No photographs have ever been found of Fort Phil Kearny. Dee Brown believes that
Smithsonian photographer, Ridgway Glover, whose equipment was inoperable, may have gotten
it fixed, taken photos, and sent them back to the Philadephia Enquirer. But years of
search by Brown, and later by Smithsonian photo archivist, Paula Fleming, have
turned up nothing. Glover was killed by Indians on September 15, 1866).
Colonel Henry B. Carrington reached Piney Creek on the Bozeman
Trail the 13th of July, 1866. At Crazy Woman's Fork, he had reported that it was 112
degrees in the shade. After a reconnaissance on Goose Creek and Tongue River, it was
decided to build the post on a plateau between the forks of Little Piney Creek.
The Fort was build of pine logs, cut and hauled from the
foothills of the Big Horns, about seven miles west. A train of up to 90 wagons was
employed to haul logs from the Pinery (near where Story, Wyoming is today).
Carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, harness makers and other workmen came as civilian
employees. Mowing machines, plows and garden tools were introduced into the virgin
wilderness. Four blockhouses were built to protect the woodchoppers and teamsters
employed. The first 6 months after the posts was established there were 154 persons
killed by the Indians, and about 700 head of cattle, mules and horses captured.
The Fort was built 600 feet by 800 feet, enclosed with a stockade
of heavy logs placed three feet in the ground and standing eight feet high.
Machinery from the two sawmills was brought with the expedition and the mills were set up
on Little Piney Creek and put into operation at once. Brick and shingle machines
were included. The square spikes to nail the logs were about 5" long.
Firing notches cut along the stockade banquet at every fifth log, with blockhouses or
gun-bastions built on two opposite corners. There were gates on all sides.
Five guard stands provided 24 hour surveillance of the grounds both inside and outside the
ENLISTED MAN'S QUARTERS: Better than Nothing
Some of the first structures built, the first four enlisted-men's
barracks were 24x84 foot, green-log, panel constructed buildings with dirt roofs and
floors. Each barracks was expected to house about 87 men. The men lived in an open bay
with cast-iron stoves providing heat. The roofs leaked in the rain, providing homes
for snakes, mice, and all sorts of critters. The green-log building material shrank
as it dried, leaving gapes in the walls, and the dirt floors turned to mud. The
enlisted man was poorly paid, poorly fed, and poorly housed. But it was better than
nothing, if only slightly.
CAVALRYMAN'S QUARTERS: Few and Far Between
It is a false perception that the frontier posts of the American
West were garrisoned with large troops of cavalry. Actually, a post's usual
population was largely infantry with a few cavalry for support, reconnaissance, escort, or
mail delivery. It was not until November 2, 1866 that any cavalry were stationed at
the post. They were finally housed in a large, new 100 x 25 foot log panel
constructed barracks with a shingle roof. Nearby was a 250 x 32 foot board and
batten stables with corral, saddler's shop, and a blacksmith. Unfortunately, of
those troops available on December 21, 1866 all were killed in the Fetterman Fight,
leaving their quarters empty.
Officers row was a group of seven to ten non-described
wooden structures providing housing for officers and their families, and included
surgeons, chaplains, and quartermasters. They were probably a combination lumber,
log, canvas, and dirt construction with one room, seldom larger than 24 x 30 feet, and
were the last living quarters built at the fort. Officers and their families were
considered of a higher social order than the enlisted men and were expected to remain
aloof except during duty, and never socialize. Officers social events included
dances, picnics, teas, rides, and more.
On moving from the first officers' quarters, made up of two
A-tents, into her log home Frances Grummond writes, "The house was made
of pine logs, recently felled and not quite dry, and small pine poles were covered with
clay for the roof. Beneath were three--yes, actually three--rooms. In my haste
to move...I tacked blankets around the bed space, ..Pieces of sheeting answered for window
shades and old newspapers covered the kitchen windows. The company taylor sewed
gunny sacks from which the corn had been hurriedly emptied and I soon had a carpet.
My residence seemed patatial."
