Fort Mann, Kansas
"1846 - 1848"
GPS: N37 45.142 W100 04.596

     During the months following June 1846 when the advance columns of Colonel Stephen W. Kearny's Army of the West left Fort Leavenworth, the Santa Fe Trail became a military road over which countless thousands of Americans travelled to New Mexico and California.

     The route taken by the invading army disregarded the direct road to Santa Fe down the Cimarron Cutoff, but rather carried on up the Arkansas to Bent's Fort. Here at Bent St. Vrain's impressive outost of civilisation, stores and livestock were replenished and wagons repaired before the eventual march on down to Santa Fe.

     The invasion and conquest of New Mexico occured without a struggle and when California fell to the Americans a short while after, the Santa Fe Trail became the main artery for equipment and stores to the army in the west.

     Trader caravans from Missouri had been using the route regularly since 1822 [1] and the remains of their wagons and animals were scattered along the trail. The quartermaster's department of the U.S. army was soon finding to its cost that transporting stores across this country to the Mexican settlements was exceedingly precarious.

     The government trains suffered a great deal from the hazards of the plains. Army teamsters and freighters were not the experienced plainsmen of earlier years and their lack of experience invited the roving bands of Indians to make the most of the new flow of merchandise.

     Early in 1847 Captain William M. D. McKissack, assistant quartermaster to the Army of the West stationed in Santa Fe proposed the erection of a government depot on the trail equidistant between Leavenworth and Santa Fe. McKissack's justification for the post's existence is borne out in a letter from his to the quartermaster-general at Fort Myer:

     "In crossing the plains there is no means of securing Wagons that become unservicable for want of repairs; generally the bands, tires, spokes, etc. become loose on account of the dryness of the atmosphere and having no means of repairs; in such cases, the Wagons are abandoned. . . . ."

     "Owing to the great number of Wagons abandoned on the plains I make arrangements to erect Whellwright, Smith & Store houses near the crossing of the Arkansas; the work was performed by Teamsters, and occupied by them." [2]

     The building of such a post along the route at a strategic point was undoubtedly a wise move, but to have it garrisoned by teamsters and not a detachment of soldiers seems to indicate a lack of knowledge on Capt. McKissack's part regarding the area in which the depot was to be built.

     Forty teamsters started the erection of the post in April 1847, with the construction of four log buildings and stockade at a site on the north bank of the Arkansas river about twenty miles below the Cimarron Crossing near Caches. [3] A good position for such a post when it is considered that all the supply trains, regardless of the route they were taking to Santa Fe, would have to pass this point. Directing the construction was Daniel P. Mann, a native of New York State and at that time employed by the army as a master teamster.

     Due to the location and unstable temperament of the plains tribes. Indian alarms became a daily occurence. On 9 May a member of the construction party was ambushed by Comanches, and was lanced and shot within site of the depot after leaving the stockade to fish in the river 100 yards away. The scalped body was later recovered and buried near the post.

     Two days later on the 11th the crew lost 15 yoke of oxen and 40 mules after Indians, probably the same ones that had killed the unfortunate fishermen, had used their own animals to stampede government stock which was picketed near the stockade. One Indian was hit in a sharp exchange of fire but was carried away by his companions.

     The young traveller, Louis H. Garrard, arrived at the nearly completed station on 15 May and stayed a month in government service. He later noted that the stockade which had taken the name Fort Mann, consisted of four flat-roofed houses connected by angles of timber 20 feet high. (This last dimension may have been exaggerated by Garrard.) The complete structure covered an area 60 feet in diameter.

     Two heavy gates a foot thick swung at the entrance on wooden hinges and loopholes were cut for small arms in the connecting walls between the building.

     In the courtyard a 6-pounder cannon was kept mounted on light wagon wheels for mobility. Breastworks of adobe were built on the flat pole and mud roof of the northwest building and also on its diagonally opposite roof.

