Sand Bag Citadels on the Plains
Redoubts On the Fort Dodge – Camp Supply Trail
The military road from Fort Dodge, Kansas, to Camp Supply, Indian Territory, coursed its way through perilous country in the early 1870s. To protect the road and its travelers, two,small earthen and sandbag redoubts were built by the U.S. Army beside the trail. The little garrisons were sixteen miles apart on either side of the Cimarron River in Kansas. Small contingents of soldiers built the crude mud forts and manned the outposts. Their construction was prompted by the harassment of military traffic along the trail by Cheyenne and Kiowa warriors in 1869 and 1870. Freight wagons and mail coaches rolled over the rutted prairie stopping at the posts under the watchful eye of the Army. The plains citadels stood as guard posts in place of more common way stations that served the less strategic and dangerous stretches of trails in more civilized regions.
Army scouts blazed a trail south during the 1868 winter campaign against the Southern Plains tribes. In the winter of 1869, scout Ben Clark selected a more direct route east of the original trail and shaved off about twenty miles in the process. The road left Fort Dodge on the north side of the Arkansas River crossing. Thirteen miles south of Dodge flowed Mulberry Creek. Here water could be found in deep holes even in drought time. Grazing for mules, horses, and oxen was good. Across fourteen more miles of open prairie was the first campground on a small plateau above Bluff Creek. Fourteen miles further, in the middle of the plain of Bear Creek Valley sat the first sign of the military’s presence, Bear Creek Redoubt. The redoubt was forty-one miles south of Fort Dodge and situated on the east bank of the meager, meandering Bear Creek as it flowed south through the valley from the high divide overlooking the Cimarron. Though its water was not of good quality, there was good grazing and enough wood for traveler’s campfires.
To the south, the Cimarron River was flanked on the north and south by sand hills. The crossing point was 200 feet wide with a depth of but a few inches with underlying areas of quicksand. The broad, sandy bottom swelled with floods that could hold up travelers on either bank for several days until the waters subsided. A mile or so from the south bank was the Cimarron Redoubt, sixteen miles below the Bear Creek stop.
The most difficult leg of the journey lay ahead with the crossing into Indian Territory. Three miles south of the outpost was the boundary line between Kansas and the Indian Territory. The final thirty-eight miles to Camp Supply was through the unsettled country of the Cherokee Outlet. As part of the Outlet, the federal government allowed no private road ranches or way stations along this stretch of the trail. There were numerous small streams to cross with good campgrounds along the well-marked trail. The route crossed ravines and sandy creek bottoms. The third day’s stop was usually along Buffalo Creek. The next day brought the climb up the watershed divide and over a saddle known as Devil’s Gap and then on down into the Beaver River valley where lay the military post of Camp Supply. The sprawling military post was the end of the line for freight in the early 1870s.
Bear Creek Redoubt
The two fortifications were similar in construction. They measured about fifty feet square with banked walls of earth thrown up from a ditch dug on the exterior and topped by sandbags. At opposite corners were constructed bastions to protect the flanks. Earthen-roofed, picket log huts were constructed on the interior for the dubious comfort of men and animals.
The first redoubt constructed was on the upper branch of Bear Creek at a favorite campsite just off of the trail. Captain George Raulston established a temporary post known as Bear Creek Mail Station in January 1870. Captain Joseph Rife, Sixth Infantry, left Supply in February to help finish the construction of the Bear Creek post. One officer and twenty-five men were reportedly on duty with the detachment being relieved each month. More likely, at least ten enlisted men and an NCO were in garrison unless an increase in strength was necessary because of Indian troubles or increased trail traffic.
Captain Richard T. Jacobs, described the north redoubt in 1871.
