Rare plan of Fort Scott during the Bleeding Kansas era

Orlando Darling, Surveyor / L[ouis] Gast & Bro. lith., FORT SCOTT COUNTY SEAT OF BOURBON COUNTY, Kansas Territory. St. Louis: [Fort Scott Town Company], ca. 1857.
Lithograph, 38”h x 26 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Repaired separations along old folds and restoration, most notably to a 3”h x 10”w loss at upper right including facsimile of several inches of neat line and parts of four letters in title.

An extremely rare late 1850s promotional map of Fort Scott, a frontier town at the epicenter of the violence of Bleeding Kansas.

Fort Scott was established along the Marmaton River in southeast Kansas by the U.S. Army in 1842.  It was one of string of posts, running from Minnesota to Louisiana, which more or less defined the American frontier, beyond which the land was to be reserved for native American peoples.  The frontier inevitably moved westward, however, and in 1853 the Army abandoned Fort Scott. Its buildings were sold and became the nucleus of the town of Fort Scott, which was purchased in 1857 by a company led by Pennsylvania native and newspaper editor George A. Crawford:

“In spring 1857, [Crawford] traveled to Kansas by steamboat, landing at Leavenworth with his friend, Dr. Norman Eddy, a U.S. commissioner for Indian Lands. Upon landing they traveled on to the abandoned military post of Fort Scott, Kan., where George, Dr. Eddy and their associates purchased claims to 520 acres and organized the Fort Scott Town Company. George was elected president of the town company and ordered a survey and named the streets after his friends, Bigler, Hendricks and others.


“While in Fort Scott, George bought a hotel that had belonged to a pro-slavery man and made it a Free State Hotel…. He later purchased a saw mill, flour and woolen factory, foundry, machine shops and established a newspaper, The Daily Monitor.” (Post Independent of Glenwood Springs and Rifle, CO, Sept. 26, 2013)

Fort Scott became caught up in the violence sparked by passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which established the two territories, opened them for settlement, and left the slavery question to be settled by the people of each. Slave and Free-Staters, the latter including Crawford, flooded into Kansas, seeking to influence the resolution of the slavery question. Violence soon erupted, no small part of it in and around Fort Scott. In separate, harrowing episodes in 1858, Crawford himself was nearly killed by both sides, at one point facing down a large force of John Brown’s men who had raided the town.

During the Civil War Fort Scott played an important role in the trans-Mississippi theatre, serving as a headquarters and supply depot. Its population peaked at nearly 12,000 in 1890 and stands at just under 8000 today. Crawford was elected the first governor of Kansas when it entered the Union in 1861, but never served due to a controversy over the timing of the election. Over the next 20 years he held a number of government positions and maintained his business interests in Fort Scott, though an 1871 fire at his flour and woolen mill all-but ruined him financially. In 1881 he migrated to Colorado, where he helped found Grand Junction.

Orlando Darling’s plan of Fort Scott
This very large plan depicts the town as laid out in 1857 by early settler Orlando Darling.  Its central feature is Carroll Plaza, the parade ground of old Fort Scott, surrounded by blocks forming a diamond shape and bounded by streets named after associates of Crawford.  The rest is laid out in the rectilinear grid common to so many frontier towns, the east-west streets bearing arboreal names and the north-south grid presumably the names of early settlers, the whole relieved only by Carroll Plaza and the small Court House Square.  The original 320 acres purchased by the Company are labeled “Fort Scott,” while just to the east is a “Contemplated Addition” of some 200 additional acres. A small inset map at upper left puts the town in a broader geographical context and gives the impression that it is at the hub of two major rail lines, though at the time neither had yet been built.

Below the plan are several columns of promotional text, signed in type by George Crawford as President of the Fort Scott Town Company.  It touts the two railroads projected to pass through town, the “Fort Scott University” chartered by the legislature (but apparently never founded), existing business establishments, the potential for ranching and resource extraction, and even the “mansions” on the grounds of old Fort Scott.  It also hypes the short-term opportunities for trade with the nearby Indians and the longer-term prospect of dispossessing them of their land:  “We are the nearest available point to that rich but as yet forbidden Indian country, and her population will accumulate in immense numbers, to be ready to seize upon that Eldorado as soon as it shall be declared open for settlement by whites.”  There is no mention whatsoever of the ongoing violence between Free and Slave Staters that was tearing the Territory apart and had nearly cost Crawford his life.

The map is extremely rare, unlisted in the usual sources and with no record of having appeared on the antiquarian market.  The only other example I can locate is held by the Beinecke Library.

In all, a rare and interesting promotional plan of a significant Kansas town, produced at the height of the Bleeding Kansas violence yet managing to ignore it entirely.

Not in Karrow, Maps of the Middle Westor OCLC (Sept. 2018). Background from William G. Cutler, “Early History of Fort Scott” (1883); William E. Fischer, Jr., “Fort Scott, Kansas,” on line in the Border War Encyclopedia; and T.F. Robley, History of Bourbon County, Kansas: To the Close of 1865.