List of armaments for the end of May 1847 amounted to:

  1. -- 6-Pounder Cannon
  2. -- 40 Rounds of Grapeshot
  3. -- 40 Cannon Cartridges
  4. -- 6 Rifles & Muskets [4]

     On the 17th of that month most of the teamsters started east, after Capt. A. W. Enos of the quartermasters department had persuaded ten men to remain behind at the depot, paying these an extra 10 dollars a month for the privilage. He also left three sick members of his party at the post. These were probably suffering from scurvy although it is not recorded. [5]

     After the main body of men had left, a 24-hour watch was maintained by the few left behind, with a regular day guard of two men and the night covered in 2-hour shifts by the rest of the teamsters working in pairs.

     None of the company could venture from the post without a rifle at this time, parties of Indians keeping the depot in a virtual state of siege. Although occasionally some sport was had when a buffalo herd came into the vicinity. From time to time fresh meat supplemented the army rations, but this was rare, the game being scared away by the wagons which were continually moving back and forth along the trail.

     The structure and organisation of the post seems to have been ineffectual and in keeping with the irregulars who were stationed there, and if some caravans looked to the fort for protection the role of guardian must have been reversed many times with large parties of Pawnee, Arapahoe and Comanches scowling the area.

     In command of the depot at this time was John Simpson Smith, known as "BlackFoot" Smith. He was a man who had trapped and traded throughout the entire country and who, up to the time of his appointment, had been living with his wife's people, the Southern Cheyennes.

     Smith's command was short lived, is most notable contribution being the signing up of an extra man from a passing train, [6] and on the 24th just seven days after his appointment he quit and joined a Bent & St. Vrain train going east claiming that those who remained at the depot had a good chance of losing their hair to the Comanches. His assessment of the position at Fort Mann reflects how secure the post was, although his choice of caravans was not infallible: the train he joined was attacked by Comanches at Walnut Creek and lost 40 oxen and 60 horses and mules including 7 belonging to Smith.

     During this skirmish the Indians killed two men, one Maquire and William Tharpe a trader who had joined the train at Big Timbers for Protection. [7]

     After Smith left. Thomas Sloan, blacksmith at the post, assumed command of the garrison of ten with an eleventh. John Negle, being signed for service by Sloan on the 28th.

     Harassment of whites along the Arkansas river region of the Santa Fe Trail continued into the summer, the area around the Caches being particularly notorious.

     At Fort Mann eight to ten Indians attempted to run off stock, but after the cannon was rolled to the gate and the teamsters had armed themselves, the indians charged their minds and held a parley to express their friendship for the whites and ask for food and tobacco. This particular group of Indians proved to be a scouting party for a large village of Arapahoes under Warratoria which reached the Caches on the 28th of May.

     Feelings inside the small log stockade can be imagined when 300 Indians with 80 lodges and an estimated 1,100 animals went into camp 300 yards upstream of them.

     Rather than cause any friction, Warratoria was admitted to the post when he appeared at the gates, an exception to a rule which was usually rigidly upheld although it would be broken at least once more during the fort's existence. The Chief was dined on bread and coffee in the near completed messroom and left without trouble after the pipe had been handed around.

     After two months, building had slowed to almost a half, the teamsters only being able to haul timber from along the banks of the Arkansas when a train was parked of sufficient size to offer protection for some of the garrison to leave the compound.

     By this time the amount of timber left along the river could not have amounted to much, with the building of the post and freighters cutting wood for their fires. Good grazing around the depot had also disappeared. It is probable that some timber for the construction was brought from further afield, perhaps the Sawlog Creek, a branch of the Pawnee Fork 14 miles to the north, where timber was cut in quantity for the latter-day Fort Atkinson which was built in the same area.

     Adobe was less of a problem than wood, being made at the site by a couple of wxen trampling mud, although this was a commodity of which the teamsters soon had a surplus. In the early part of June 1847 heavy rain swept the southern plains and threatened to flood the fort. On the 13th a ditch had to be started around the post to carry away the water before it could flood and stagnate.