“The redoubt which we built was about fifty feet square. The interior wall was built of burlap bags, filled with earth. Loose earth was filled against this wall on the outside, sloping down to a trench which was about fifteen feet wide. The wall or embankment was about ten feet thick at the base. Bastions were built at diagonally opposite corners. There was a stable for the mules on the inside of the enclosure, built against the wall on the western side. On the eastern side there was a living room and kitchen for the men. Both of these structures were of “hackall” or stockade, the earthen embankment forming one wall of each. The roofs were covered with earth and were a foot or two lower than the walls, so that they could be occupied for defensive purposes in case of an attack. A well was dug on a high creek bank, or second bottom, (on) the outside of the enclosure, near the gate, which was at the northeast corner.”
One of the earliest descriptions of the Bear Creek redoubt was left by “Cricket” Cooper whose father, Lieutenant Charles Cooper, 10th Cavalry, was enroute to his new post at Camp Supply with wife and daughter.
“The second night brought us to a camp where one company of the Sixth Infantry was stationed. A circle ten feet high had been built from bags of sand; it had a narrow opening barely large enough to permit a man to pass in and out. An armed sentinel always stood guard, day or night, at this entrance. Inside the encampment, which was called a redoubt, tents were pitched for the soldiers stationed there under the command of nonc ommissioned officers. Though a whole company of soldiers was at hand in addition to our own armed escort, my mother was very nervous. The mere fact that it was considered necessary to keep such a large force at this point made her the more certain that there was grave danger here and that the hidden Indians might dash upon our tent before the men could assemble outside the redoubt to protect us. Our tent had been pitched only fifty feet from the fortress, but my mother sat outside the opening of tent and insisted that she could not sleep. At last she begged, “If I could have the tent inside the redoubt I know I could sleep soundly.” It was an unusual situation. Officer’s families were never quartered amidst enlisted men, but precedent and official regulations were mere words to her at that time. Her plea reached the ears of an old Irish sergeant. He stepped up, saluting my father, and said, “Liftenant, shure, if the lady wants to stay in the redoubt, we’ll put her there.” That settled it. The tent was taken down and set up inside the fortress of sandbags.”
One of the scourges of Indian Territory was the illicit liquor trade carried on from “whiskey ranches” and by Indian traders. In an effort to curtail the flow of the bootleg liquor traffic to the Indians, an order was given to stop all government and private wagons and search for the contraband. No one without a pass from the commanders of either Fort Dodge or Fort Hays was to be allowed to enter the Indian Territory. At one point, the outpost’s garrison was considered unfit to carry these orders out as it was only a few feet from a “ranch” where horse thieves and whiskey were located. The problem was eventually solved by removal of the bad element.
Life at the little frontier outposts was sometimes perilous. Indian raiders began to increase their depredations along the trail in the late spring of 1870. A party of forty to fifty Kiowa warriors that had been watching the progress of a supply train was discouraged from attacking it near the Cimarron outpost by the arrival of a cavalry patrol. The warriors rode north to the Bear Creek outpost. The under-strength post was guarded by a sergeant and four privates of the Third Infantry. After accepting a handout of food, all but seven mounted and rode away. The sergeant had two men guard the weapons in a building and the other two were to watch the stable. Warriors entered the building and shot both soldiers dead. Rushing to investigate with only an axe in his hand, the sergeant was wounded seven times with arrows. The two at the stable were then left to confront the attackers with only pitchforks. Only the timely arrival of another cavalry patrol averted a massacre. In early May 1872, eight Indians swooped down on a herd of mules and cavalry horses grazing near the Bear Creek site and ran off one hundred twenty-five head. As late as June 24, 1874, a detachment of the Sixth Cavalry was fired on by hostiles at the Bear Creek Station.
Colonel Davidson, 10th Cavalry, commanding Camp Supply in 1871, determined that there was a need for more protection for the mail and supply route. Captain John Page, 3rd Infantry, was ordered to proceed with Company F on February 12, 1871, to build a redoubt near the Cimarron River thirty-eight miles north of Camp Supply. A week later, Captain Robert Hughes completed the work with two companies. The initial construction consisted of Sibley tents on the interior and a sod breastworks supporting grain sacks filled with dirt.
