Fort Hays, an important frontier outpost of the United States Army located in Hays,
1865 and 1889, was the home of several well-known Indian wars regiments
including the Seventh U.S. Cavalry, the Fifth U.S. Infantry, and the Tenth U.S. Cavalry,
whose black troopers were better known as buffalo soldiers. The fort was originally located
about five miles south of present day Walker, Kansas.
At first called Fort Fletcher (after Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri), it became operational on October 11, 1865. The army garrisoned the fort with the "Galvanized Yankees" of Companies F and G, 1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry under the command of Lt. Col. William Tamblyn, supplemented by detachments of the 13th Missouri Cavalry, to protect the stage and freight wagons of the Butterfield Overland Despatch traveling along the Smoky Hill Trail to Denver. Two additional companies of Tamblyn's command and small detachments of the 13th Missouri Cavalry were stationed along the line farther west, Company A at Monument Station 100 miles from Fort Fletcher, and Company I at Pond's Creek Station, 50 miles beyond that.
Fort Fletcher's troops spent much of their time away from their post, guarding stage stations and escorting travelers. Fort Fletcher was closed in May 1866. There are several reasons why it was closed. The army was shorthanded, needed funds to maintain the post were unavailable, and Indians temporarily had forced the stageline from the route. This abandonment was not permanent, however, and Fort Fletcher was reestablished in October. Soon after its reoccupation the fort's name was changed. The Fort received the name "Fort Hays" from Civil War general Alexander Hays, who had been killed in 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness.
The troops at Fort Hays continued to aid the railroad crews, but the post's location proved to be unsatisfactory for two reasons: the railroad was following a route to the north of the old trail and the post was located in a floodplain that could be destructive. General Winfield Scott Hancock, made the decision to move the post nearer the railroad while visiting there in early 1867. He determined that the post could better serve the railroad if it were moved to a site near where the railroad crossed Big Creek. The new and final location of Fort Hays would be located just south of present day Hays, Kansas. The new Fort Hays site was officially occupied on June 23, 1867.
The new fort, like other Plains forts, was not a true fortification but appeared to be more like a frontier settlement. There was no wall around the post, and the only defensive structure was a blockhouse. The post was designed as a base for supplies and troops who could be dispatched into the field to protect vulnerable people and places when Indian resistance appeared.
Fort Hays was abandoned on November 8, 1889. A decade later, Congress transferred the original land to the State of Kansas to be used for a branch of the state agricultural college. Fort Hays State University, the only state university in the western half of Kansas, evolved from this.
The Kansas Historical Society maintains several buildings as a museum known as the Fort Hays State Historic Site. Four of the original buildings can be visited: the 1867 stone blockhouse, 1872 stone guardhouse, and two of the frame officers' quarters, which have been outfitted with period furnishings.
Visitors Center - Exhibits in the Visitor Center detail the conflict between Plains Indians and the "new" Americans that created the need for frontier forts. Explore Plains Indian objects, compare weapons used by the U.S. Army and the native people, handle items made from bison, and see the seven-minute Clash of Cultures video. A touch-screen panel allows you to tour the site as it would have been during the life of the fort.
Fort Hays was a place where the traditions and survival of the Plains Indians collided with the goals and dreams of a quickly growing nation.
There is an often reported paranormal sighting known around Fort Hays. Known commonly as the 'Blue Light Lady,' the ghost is allegedly the spirit of Elizabeth Polly, who was a nurse during the time Fort Hays was an operational military fort. The sightings of a blue light are centered around Polly's favorite spot on Sentinel Hill, which was also where she asked to be buried.
Sentinel Hill has a burial marker on top of it, but reports are mixed as to whether or not she is actually buried there. Some contend that the grave found at the base of the hill was not Polly, but rather a Mexican cattleman, due to the marker's Spanish inscription. In fact the "Lonely Grave," as it is called, may not be an actual burial site at all as no remains were found in attempts to fulfill Miss Polly's wishes by moving her to the top of the hill. This is also refuted because the actual Sentinel Hill is completely made of bedrock, therefore making it a highly unlikely burial ground.
Fort Hays was the subject of a number of books, television shows, and movies, including Josh Edwards' "Searcher - Fort Hays Bustout" and Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves."
Directions: Four miles south of Hays I-70 exit 157 on Highway 183 Alternate
9 am - 5 pm Tuesday - Saturday
Fort Hays Historic Site
1472 Hwy 183 Alt