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Kansas Memory Blog

Fort Simple

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Oct 29, 2021

By: Ethan Anderson, Government Records Archivist

Following Quantrill’s bloody raid on Lawrence in August 1863, many Kansans wondered if Border Ruffians would next target Topeka. The capital city was relatively undefended. Companies and detachments of troops were stationed there intermittently throughout the Civil War, but no fortifications existed to help protect the city from a sizeable Confederate force. These defensive shortcomings were discussed in 1863, but it wasn’t until Confederate General Sterling Price’s invasion of Missouri the following year that efforts to improve the city’s defenses began in earnest.

In October 1864, while most of the 2nd Regiment of the Kansas State Militia was sent east to stop Sterling’s advance, a portion of the regiment remained in Topeka. This home battalion consisted of 292 men, 65 of whom were Black recruits. These men constructed two sets of trenches on the east side of town as well as a stockade at the intersection of Sixth and Kansas Avenues. This stockade or fort was made of split cottonwood logs and measured 10 feet high and 40 feet in diameter. A flagpole marked its center. The fort’s lone entrance was on the west side, with an opening in all four cardinal directions for its lone cannon. Two rifle ports were cut between each log, allowing one man to shoot while standing and another to fire while kneeling.[1] 

The wide streets and ridgetop location of the fort would have given soldiers inside an excellent view of any approaching Confederate troops. The below drawing shows a Union regiment marching up Sixth Avenue in 1862, two years before the fort’s construction.

After its completion, the fort never received an official name. Some called it Fort Stark in honor of Major Andrew Stark, the officer in charge of its construction. Others labeled it Fort Folly for the seeming impossibility of such a small, poorly equipped stockade successfully repelling a Confederate invasion. In the end, the fort largely went unnamed until after the war, when someone named it Fort Simple after its unimposing nature.[2]

Henry Worrall did not immigrate to Kansas until 1868, so he never saw Fort Simple firsthand. He therefore took some liberties with this sketch, such as the arrangement of the gunports and the location of the fort on the edge of town rather than in the middle of two of its biggest thoroughfares.  

For two weeks in the fall of 1864, with Price’s Confederates still roving through Missouri, the fort and trenches guarding Topeka were manned each night. Security must have been relatively lax, however. One night, two women disguised themselves as men and helped defend the fort until their true identities were discovered the next morning. On October 23rd, panic swept the capital city when reports came in that Price’s men had defeated Union forces at the Battle of Big Blue near Kansas City. An attack on Topeka seemed imminent. Tensions were relieved the following day when a rider arrived reporting a Union victory rather than defeat.[3]


Once the Confederate threat to Topeka abated, residents quickly tired of Fort Simple. In the months following the end of the Civil War, the city council ordered that the fort’s walls be shortened, and trees planted inside. In April 1867, the fort, which was denounced as an “eye-sore” by The Topeka Weekly Leader, was dismantled, with the exception of its flagpole. The flagpole too was cut down in August of the same year and the Topeka Tribune reported “nothing remains of this historic Fort save the bloodless ground on which it stood.” In 1929, the Shawnee County Old Settlers’ Association erected a bronze tablet on the corner of Sixth and Kansas Avenues to mark where the fort once stood. The tablet was removed during construction in 1995 and was unfortunately lost.[4]


It is believed that the pole in the left of this photograph is the flagpole from Fort Simple. If so, this photograph was taken between April and August of 1867, when only the flagpole remained of the fort.


[1] William C. Pollard, Jr. “Forts and Military Posts in Kansas, 1854-1865” (Ph.D. diss., Faith Baptist College and Seminary, 1997), 66; F. W. Giles, Thirty Years in Topeka: A Historical Sketch (Topeka: George W. Crane & Company, 1886), 301-302. One set of trenches was located near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Madison Streets, while the other was at Sixth Avenue and Jefferson Street.

[2] “Old Settlers’ Meeting,” Topeka Daily Capital (December 6, 1902), 4; George A. Root, “Fort Simple—Fort Folly Topeka,” Shawnee County Clippings 31 (Topeka: Kansas Historical Society, n.d.) 87.

[3] Root, “Fort Simple,” Clippings, 87; Pollard, “Forts and Military Posts,” 118-119.

[4] Root, “Fort Simple,” Clippings, 88; Topeka Weekly Leader, April 18, 1867, 3; Topeka Tribune, August 16, 1867, 3; Pollard, “Forts and Military Posts,” 119. 

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