THE BAND QUARTERS:
The 18th Infantry's 40 piece regimental band was housed in a 24 x
64 foot wooden constructed, dirt-roofed barracks. Besides sounding commands or
music to march by, members might be called on to act as messengers or medical orderlies in
combat. Band members also built Carrington's house, and served as clerks and supply
The members carried Spencer carbines though they seldom went into
combat. Following the December 6th, 1866 skirmish, Colonel Carrington transferred these
weapons to the cavalry. All the weapons were lost in the Fetterman Fight two weeks
later. The first death at the Fort was the Bandmaster, Master-Sergeant William
Here the commander issued his orders to Forts Phil Kearny, C.F.
Smith, and Reno. During its existence, the 25 x 50 foot, one-inch plank board
building was an office for Colonels Henry B. Carrington, Henry Wessells, and Jonathon
Smith. The building was also the communication center for flag signalmen receiving
and sending messages to Pilot Knob and other points. In 1867, Quartermaster
Captain George Dandy described the building as "needing torn down." Yet it
continued to function in a number of uses. One was as a school house, in which
Chaplain White taught classes for the 10 children of 17 families on post.
SUTLER'S STORE: A Social Club
Fort Phil Kearny's Sutler's store was established and built by
John Kinney in partnership with others, including famous frontiersman, Finn Burnett*.
The building was 24 x 64 feet and constructed in a civilian style with a shingled
roof with overlapping log corners. The store was operated under a concession
contract with the government. Exorbitant prices were charged for such items as
canned fruits and vegetables, seafood, weapons, clothing, tobacco, and beer, not available
from normal military supplies.
The store also became an area of socialization. Men would
meet to play cards, talk of their home and families, and listen to Jim Bridger tell of
trapping and fighting Indians.
*(Finn Burnett was also at Fort C.F. Smith, and the Rosebud Battle, and later worked with
Chief Washakie of the Shoshone, who gave him land for a house on the reservation.
His descendents, former Wyoming Governor and U.S. Senator, Millward Simpson, U.S.
Senator Alan K. Simpson, and historian and former state legislator, Peter K. Simpson,
PhD, became famous in their own right.)
THE GUARD HOUSE: Not just a jail
The 50 x 32 foot, shingled building was used primarily for
guard-mount. Soldiers were assigned on intervals of 2 hours on, 4 hours off, for 24 hours
a day. Margaret Carrington records accounts of Indians sneaking up and shooting
guards off the stand.
In August 1866, records indicate that 24 prisoners were being
held awaiting completion of the building. Their crime was desertion. Lessor
crimes might be punished by extra duty, wearing a ball and chain or a barrel with a sign
stating your offense, or even flogging.
An attempt to relieve the suffering was seldom successful at
either of its two hospitals. The original was a 24 x 84 foot structure similar to
the barracks. During its short service it sadly served as the morgue for Fetterman's
command. It also functioned as an officer's quarters and was home to Captain Powell during
his time at the post.
The second and primary hospital was built in 1867. It was
an L-shaped structure with panel construction and was 25 x 156 feet. The building
either replaced or was attached to the bakery, providing additional warmth and no doubt
soothing aromas. In addition to combat wounds the occupants of the hospital might be
suffering from dysentery, scurvy, or tuberculosis which records indicate were prevalent
due to poor diet and sanitation.
All military posts had laundress's, with some having poor
reputations as ladies-of-the-night. This was likely not the case at Fort Phil
Kearny. There were four to five laundresses at the fort, and all but one were
married to enlisted men. They and their husbands were housed in 10 x 24 foot
jack-pole built quarters with dirt roofs.
The laundress for Company H was a servant who came west with
Captain Ten Eyck. Her name was Susan Fitzgerald and she was affectingly known as
"Colored, or Black Susan". She was credited with an "excellent
ability to make sausage out of almost every kind of meat." But her enterprise
led to trouble. Capt. Ten Eyck was reprimanded from Colonel Carrington for allowing her to
sell pies, made from quartermaster stores, to the troops for 50 cents.
