Fort Hays Post Surgeon
When post surgeons at Kansas frontier forts submitted their monthly reports, little did they know they would be providing 21st century researchers a valuable glimpse into fort life.
Post surgeons were required to submit monthly reports on the condition of the post. They were also required to keep records of births, illnesses, and deaths and report on the weather, flora, and fauna of the region. These records provide insight to the living conditions at the fort and tell us a little more about the people who lived at the fort.
At Fort Hays in Ellis County, a study of the post surgeon’s records tells us about the cholera epidemic that swept through the post in 1867. This was a particularly active time in the fort’s history. African American soldiers, sometimes called Buffalo Soldiers, and other regiments had been deployed to the fort in response to an increase in conflicts with Plains Indians. A flood in June forced relocation of the fort.
The first case of cholera at Fort Hays appeared July 11, 1867. The post hospital had not yet been built so soldiers and civilian patients were housed in tents. The epidemic lasted two months, killing 36 soldiers and approximately 150 civilians.
The post surgeon’s reports can also tell us about the civilians at Fort Hays. Rose Glennan was working as a servant in the home of Lieutenant Colonel Bliss in August 1881. Glennan used kerosene to light a fire in the kitchen stove, but was engulfed in flame when the oil can exploded. She ran to the front part of the house, where Bliss threw a blanket around her to extinguish the fire.
Glennan suffered second and third degree burns on her hands, arms, underarms, and legs from ankles to hips. The surgeon reported that flour was applied and the burns were dressed with raw cotton. “She was doing well,” the surgeon wrote, “although ulceration of the duodenum supervened
during the second week, death was at one time imminent.”
There is little information about the children of Fort Hays, but the post surgeon’s records of births and deaths help tell some of the story. Charity Humphries Maier was married to Christian Maier, a sergeant in the 18th Infantry. Charity gave birth to three daughters while her husband was stationed at Fort Hays. The oldest, whose name we do not know, was born in 1885 and died at the age of seven months from cholera. The next daughter, Jessie, was born in 1886, followed in 1888 by Gertrude, who died at the age of two months from an “inflammation of stomach and bowels.”
In addition to these life-or-death situations, the records tell us the everyday ailments suffered by soldiers, including “boils, colic, contusions, diarrhea, frostbite, sprains, and ulcers.”
The post surgeon’s reports, as well as other official military records from Fort Hays and other Kansas frontier forts, are stored at the National Archives. Many of these records are on microfilm and can be viewed at the State Archives & Library in Topeka. The State Archives also has an extensive collection of frontier fort images. Some can be seen on kansasmemory.org.
Entry: Fort Hays Post Surgeon
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2010
Date Modified: February 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.