     Before these rains came, however, enough adobe bricks were made for chimneys to be added to the messroom and blacksmith shop.

     Many notable people of the area at that time passed by or stopped over at the post. One particular group, travelling east, reached the stockade on 31 May. In the party were Ceran St. Vrain, a partner in the Bent & St. Vrain Company, Francis Preston Blair Jr. at this time District Attorney of New Mexico, Dragoon Fitzgerald returning to the states following his vengence killing of Tomas Romero, one of the leaders of the recent uprising in Taos, and Asa Estes the tavern keeper from Taos.

     All of these had been directly involved in the uprising and the ensuing reprisals. [8]

     Another arrival on 15 June was Colonel William Henry Russell, Secretary of State for California, in Stockton's new government, who was traveling to Washington with dispatches. Russell, along with his sixteen man bodyguard under Lieutenant James Brown of the California Battalion, [9] was accompanying a large train under a wagon master named Bell.

     After a month in service Garrard had had his fill of excitement, he decided to join this caravan and go back to the states with it--a decision which may have saved his life.

     On the 19 June, just four days after Garrard had left, the Indian attack which had been feared since the fort was established, occurred. Four hundred warriors amassed to overrun the depot. Sloan and his men, with surprising coolness for an untrained group, managed to repell several attacks, killing 15 and wounding 30-40 with cannon and rifle fire.

     During the lull in the fighting three of the defenders left the stockade, but did not get 300 yards from the post when they were caught by Indians and killed. All three, Negle, Roy and Johnson were scalped. [10]

     After the Indians had withdrawn Sloan decided to abandon the depot. Hitching up the cannon and taking it with them, he and his men left for Santa Fe, leaving Fort Mann to the wolves and Indians.

     For a few weeks the "prairie prison" as Garrard had called it remained unoccupied. However, by early July the post was under seige again. Two men, attempting to overtake the train in front of the one they were with, were attacked by Indians near Fort Mann; they managed to find refuge inside the stockade and defend themselves for nearly two days.

     The Indians apparently thought that two scalps would not justify the losses they would receive overwhelming the post with superior numbers. Eventually the pair were rescued by the arrival of a train captained by F. X. Aubry which was travelling to Santa Fe. Both of the men continued their journey with this train. [11]

     The deserted depot was soon in a dilapidated condition with freighters drawing on the post for their wood supplies for cooking fires and the repair of wagons. One mention of the post in the summer of 1847 called it a "perfect wreck" and this cannot be far from the truth. [12]

     To the traders on the road to Santa Fe the sight of the government depot in such a condition must have given little hope of any military protection for their trains in the near future. Captain McKissack however, was still writing Washington from his Santa Fe office that: "A depot near the crossing of the Arkansas is absolutely necessary to repair Wagons etc." [13]

     The Pawnees, Comanches and other plains tribes evidently came to the same conclusion as the traders. Following the abandonment they became bolder in their attacks, the whites only reply to the situation being to form and travel in larger caravans hoping that the numbers in their trains would discourage any Indian hostility.

     During the summer of 1847 bands of Kiowas, Apaches, Pawnee and Comanches killed 47 Americans, destroyed 330 wagons and stole 6,500 animals from travellers on the Santa Fe road. [14] Possibly the number of wagons actually taken by the Indians was not so great, the figures included broken down and unservicable vehicles which were destroyed after being abandoned by the whites. Similary the number of animals would have a proportion of strayed and stampeded stock included, but the overall picture was one of increased aggression.

     To combat the problem the Indian Battalion Missouri Volunteers [15] was formed in September of the same year, and Lieutenant Colonel William Gilpin appointed as commanding officer. This specially formed but inadequate force was ordered to the upper Arkansas to restore peace and protect the constant flow of immigrants and traders along the road. The volunteers were also to regarrison rotting Fort Mann, the post to be used as headquarters for operations by them along the river.

