CAMP CRISFIELD.

                       [Located near Crisfield, Western Harper County, Kansas.]

Sunday Magazine, The Wichita Eagle and The Beacon, Sunday, November 16, 1969.

              Research Uncovers Camp Crisfield Of the Great Indian Scare of 1885.

                  By Nyle Miller, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society.

                                                        [Preceding article.]

In researching for their recent book, “The Harper County Story” (The Mennonite Press, North Newton, 1968), Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sanders of Belle Plaine inquired in Washington and at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka about a military encampment which reportedly existed near Crisfield, Western Harper County, in the 1880s.

There were no clues in the available library and archives catalogues, and nothing was located to provide a date, so that local newspapers could be consulted.

The Sanders meanwhile went to press with the little information they were able to gather.

About the time of the issuance of their book, the State Historical Society received a list of new microfilm available from the National Archives. Scanning it for Kansas items, out jumped an entry, “U. S. Troops in Camp at Crisfield, Kansas, commanded by Colonel Henry A. Morrow, 21st Infantry, for the month of July, 1885.”

Weeks later, a film of the few available pages on this camp was received in Topeka, to provide some detail on the units involved. With the aid of contemporary newspaper accounts, a story of the Crisfield encampment can now be assembled.


In the early summer of 1885, stories of unrest among the Cheyenne Indians in present Oklahoma were appearing in the newspapers. South-central Kansas was undergoing rapid settlement and Gov. John A. Martin of Kansas expressed the anxiety of the citizens of that area to Sen. John J. Ingalls, who carried it to the President and the War Department. Because of the defenseless condition of the settlers, who feared they were open to Indian attacks, the governor asked that the Army be called out to patrol the border.

Reports continued to spread that the Indians were drilling daily, and were in sufficient force to butcher all the white.

The Wichita Eagle, on June 27, reported that “Five companies of the Fifth Cavalry, under Major Carpenter, passed through this city by special train today . . .,” headed for Oklahoma.

A dispatch from the Santa Fe agent at Kingman on July 8, said “The Indian scare assumed gigantic proportions, and last night hundreds of families flocked into the town from points as far west as forty miles.”

On the other hand The Anthony Enterprise, on July 10, contended that the scare story was a “canard of the most stupendous character,” and said there were “no hostile Indians in the state of Kansas.” The paper continued:

“The Cheyennes and Arapaho Indians and their squaws and papooses have been for several days trading around Medicine Lodge, Lake City, Sun City, and other places trading and dickering as usual. Northern Cheyennes do not disguise the fact that they do not like their present location, and would be glad to get back to their old grounds, but do not show or express a determination to get there by any belligerent power. Some of the timid settlers have great fears at the sight of the Indians and tell some big stories, and many are reported as flocking to the towns for protection. . . .”

“Up to the present writing,” The Attica Advocate of July 9 said, “we are unable to believe the reports (of Indian killings and depredations), but we do believe there is a systematic attempt on the part of cattlemen to magnify the situation into a huge Indian war, and for no other purpose than to drive out the settlers already in the counties to the west of Barber County and to deter others from going.”

                                                   NO HOSTILE INDIANS.

The next week The Advocate reported “a large force of United States soldiers concentrating in the Indian Territory and on the southern border of Kansas, more than sufficient to cope with any force the Indians could possibly put into the field.” The editor concluded, “We repeat what we said last week—there is not a hostile Indian in Kansas and has not been.”

On July 23, The Advocate reported on a Kansas City (July 18) dispatch from Crisfield, Kansas, 15 miles west of Anthony.

“At 10 o’clock Friday night, strong details of cavalry, securing the country to the south, southeast, and southwest of the camp, had not yet returned. This disposition of the troops defending Kansas is strategical, strong, and commanding. A chain of small scouting parties is located so as to cover the Kansas border for seventy-five miles and about fifty miles west of the camp. The Kansas Southern railway runs parallel with the border line about thirty miles north of the Indian Territory.

“Should Indians strike south of this camp, military couriers would ride north to the railroad and wire Commander Morrow, who holds an engine under steam and cars at his disposal night or day, and whose telegraph office is located in a freight car in camp, with direct wires to Kansas City and Fort Reno, where Gen. Sheridan (and) Miles are in hourly communication with him night and day. Col. Morrow can thus be advised of and anticipate any invasion east of the camp and move the troops east by rail and so get in front of the Indians’ advance, but should the Indians strike north on the Dodge City trail, or west of there, they must make a long deflection northwest, and Col. Morrow’s well equipped cavalry moving inside the arc the Indians must describe, could out travel and crush the Indians ere they got fairly off their reservations. They would be surely crushed and almost annihilated should they strike any way except west, and there it is not thought they will go.

                                                  Absolute Defeat Foreseen.

“The Cheyennes number, according to the opinions of military officers here, less than 1,200 warriors. Col. Morrow says it is very rare that so large a United States force is in one camp. The Cheyennes appear to be hemmed in tonight. An invasion in the northerly and northwesterly direction would result in absolute defeat and all but destruction of the Cheyennes’ entire warrior force.”

What may have been the greatest day Harper County ever had, militarily speaking, was the huge review of troops stationed at Crisfield on July 24. The Advocate editor, on July 30, wrote, “Last Friday we visited the soldiers’ camp at Crisfield and we arrived just in time to witness the grand review under orders of Col. Morrow, which was a grand sight. There were about 250 teams and thirteen coaches of people from Harper and Attica, which made a large crowd for Crisfield, although it was somewhat dusty.”

