Much like the city of Lawrence, Fort Scott, Kansas, is an old frontier military town that played a significant role during the turbulent “Bleeding Kansas” era. From the diverse Downtown Historic District to a large 1840s military fort, Fort Scott is still on a crossroads (U.S. Route 69) that connects Kansas City to other cities such as Joplin, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. With less than 9,000 total population, the town has a surprising large downtown with Victorian-era buildings and outdoor activities. In addition to sites in the city limits, several historic sites within a short distance tie into the pre-Civil War conflict.
First, A Little History of Bleeding Kansas and the Fort Scott Area
Few events helped shaped Kansas than the Civil War, with the moniker Bleeding Kansas symbolizing the many border war battles that happened between 1854 and 1961 between anti-slavery Free-State Kansas and Pro-Slavery state Missouri. With less than ten miles between Katy Missouri and the town of Fort Scott, the area was a hotbed of violent confrontations.
Understanding this background and how it shaped the growth and development of Kansas, and its need to remain a free state despite being somewhat isolated from other free states by the slave state of Missouri, American Indian territory, and Texas.
Just thirty miles North of Fort Scott lies the Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site, where Missouri border ruffians led a particularly deadly trade outside the village of Trading Post. Eleven free-state men were captured, marched into a ravine, and shot. Five were killed, an additional five were seriously injured, and one escaped unharmed. Soon afterward, John Brown built a fortified cabin just south of the Ravine and later a stone house was built near the site. You can drive through the site today, park, and look at the ravine and the area.
Be aware that this site does get flooded during heavy rains and can be tricky to find. It is a beautiful, peaceful setting in its own right, set back to nature.
Near the site is the Trading Museum Post, located in the oldest existing settlement in Kansas that is now a ghost town. Trading Post, Kansas, has existed since 1825. Many of the men in the Maria des Cygnes Massacre were taken from this site. The area contains the massacre site, the Civil War Battle of Mine Creek, and this museum devoted to mid-19th-century history. The Trading Post Museum is a great museum to stop and learn more about Kansas history and Bleeding Kansas.
The museum is open April 1 through November 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturdays. Directly next to the museum is the old Trading Post Cemetery.
The Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site is 2.5 miles southwest of Pleasanton, Kansas, and the old Trading Post Museum. This site commemorates the Civil War’s Battle of Mine Creek, the only Civil War battle held in Kansas. On October 25, 1864, approximately 2,800 Union troops attacked and defeated about 8,000 Confederates along the banks of Mine Creek. While it wasn’t a traditional Bleeding Kansas battle site, it was the inevitable battle that came about as a result of earlier skirmishes.
Inside Fort Scott, Kansas
Few historic sites offer as many intact structures as Fort Scott National Historic Site near downtown. Tensions over slavery and the turmoil of Bleeding Kansas made Fort Scott a critical military stronghold in the area. The 17-acre park features 20 military structures dating to 1842. The buildings were also temporarily used as part of the town, such as two structures being used as hotels. As part of Bleeding Kansas history, one of the officer’s buildings was used as the Free State Hotel. Located directly across the parade ground was a former infantry barracks used as the Pro-Slavery Hotel. The battles during Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War once again thrust the Fort into use by the Army and the hotels were soon disbanded.
Here’s a video from the National Parks Service that provides detailed information about Fort Scott’s role in Bleeding Kansas.
Bleeding Kansas Video Courtesy of National Parks Service
Interpretive exhibits, period furnishings, and living history programs are available. Self-guided tours are available daily. You can also walk through the restored five acres of tallgrass prairie.
Directly Next to Fort Scott
The downtown Fort Scott district has charming buildings that date back to the founding era of the Fort, where the area was the last stop before entering the countries frontier. Victorian-era buildings can still be seen as you drive through the area with its myriad of antique shops, restaurants, and small business establishments. You can walk from the parking lot of Fort Scott to the downtown space, so there isn’t as big a need to go and find parking spaces.
Located on the eastern outskirts of Fort Scott is one of three national military cemeteries in Kansas. In 1861, The U.S. Army used part of the old Presbyterian Church graveyard. Later the following year, the cemetery and an adjoining tract of land were designated as the Fort Scott National Cemetery. At the close of the Civil War, soldiers buried in the vicinity were re-interred at this cemetery. In addition, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, stationed at Fort Scott during the Civil War, has a granite monument memorial in the cemetery. Also, the Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1993, and a memorial for combat infantryman was erected in 2003.
2108 South Horton, Fort Scott, Kansas 66701
The Gordon Parks Museum honors the life and work of Gordon Parks, internationally known photographer, filmmaker, writer, and musician. It works to use his life story to teach about artistic creativity, cultural awareness, and the role of diversity in our lives.
231 E Wall St, Fort Scott, KS 66701
The Fort Scott Trolley Tour is a 50-minute narrated tour of Historic Fort Scott, Kansas, est. in 1842. The tour includes driving by/through national landmarks Fort Scott National Historic Site National Park, National Cemetery No. 1; historic mansions and buildings circa 1880’s with amazingly detailed architecture; Gunn Park 155-acre beautiful park with 7 stone shelter houses, 2 lakes, the Marmaton River, trails and more; Gordon Parks Museum; and the Downtown Historic District.
1010 Park Ave, Fort Scott, KS 66701
Need a place to stop and rest? Gunn Park has two lakes that allow you to stop and walk around. In addition, there are 6.5 miles of single track and mountain bike trails along the Marmaton River. The Bleeding Kansas hiking trail is a 2.8-mile trail that leads out of Gunn Park to the edge of the Marmaton River.