     Three companies of the ill-equipped Battalion started from Fort Leavenworth on 6 October, the cavalry having left two weeks previously, [16] with defective arms, very little medical suppliers and no sabres.

     Gilpins force comprised of five companies: A and B which were mounted, C an artillery company and D and E which were infantry.

     It took a thirty day march during which "nothing of very great interest or importance transpired" [17] for the volunteers to reach the deserted Fort Mann. There Gilpin left his two foot companies and artillery to rebuild and enlarge the depot in preparation for its new role. Although at that time of year there would have been little else to do than bivouac and prepare for winter, the quartermasters trains arrived on about the 22nd with supplies.

     Lieutenant Colonel Gilpin with Companies A and B under Captain John C. Griffith and Captain Thomas Jones, continued up the Arkansas to Big Timbers where they spent a cold winter under canvas. Gilpin drawing stores from Bent's Fort and trading with the Indians and Mexicans in order to keep his troops from starving. He was compelled to do this after his rations and forage had been sent to Fort Scott far to the east.

     The remaining Companies---C, D and E, which remained at Fort Mann comprised a total of 54 officers and 216 men [18] which when the original size of the depot is considered, suggests that many of the enlisted men were living in crude shelters or tents throughout the winter.

     These three companies were made up of volunteers who had never before been on the plains, let alone fought Indians. Company E, under Captain Napoleon Koscialowski was the only English speaking unit of the three, the other two being made up of Germans from St. Louis who spoke little English and who had no idea of regulations or military life.

     Captain William Pelzer of Company C was left in charge of Fort Mann after Gilpin's departure. Pelzer, a German by birth, was in his own way to give his commanding officer more trouble than all the plains tribes put together during the winter or "47-'48.

     The new commander's first attempt at handling a situation occurred on the afternoon of Tuesday 16 November when lookouts on the walls reported Indians on the opposite bank of the Arkansas. Within minutes the three companies were mustered and paraded inside the fort. The Indians, meanwhile, had ridden across the river and encamped about a quarter of a mile from the post.

     After around fifteen or twenty minutes about 65 Indians approached the garrison under a white flag and the assembled troops were dismissed. The Indians were met outside the stockade by Captain Pelzer and a number of other officers, greetings were exchanged and after some confusing dialogue from both parties it was established that the Indians were friendly Pawnees. A peace pipe was produced and the group gathered around one of the cooking fires to smoke.

     It seems at this point that Pelzer thought that he had pacified all the Indians on the southern plains, for after giving the visitors a demonstratin of one of his artillery pieces, presumably to assert the strength of the garrison, he invited the Pawnees to look around inside the fort.

     After most of the Indians had entered the post Pelzer took their chief to see Gilpin's adjutant, Henry L. Routt who had been left at Fort Mann by his commander due to illness and was at this time very weak and in sick quarters. The pair tried to communicate with signs for a while and then the Indian showed Routt letters he had which claimed that he was friendly towards the whites.

     Perhaps because he felt uneasy with 65 armed Pawnees milling around in the courtyard or possibly his suspicions were aroused by Pelzer who was surprised at the boldness of the Indians, but Routt doubted the sincerity of the Indian. He advised Pelzer to hold them all prisoners until such time as Lieutenant Colonel Gilpin could return to the post. On reflection Routt later worte "This advice, however, I should not have given, if I had known he had smoked the pipe of peace with them". [19]

     A feeble and abortive attempt was made by the volunteers to disarm the Indians who made a sudden rush for the gates. Pelzer at this point gave an order to fire which caused still further chaos. Captain Koscialowski immediately told his men, Company E, not to load or follow Pelzer's orders seeing no reason why a peaceful meeting should turn into a battle.

     In the fight from the post two Indians were killed in the courtyard and another two shot dead when they were found sheltering in Captain Pelzers quarters.

     Others were shot while being pursued out on to the plain.