In another column the editor continued: “Neither Gen. Sheridan nor Gen. Miles were present at the review of the troops stationed at Crisfield last Friday, . . . and, perhaps, Col. Morrow did just as well as either of the generals named. There were of infantry, six companies of the 9th regiment, six of the 21st, and three of the 4th, and ten companies of cavalry of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 8th regiments in the review.

“The cavalry horses are from the best stock in the land, and they looked fine. There were about 2,000 people present to witness the sight, and, notwithstanding the intense heat, stayed to take it all in, and it paid them. Crisfield has grown considerably since we first visited the town, and there are several good, substantial business houses in the place.”

Within a few days the camp was being broken up. Some of the troops were moved to New Kiowa and others returned to their permanent barracks. By August 6, The Advocate could report: “Eleven coaches filled with soldiers passed east this morning having been ordered to their respective posts. There are only a few infantry remaining at Crisfield now, the cavalry having gone some time ago.”

Some of the soldiers on duty in the area were Negro. That they could kick up their heels, on the prowl, like their white comrades, is demonstrated in this Advocate story of August 13, 1885.

“A gentleman, who was at Kiowa at the time, informed us that last Friday fifteen or twenty Negro soldiers came into that town and proceeded to fill themselves with ‘Intoxicants,” after which they showed a disposition to run things, in other words, to ‘paint the town black,’ to which the marshal and citizens demurred, when, for a short time a small sized war cloud rose over the great moral city of New Kiowa. The Negro troops armed themselves with Winchester rifles and the marshal summoned the citizens to assist him in ‘carrying the war into Africa,’ who, with the assistance of the army officers, succeeded in capturing the offenders. They were taken before the police judge and fined $7.50 each, and the sky again became clear.”

Also, on August 13, The Attica Advocate reported: “A large trail outfit consisting of about 60 men, 180 horses and mules, and upwards of 100 wagons, passed through this city on Thursday bound for Crisfield to remove the troops to Fort Reno, in the Indian Territory. We understand that a much larger train, bound for the same point . . . went through on the same day by a northern route.”

                                                      Head for New Kiowa.

The Hazelton Express (copied in The Attica Advocate August 20, 1885) told of the new assignment of the cavalry. “Ten companies of Cavalry, aggregating 500 men who were encamped at Crisfield, passed through here Sunday, bound for New Kiowa. They are encamped on the Medicine river near that town and about three miles from here now.”

On August 27, 1885, The Kiowa Herald reported: “Three companies of cavalry and four of infantry are encamped within the city limits. These troops came from Fort Reno, and were ordered to Crisfield, but the officers think they will remain here, as it is probable a permanent post will be established in this vicinity.”

Soldier deaths often were not due to Indian action, as this example from the same issue of The Kiowa Herald indicates.

“Late Wednesday night a soldier belonging to one of the infantry companies encamped at the west end of Main street was shot and seriously, if not fatally wounded, by Dave Black, a recent arrival from Dodge City, during an altercation over some trifling matter, the nature of which we cannot learn. For some real or fancied insult, Black was knocked down by the soldier, and as soon as he recovered from the effects of the blow, he drew his revolver and fired, the ball entering the groin, and it is thought, penetrating the intestines. During the excitement Black effected his escape, but the officers were promptly on hand and after closing every avenue of escape, he surrendered, and securely guarded, was placed in the city prison to await the action of the courts.

“LATER.—The soldier who was shot by the Dodge City desperado, Dave Black, died last (Thursday) night about 10 o’clock. Black, who had been lodged in the city prison, was taken by the officers to Hazelton for protection, it being feared that an attempt would be made to lynch him by the comrades of the murdered man.

“The fears of the officers were realized. About 11 o’clock a raid was made on the prison by a hundred or more soldiers with the intention of executing summary justice upon the murderer of their comrade. The authorities removed the prisoner to a place of safety; consequently, they were balked in their design and had all their trouble for nothing. This (Friday) morning the murderer was returned to the city, and at his preliminary trial, he waived examination and was taken to Wellington, where he will remain in jail until his hearing at the next term of court.”

On September 10, 1885, The Attica Advocate reported: “A special train passed down the road Tuesday afternoon to take the soldiers, now stationed at Kiowa, from that place. It is said they are ordered to Arizona. The train that went down the road Tuesday for the soldiers returned yesterday evening loaded with cavalry soldiers and horses. The flower of Kiowa departed with them.”

On the same date, The Kiowa Herald recorded: “The battalion of infantry that has been encamped on Mule creek for several weeks left yesterday for Fort Riley, where they will go into winter quarters . . .”

On October 15, 1885, The Kiowa Herald reported the loss of its cavalry. “Col. Compton’s command, a battalion of the 5th U. S. cavalry, broke their camp Wednesday morning and started across the country to Fort Riley, where they will go into winter quarters. We were sorry to see the soldiers leave for they have, as a rule, conducted themselves as gentlemen, and both officers and men have made many friends and acquaintances here during their two months’ stay.”

And the now lonesome editor concluded in the same issue: “All the troops have been removed from the Kansas border and sent to winter quarters at Leavenworth and Fort Riley, and the border is left entirely unprotected. There is no danger of an outbreak among the Indians; but if the soldiers are needed anywhere, we think it would be in and around the Indian Territory.”

Note: There was a map with article showing the “Kansas R. R.” going west from Wellington to Kingman, Kansas, thence west to Attica. “Crisfield” appears to be southwest of Attica, Kansas, on map.