It all started because of a cemetery.
The original cemetery commissioned for use by Fort Wallace in the 1860s was slowly deteriorating. The limestone walls were crumbling, headstones were falling over, and the eagle that was once proudly perched atop the cenotaph had mysteriously disappeared. A concerned group of citizens realized that if they didn't do something to preserve this vital piece of local, state, and national history, no one would. And so the Fort Wallace Memorial Association was born in 1925.
In just a few years the limestone walls were erected again, and the cemetery received newly repainted headstones, complete with names, dates and causes of death where known. The Association then turned their attention to another need...the need to have a museum in which to display all the artifacts that had been collected throughout the years.
The first museum was set up in the existing (but no longer used) Wallace County Bank. Later, in 1961, a limestone museum was erected on land that had been recently donated to the Association by Cecil and Lois Pearce. The Madigan family (for their story, see History) donated the original Pond Creek Stage Station and the Association acquired the Weskan Railroad Depot. Both buildings were relocated to where they sit now, on the west end of the museum.
Over 40 years later, in 2002, the Fort Wallace Museum received funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation to build an outbuilding to house transportation exhibits from the Sunderland Foundation. Now, in the year 2017, the Fort Wallace Museum proudly maintains 5 separate buildings housing exhibits and the original Fort Wallace Cemetery.
First used in 1865,
the Butterfield Overland Despatch (BOD) was touted as the best mail
route from Atchison to Denver, Colorado by its owner. You could
cross this great expanse of land for just $100. Stations were
approximately 15 miles apart and were given different jobs. One
station would be a home station that would feed the travelers while
cattle stations provided hay and swing stations provided fresh
mules and horses. The Smoky Hill Trail and the BOD greatly aided
settlers in traveling over hostile Indian country. However, Indian
raids became too frequent and there came a time when every wagon train
had at least 22 wagons and 30 armed men. Many of the stage stops
along the BOD route were connected to a fort for the safety and
security that the military provided..
Wallace County had several BOD Stage Stops of its
own. The most prominent, namely the Pond Creek Stage Station, was
situated 1 1/2 miles west of present day Wallace. A home
station renowned for its food, this little stage stop saw so many
Indian attacks that Camp Pond Creek, a military encampment, was
situated right next to it. When the BOD was sold to another
company in 1866 (the Indian raids were so numerous by this time that
the business had become unprofitable), Camp Pond Creek moved a few
miles east to the Smoky Hill river and was renamed Fort Wallace in
honor of W.H.L. Wallace, a general who died at the Battle of Shiloh.
Although Fort Wallace was no longer attached to the
Butterfield Overland Despatch, soldiers stationed at Fort Wallace still
had their hands full trying to protect those settlers who were moving
on their way west. Many of the most prominent trails that
pioneers used cut straight through the best buffalo hunting grounds.
Indians, whose livelihood depended on the buffalo, did not treat the
trespassers lightly. Instead, as buffalo began to scatter and become
scarce, Indians began to view their new neighbors with something less
than friendly eyes. This made the presence of Fort Wallace an absolute
necessity. Although according to official counts (details of the number
of men in each Company and Division were recorded every month, the number of men stationed at the Fort never exceeded 350, these
soldiers saw more encounters with Indians than any other Fort,
rightfully earning Fort Wallace the distinction of being the
Fightin'est Fort in the West. General George Armstrong Custer
was stationed at Fort Wallace and saw his first battle with the Indians
not far from the fort. Other great frontier men, such as George
Forsyth, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok, were also stationed
at Fort Wallace at various times.