     Nine Indians died in the incident and two wounded were taken prisoner although many more wounded were carried away by the fleeing Indians. [20]

     One of these captive Pawnees was held in chains until the middle of the following year, before he was released and sent back to his tribe with an apology for the November treachery.

     The actions of Pelzer and Routt created ill feeling among the officers and men at the post, and the refusal of the non-German unit to participate in the killings split the garrison into two national camps. The resentment for the two officers was made public by the publication in St. Louis newspapers of letters from Koscialowski and Captain Caleb S. Tuttle also of Company E in which they accused Pelzer of cowardice and lay the blame for treachery squarely on his shoulders.

     Although retaliations did not come from the Indians by way of a direct attack the mission of Gilpin's force suffered a set-back and distrust of whites became embedded deeper in the Pawnees.

     By the beginning of December the miserable little headquarters had had only one death, a private belonging to the Artillery, but some of the animals had died for want of food and it was the general opinion that all the stock would be dead before spring.

     Morale if it had ever existed among the volunteers, was now very low. All military notions had disappeared by this time at the establishment. Officers were abused and insubordinations were a daily occurrance, all of which went unpunished, Pelzer being incapable of maintaining disci;pline and preoccupying himself with keeping his own German-American war kindled. In a letter written by Routt, dated 6 December he groans "Fort Mann is certainly the most desolate and uninteresting place upon the face of the earth". [21]

     Towards the end of December an amusing episode occurred to brighten Routts' winter. One of the privates had drawn attention to himself by trying to desert and an investigation into the reason for the attempt disclosed an amazing fact: Private Bill Newcomb, Company D Missouri Volunteers was pregnant.

     Back at Leavenworth in September, First Lieutenant Amandus Schnabel had made his own private arrangements for a long campaign on the plains. He had induced a young woman named Caroline Newcomb to dress in men's clothing and enlist as a private in his company, under the name Bill Newcomb. Many of the men within the unit must have been aware of the affair, although the pair went undetected for nearly four months before any officers were made aware of what was happening. The facts only came to light after "Bill" had tried to get back to the states due to her condition.

     The following year Schanabel was discharged from the service for his part in the affair, Caroline Newcomb having already disappeared by this time joining a caravan and probably going back to St. Louis. [22]

     With the exception of Lieutenant Schnabel there does not appear to have been anybody stationed at Fort Mann during the winter of 1847-48 who did not loathe the palce. Regular Indian scares and insufficient rations were accepted facts of life at frontier posts of this period but the continual feuding between the German and American units reached a point where hunting parties from the post out looking for fresh meat, took to shooting at one another.

     One soldier was shot and killed on such an expedition. Private Auguste Falbush being taken to St. Louis and charged with his murder some months later.

     To ease the situation Gilpin moved the English speaking infantry company up the Arkansas River to Big Timber to join his cavalry, who were preparing for a spring campaign against the Apaches and Comanches.

     Before the commander could embark on this campaign however, more rumblers of trouble reached him from Fort Mann. A petition signed by 112 enlisted men at the post was sent to him. The paper asked for the removal of Captain Pelzer as commander of the post and charged him with misuse of government property, heavy drinking and an inability to maintain order.

     The embarrassment caused to Gilpin by the petition was lasting. This petition along with letters and articles published in the newspapers of the time regarding his force, caused the War Department to look into the organisation of the Indian Battalion. It was not until June 1848, however, that Colonel John Garland undertook an investigation of the command on behalf of the government, far to late for any recommendations he might have made to have been effective.

     While waiting for the Inspection Gilpin went Indian hunting. He took his three companies over Raton Pass on 10 March and down to the settlements at El Moro. After fitting out with provisions and transportation, the command scoured the country east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains along the Canadian River. Here during March and April, he played hide and seek with the Apaches who remained as elusive as ever. No engagements occurred but he did succeed in scattering the tribes into smaller and less agressive bands for the summer. [23]

     Gilpin finally returned to Fort Mann on 30 May where he found Arapahoes, Kiowas and Cheyennes waiting for him and wanting to negotiate a peace treaty. Whether this was a direct result of his pursuit of the Comanches and Apaches or a genuine desire to understand and live with the whites is a mater of conjecture. But he did find them camped along the Arkansas and they were friendly.

