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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Reichley: It all started here 86 years ago this week

  • Wow…two meaningful May 8 dates, and only 118 years apart. Wednesday's column told of the later event, the ending of The Big War, aka WW II, in Europe.
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  • Wow…two meaningful May 8 dates, and only 118 years apart. Wednesday's column told of the later event, the ending of The Big War, aka WW II, in Europe. The official end was May 8, 1945.
    Way back on May 8, 1827, an important date to Leavenworth history occurred. That would have been the founding of Cantonment Leavenworth, the tiny predecessor of today's 2nd oldest Army fort in all the land.
    The young country was only 50 years old then, and expanding rapidly to the west after two wars with Great Britain. People called
    Indians lived in this area then, and are called Native Americans now. Since their ancestors came from Asia, I've never understood what made them native, but that's for another column.
    Col. Henry Leavenworth, a New York native, had served as a lieutenant in the War of 1812, stayed in the Army, and by 1824 was a colonel. He was second-in-command to a Col. Atkinson and both were with their unit, an infantry regiment, at Jefferson Barracks, Mo.
    Atkinson was senior, so he led troops to a site on the Missouri River just north of present day Omaha and built Cantonment Atkinson. You might have picked up on the fact that cantonments were named after the commanding officer.
    Due to a treaty with local Indians the cantonment was built on the east, or Missouri, side of the Missouri River. Soon after it was completed a flash flood came down the river and washed most of it toward New Orleans.
    When resupplies came, Atkinson had the new cantonment built on the high ground across the river, thus violating the treaty. But the Indians packed their tepees and moved farther from the river, so no fighting occurred.
    The cantonment was built as a garrison for troops to protect traders going down the Santa Fe Trail. But the wagon trails moved south, and in 1827 Cantonment Atkinson was abandoned. Col. Leavenworth was ordered to lead soldiers to a site farther down the river to establish a cantonment to be named after him.
    When he arrived at what is today's Fort Leavenworth and saw the high ground on the west and low ground on the east bank, he ordered that the cantonment be built on the higher west bank, again violating the treaty.
    Again, Indians in the area did not attack and moved away. The cantonment stayed, was renamed Fort Leavenworth a few years later, and the rest, as they say, is history. The tiny outpost has risen in rank from the first permanent post on the west bank of the Missouri River to be the second oldest fort still serving our country.
    The early days of the fort and of the Army in this area is very well depicted in the fort's Frontier Army Museum. On display is a coat worn by Col. Leavenworth and a saber he once wore, making this what many believe the only fort museum to display artifacts of the fort's namesake.
    Page 2 of 2 - That interesting fact has not been verified and publicized by the Center of Military History in Washington, but may soon be.
    The museum also has a letter written from Cantonment Leavenworth in 1828, a year after its founding, which some believe is the oldest letter or published item from or about a fort in any fort museum. Experts at the Center are supposedly working on verifying that fact also.
    So a bit of a belated 186th birthday to one of my favorite places, venerable old Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. May the revered place enjoy many more birthdays.
    John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.

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