By JAMES BELL
Area historical military forts are an important part of Kansas history, and a Hays filmmaker hopes his new documentary will shine a light on the lesser-known, but equally important Fort Harker in Ellsworth County.
“It’s a documentary on Kansas history, specifically a frontier military post called Fort Harker,” said filmmaker and owner of Post Rock Studios of Kansas Steve Stults. “A lot of people have heard of Fort Hays, Fort Larned, Fort Dodge, Fort Riley and Leavenworth, but very rarely do people ever talk about, or have even heard of, Fort Harker.”
It was an important military post during the American expansion west, he said and like Fort Hays provided escorts along the Santa Fe Trail.
“It turned out to be a very important supply depot,” Stults said serving as a way station for convoys between Fort Riley and Fort Larned and a supply depot for forts west of the Mississippi River, especially in Kansas.
“It was a major supply hub for the area,” he said. “It was an incredibly important military post.”
As such an important center for military activity in the post-civil war area, the fort had many notable military figures.
“Custer was there, Wild Bill Hickok was there and a lot of other big generals,” Stults said. Philip Sheridan also spent some time at the post.
The fort shares a similar history to Fort Hays, starting as Fort Ellsworth, a flood forced the fort to relocate to higher ground and was renamed in honor of General Charles Garrison Harker, who died in the American Civil War.
“The documentary starts at the very beginning,” Stults said, taking viewers from before Fort Ellsworth was even built and showing the American expansion west.
The film also shows the Native American side of the conflict, as they were pushed west and began to fight back.
“It encompasses everything,” Stults said.
The film was commissioned by the Ellsworth County Historical Society, which oversees three of the remaining four buildings left from the 83 that comprised the fort in what is now the town of Kanopolis.
Greg Heller, Fort Harker historian, wrote the script.
“It took two years,” Stults said, from conception to final product, with many script edits and filming that took Stults and volunteers to historical reenactments at other forts.
Those forts all have connections to Fort Harker, he said.
He hopes his film can raise Fort Harker into the upper echelon of historical forts that are much better known by the public.
“If you like Kansas history, then this is a documentary for you,” he said. “It not just Fort Harker, but it’s central Kansas and all of Kansas and into Colorado as well.”
A presentation of “Fort Harker: Gateway Post to the Frontier” is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church, 2000 Main, in Hays.
Another presentation will be hosted at the Ellsworth Jr./Sr. High school performing arts center on Oct. 20.
The film is currently available on DVD online here or can be purchased at the Ellsworth County Historical Society.
More information about Fort Harker can be found at the Ellsworth County Historical Society’s website, www.ellsworthcountykansashistory.org.