     There was little Gilpin could do, however. He had to explain that he did not have authority to negotiate and make settlements on his government's behalf, but he would notify his chiefs of their wish. Hearing this the Indians moved on to their summer hunts and to wait for somebody with authority among the whites who could speak with them.

     Settling down to more domestic matters Gilpin found his headquarters in a shambles. Captain Pelzer was still in command although nobody at the post seemed to notice and the other officers were also making very little impression on the men, everybody doing very much as they pleased.

     One of the few men who had retained a sense of responsibility throughout the winter was Lieutenant E. Colston. He had been assigned duties as Acting Assistant Quartermaster at Fort Mann by Gilpin in October 1847 at the start of his tour of duty, but even he became disgruntled and with some justificatin wrote to Washington in June complaining that he had not received any pay during his service at the post. [24]

     By the time Colonel Garland appeared for his inspection, Gilpin had the establishment in a sort of order. Captain Pelzer among others was under arrest and discipline had returned. Garland interviewed most of the people involved in the scandal and troubles at the post, but because of Pelzer's volunteer status he accepted the captain's resignation along with those of four lieutenants. At the same time several privates were dishonourably discharged from the battalion.

     Garland's final report to his superiors lay little blame on Gilpin for the state of affairs at Fort Mann. He reproted the real culprit to be the isolation of the post which had left Gilpin unaware of conditions prevailing among the officers and men. He also criticised the method of selecting officers among volunteer companies of the time. This referred to officers being appointed by a voting system within a company, which led to men of no military experience assuming a command based purely on their popularity among their companions.

     For the second time in a year Fort Mann was deserted and there is little evidence that it was ever used again by the military. Gradually the Indians became bolder after the withdrawal of troops and the area returned to what it had been the year before. Much of what Gilpin set out to do was not accomplished until his last two months on the plains. Up to that point he only proved that large bodies of soldiers slowed down by supply trains and sheer numbers were no match for nomads who could break camp and be gone from an area in a matter of hours. The Indians' home was on the plains and they became part of them.

Author's Note
     Many references to Fort Mann in books and periodicals derive from the same sources and in my opinion often quote two main errors relating to the post's history.

     First, it is frequently written that Fort Mann was abandoned in 1850 when Fort Atkinson was established, giving the impression that Mann was garrisoned up to this date. I am inclined to believe that it was abandoned permanently in 1848 after Gilpin's return to Fort Leavenworth.

     The other point is the positions and naming of Forts Mann and Atkinson. It is on record that in August 1850 Colonel Edwin V. Sumner encamped near the site of Fort Mann and established Camp Mackay which was eventually renamed Fort Atkinson in June 1851. Fort Mann, at the time of Sumner's no longer existed and the assumption in some cases that Mann, Mackay and Atkinson were the same establishment which was re-named at various times is not correct.

     Fort Mann was, at best, a half-hearted little fortification built mainly of timber with some adobe extensions which fell into ruin in a short time. Atkinson however was built of adobe and became a thriving military establishment the remains of which were still visible up to recent times. [25] Possibly the error arose because of Atkinson's grander role in history which overshodowed the original depot. To add further to the confusion, official names were not always used on the plains, local names being substituted for them. The name Mackay [26] or Maky as it was sometimes called lingered for a while after the name was changed to Atkinson. Fort Atkinson was, in turn known to the troops stationed there at Fort Sod, or Sodom, referring to its building material. Possibly therefore when a new post was erected in the vicinity of Fort Mann there is good reason to presume that the name of the original abandoned post was transferred by plainsmen, soldiers, etc. to the new.
"Source for this article"
Used With Permission of the Author:
Copyright by; R. A. White

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