QUARTERMASTER AND COMMISSARY BUILDINGS:
Quartermaster supplies included weapons, clothing, saddles,
blankets, beds and more. Commissary supplies were maily foodstuffs. These
items were stored in five or more warehouses varying in size from 24 x 84 feet to 32 x 160
feet. The buildings were of board and batten construction with shingle roofs and one
contained a cellar. Some civilians bunked in the larger warehouse.
The quartermaster's office was 32 by 64 feet, with a shingle
roof. It straddles the stockade wall, between the upper and lower stockade areas,
and from here the quartermaster acted as liaison between civilian workers and the
military. Capt. Frederick Brown of the Fetterman Fight, was the first quartermaster.
POST COMMANDER'S QUARTERS:
An 1867 quartermaster inspection of Fort Phil Kearny
buildings indicated most in poor condition and many needing rebuilding. The post
commander's house, however, was an exception. It was 48 x 32 foot frame building
built of timber from a fire-dried tree stand, shingled, and with a 22 x 13 foot
attached kitchen, and brick chimneys. The house was built for Colonel Carrington by
the regimental band and initially housed the Colonel, his wife Margaret, their sons Jimmy
and Harry, and butler George. After Carrington left the post, it housed commanders
Henry Wessells and then, Jonathan Smith.
The magazine was 16 x 16 feet, with an 11-foot dirt covered
ceiling, and buried eight feet somewhere in the southwest quadrant of the parade
ground*. Colonel Carrington was constantly frustrated with his lack of munitions and
the shortage of ammunition at the post. When Carrington left the fort on December
22, 1866 to retrieve the bodies of Fetterman's command, he left secret instructions of
which Frances Grummond Carrington writes many years later, "If, in my absence,
Indians in overwhelming numbers attack, put the women and children in the magazine---a
last desperate struggle, destroy all together, rather than have any captured alive."
(*Note: The exact location of the magazine has not been found. Results of the 1999
archaeological study do not indicate evidence of a magazine in the southwest quadrant).
THE MAIN GATE:
largest gate was built of two 10-foot wide heavy plank gates separated by 10 feet of
stockade. Each large gate had a wicker walking entrance built into it for pedestrian
travel. The main gates were built at a "V" in the stockade line and at the
head of the small draw to provide a strong defensive position. The steepness of the
slope indicates that the gate was not designed for use by wagons and may not have been
used by any traffic. Instead, visitors and wagons came in through the quartermaster
corral south of the main gate.
THE FLAGPOLE: An awesome
sight. The First garrison flag to fly between the North Platte and Yellowstone
sight of a huge 20 by 36 foot American flag flying atop a 124 foot flagpole
came as a great relief to the traveler of the Bozeman Trail. It meant safe-haven,
temporarily free from the rigors of the trail and from Indian attack. It was built
of lodgepole pine, in two pieces, similar to a ship's mast, and pinned together by
civilian builder William Dailey. It was raised, to much fanfare, on October 31,
1866. The band played on an octagonal bandstand at its base and Colonel Carrington
addressed the post's residents, spoke of hardships and tribulations, and dedicated the new
fort after nearly four months of occupation.
ARCHAEOLOGY AT FORT PHIL
KEARNY THROUGH THE YEARS:
Documented archaeology began at Fort Phil Kearny in 1961 and has reoccurred in 1970, 1991,
and 1999. The initial work was done by Gene Galloway who salvaged artifacts during
the county road construction. In 1970-71 Dr. George Frison, with the help of Carl
Oslund, studied the site determining stockade, gate, southeast blockhouse and flagpole
About two decades later, Dr. Richard Fox, with assistants
and FPK/BTA volunteers, searched for and identified the southwest blockhouse,
Sutler's store, and post commander's residence. In 1999-2000, Dr. Tom Larsen's
studies gave an overall view of the upper stockade and its' diagonal blockhouses,
resulting in the partially reconstruction of the stockade in 2001.
Historic features and locations have been confirmed, various
construction techniques identified, and many personal artifacts have been recovered.
The archaeology has given us a better understanding of Fort Phil Kearny, given us some
understanding of the reliability of the historical record, and pointed us in new
directions--the lessons will continue with ongoing projects using new and innovative