The official 1872 map of the region drawn by Lieutenant Hunnius Ruffner depicted the outpost in the bend of a creek, later dubbed Redoubt Creek or Deep Hole, just west of the Fort Dodge – Camp Supply road. Notes on the map indicated that although the water was good, grazing was poor and there was no wood for fires in the immediate vicinity. At the crossing, the Cimarron River was noted as being 200 feet wide with a depth of but a few inches. It had a quicksand crossing with bad water, no wood and poor grazing. An additional duty for soldiers was to aid wagons through five miles of sandy bottom on the Cimarron.
On April 19, 1871, Sergeant Keane, 3rd Infantry, was in charge of the “Cimarron Ranche.” He wanted candles for the purpose of hoisting a lantern up the flagstaff to signal when the mail had been delayed. It is assumed that the “ranche” was also the redoubt. There may have been a mail station closer to the Cimarron River.
Colonel Davidson reported in May 1872 that the fortified mail stations were completed and the roads established. One night in June 1872, several Kiowa warriors crept up to the west side of the Cimarron Redoubt under the protecting banks of the creek. As they crawled up the parapet wall they were halted by the sentry walking his beat atop the wall. Further incidents required the installation of a little 12 pound mountain howitzer and an increase in the garrison strength. The addition of sentry dogs brought a reaction by the Indians who spread poisoned meat around the posts. As late as March 1875, twelve mules were stolen at Cimarron Redoubt and then warriors struck again a few weeks later.
On July 19, 1872, Lieutenant J.H. Gageby, 3rd Infantry, penned a report of his inspection trip of the Cimarron Redoubt to Lieutenant E.A. Belger, Camp Supply’s Post Adjutant. He arrived at the redoubt on the 10th and found that the structure had deteriorated due to recent rains. His men immediately began repairs with their limited means. The grain sacks containing dirt forming the walls on the interior parapet and banquette-tread were rotten. These were replaced with new sacks. A new covering of logs and dirt were put on the stables.
In late December, the Camp Supply adjutant received a report from the Cimarron Redoubt requesting a light wagon and four mules for the purpose of hauling ice cut out of the river and storing it for later use. The “ice house” was located on the extreme west bank and some fifteen feet above the “pond” or redoubt creek with the approach almost perpendicular. He did not think it practicable to use a block and tackle to haul the ice up the bank. This may indicate that a building was placed on the west side of the redoubt. It probably has since eroded into the creek. The “pond” may mean that the bend in the creek was once a pond or slough created by a beaver dam upstream.
On the same day another request was made by Lieutenant Cooke, 3rd Infantry. He wanted a small sized kitchen stove for the officer’s quarters. He was annoyed at having to use the same stove as the enlisted men. If a stove could be provided, then one of the two box stoves for heating the officer’s quarters could be returned to Supply. He also wanted two tables for use in the kitchen and one for a dining table. He was using a Quarter Master Department bunk for a dining table.
January 1873, Lieutenant Fayette Roe, 3rd Infantry, was assigned to duty at the Cimarron Redoubt along with one non commissioned officer and ten privates. His wife, in defiance of protocol, joined him at the outpost. Contractors were passing large ox trains of grain for animals at Supply. This increased the opportunity to smuggle in quantities of illegal liquor hidden in grain sacks. Colonel Davidson wanted an officer in attendance to check the sacks. The ox trains carrying oats and corn for the Quartermaster Department stopped for the night at the redoubt. The officer was present for the inspection as the sergeant would probe each sack with a steel rod.
She remarked in her correspondence that it was also a mail station where the teams of mules were kept for the mail wagon that ran between the two posts. U.S. Army Circular No. 24, May 18, 1871, provided a timetable for the twice-weekly arrival and departure of the mail from Fort Dodge and Camp Supply.
Mrs. Lieutenant Roe left a description of the redoubt by stating,
“The redoubt is made of gunny sacks filled with sand, and is built on the principle of a permanent fortification in miniature, with bastions, flanks, curtains, and ditch, and has two pieces of artillery. The parapet is about ten feet high, upon the top of which a sentry walks all the time.”
