legislature adopted a resolution requesting the senators and representatives in Congress from that state to use their power and influence to secure an appropriation to carry out the ideas of the commanding general. Senators Plumb and Ingalls and Representative John A. Anderson, who represented the district in which Fort Riley is located, were especially active in behalf of the appropriation. The result of the combined efforts of the friends of the post was that in 1887 an appropriation of $200,000 was made by Congress for the purpose of establishing "a permanent school of instruction for drill and practice for the cavalry and light artillery service of the army of the United States, and which shall be the depot to which all recruits for such service shall be sent; and for the purpose of construction of such quarters, barracks and stables as may be required to carry into effect the purposes of this act."
That appropriation was the beginning of a series of improvements that amount practically to the rebuilding of the post. Among these improvements is a large cavalry riding hall, said to be one of the finest, if not actually the finest, in the country. In 1896 an appropriation of $75,000 was made to continue the construction of buildings under way; an appropriation of $30,000 was made in 1900 for additional stables; by the act of April 23, 1904, the sum of $40,000 was appropriated for a modern military hospital, and in 1905 an appropriation of $6,000 was made for a road through the reservation. On Feb. 14, 1889, Gov. Humphrey approved an act of the Kansas legislature ceding to the United States jurisdiction over the reservation, reserving to the state the right to serve civil or criminal process and to tax the property of corporations or citizens not otherwise exempt.
In the early days, owing to the fact that the well water in the vicinity of the fort was strongly tinctured with alkali, most of the water supply was obtained from large cisterns constructed for the purpose, but with other improvements at the fort a modern system of waterworks has been installed, insuring to the garrison a bountiful supply of pure water.
The camps of instruction and military maneuvers at Fort Riley in recent years have given the fort a wide and favorable reputation in military circles, and the probabilities are that this reputation will be greatly extended in the future, through better improvements and equipments, as Congress has shown no inclination to be parsimonious in its appropriations for the support and development of the post.
Maj. E. A. Ogden, the founder of the fort, was one of the victims of the cholera epidemic of 1855. (See Cholera.) The monument erected on the reservation to his memory, it is believed, marks the geographical center of the United States. On July 25, 1893, was unveiled another monument on the Fort Riley reservation, dedicated "to the soldiers who were killed in the battle with the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee and Drexel Mission, S. D., Dec. 29 and 30. 1890."Pages 668-671 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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