Establishing Fort Ellsworth
Denver, Colorado was in a state of emergency. An angry Cherry Creek flood had destroyed an entire warehouse of food. Supplies were running short and the Cheyenne and other plains tribes had gone to war bringing all travel along the trails leading to Denver to an abrupt halt.
Not that the Cheyenne didnt have a reason to go to war. They were gettin along just fine before we came along. At first they had the idea that we would find all the gold in the Rockies and go home, but they soon realized that more and more people were coming with no intentions of going back home. The prime hunting lands of the Smoky Hill River had always been the common property of all the tribes, but now settlers were moving in and turning the grass upside down. Their whole world was changing and the encroaching civilization had no understanding of the native culture. Heck, stealing horses was just a part of life. The army and settlers didnt see it that way.
Manifest Destiny gave us every right to spread like a plague across the prairies and mountains, ravaging the natural world, reshaping it to fit our vision of reality. So
Denver was in a state of panic. The Indians had brought all travel on the plains to a standstill and the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Cavalry was ordered out onto the trail. It was July of 1864. The troopers were charged with opening the trail, establishing military camps at strategic locations and providing escort to stage and wagon train operations.
Lt. Alen Ellsworth was left in command at the Camp on the Smoky. It had earlier been the site of the road ranch of Lehman & Page. Further down the trail, Camp Dunlap was established near the mouth of Walnut Creek on the Arkansas River. Freighting caravans immediately took to the trail saving Denverites from starvation. The Indians didnt, however, just go away in the face of our military might. Ten teamsters were killed in a fight near Camp Dunlap. Three wagon trains were penned down for days by 700 warriors at Cow Creek Crossing on the Santa Fe Trail.
General Samuel R. Curtis was outraged. He formed an expeditionary force to take to the field for the purpose of developing a strategy against the Indians. Curtis was not in his element and his troops had little faith in his ability to chase Indians in a 4 mule Army ambulance. The expedition wasnt entirely free from incident. A charge was made on a growth of plumb bushes where it was believed Indians were lurking. No Indians were discovered but, it made for a good story amongst the troops who called the event, General Curtis Plum Hunt.
Later, during a ceremony at Fort Larned General Curtis officially designated Camp Dunlap as Fort Zarah in honor of his son who had been killed in Civil War action a short time before at Baxter Springs, Kansas. Camp on the Smoky was renamed Fort Ellsworth in honor of Lieutenant Alen Ellsworth who had secured the site and established the post. For the next two years Fort Ellsworth would guard the Fort Riley Military Trail, the Smoky Hill Trail and lend support to defense of the Santa Fe Trail to the south.