On the interior, the soldier’s quarters were along one side of the sand bag walls. On the side opposite the officer’s quarters was the small stable. The lieutenant’s quarters was in one corner and consisted of two small rooms separated by a vertical log wall. The floor was dirt, some of which had slumped into the rooms on the side nearest the outside wall. The roof cover was condemned canvas.
Mrs. Roe endured a twenty-four hour long January “Norther” of howling wind, snow, and biting cold. The sentry walking his beat along the parapet had been ordered off. The earthworks broke the wind but snow drifted in nevertheless. The morning after found enough snow inside her quarters that she had to wait in the soldier’s orderly room while several men cleared her room of snow and lit the two little stoves. Scraps of blanket and anything else that could be located were used as chinking between the logs. The floor was covered with clean grain sacks stretched tight and held in place by wood pegs driven into the earth. At the small window were hung red cloth curtains. Army blankets covered the camp bed. Outside the door was pitched a wall tent that served as a supply room and a screen from the rest of the enclosure. As the storm wore on, the supply of wood inside the post was depleted. A soldier was sent out to get more wood with a rope wound around his waist and secured to the gate post so that he would not become disoriented and wander away into the storm.
Captain William Penrose, 3rd Infantry, reported an inspection trip to the redoubt on October 1, 1873. He found it in a deteriorated condition as most of the bags were so rotten as to not hold dirt. It was thought that the coming fall rains would wash away the parapet. There were two picket buildings on the interior. One was used as a kitchen and mess room with a dirt roof that was settling. The dirt floor was several inches lower than outside which caused water to pool inside from the interior runoff of the redoubt. The other structure was a sleeping quarters with a canvas roof that was full of holes from a recent hailstorm. Timber for replacement and chinking was considered too far away for the men to get, owing to their numbers. The barn for the public animals was considered too small and in need of repairs. Prairie hay had been stacked and paulins placed over them.
The fortified outposts probably remained in use through the close of the Red River War of 1874-1875. That war proved to be the final, full-scale conflict between Indians and the Army on the Southern Plains. With the cessation of hostilities, settlers and ranchmen began to move into the Kansas country. The run-down redoubts came to be used for more domestic pursuits as stores and homesteads. One enterprising civilian, Lon McCoy, moved into the abandoned Cimarron post and maintained a way station for stagecoaches and other travelers. In the old officer’s quarters, he moved in a counter, shelves, table and chairs to dispense canned goods and other supplies.
Today, low, rounded, grass and weed-covered mounds provide testimony to years of erosion from wind, water, and man’s activities. Both sites were built next to small streams that have cut into the earthen remains of the redoubts causing portions of the west sides to be washed away. The ever-present winds of the region have worn down the mounds. Agricultural activities and the trampling of cattle have further added to the destruction. Artifact hunters have scoured the sites and the surrounding area in hopes of finding tangible evidence of the military’s occupation.
The sites containing the two redoubts were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Both properties are on private land and should not be entered without permission.
Carriker, Robert. Fort Supply, Indian Territory: Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
Dodge City Globe, March 26, 1937. Newspaper Collection, Fort Supply Historic Site.
Fisher, Barbara. Forrestine Cooper Hooker’s Notes and Memoirs on Army Life in the West, 1871-1876. Master’s Thesis, University of Arizona, 1963.
Haywood, C. Robert. Trails South, The Wagon-Road Economy in the Dodge City-Panhandle Region. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.
National Archives, Cartographics and Architectural Branch. Washington, D.C.
“Map of Roads From Fort Dodge Kan. To Camp Supply, Ind. Ter. , August 1872.”
“Military Map of the Indian Territory, Jan. 1875”.
National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Letters Received, Camp Supply
Post Returns, Camp Supply
Roe, Francis. Letters from an Army Officer’s Wife. Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1981.
Shrewder, Dorothy and Melville Harper, ed. Notes on Early Clark County, Kansas by the Clark County Chapter of the Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. I, No. 1. July 1939 – August 1940. p. 13-16.
University of Oklahoma, Western History Collection
Walter Campbell Collection