Monday, August 10, 2020

The Fort at Monument Station & Capt. John B. Conyngham by Zina Abbott


This post could also be sub-titled “Just when you think you’ve finished your research, you discover there is more.”

While applying my proofreading edits – not writing or self-editing –my proofreader corrected the name of one of my characters, originally spelled, Capt. Conynham. Puzzled, I went back to my only online source from the very limited online sources I found for Fort Monument. I had spelled the name the same way it was in the single article in which I found the name of the fort commander at the time of my story, Mail Order Penelope.

All right. I love research. Even though I had only 24 hours until I MUST upload my manuscript to Amazon or suffer dire consequences, I was game.

I went back online and looked up the surname as my proofreader spelled it. I came across Captain John Butler Conyngham. The article which clarified that he was the Conyngham associated with the fort did not focus on the fort or the military man in charge. It seems, while Capt. Conyngham was stationed by Monument Rocks, he and Mr. Minor discovered a prehistoric fossil. Said fossil, a type Tylosaurus proriger, was the first found in that part of western Kansas. He turned it over to Professor Louis Agassiz during the latter’s August 1868 visit to the region.


Later on in the article about the fossil, I found a short biography of Capt. Conyngham and a few details about Fort Monument I did not have before. In addition, I was able to capture a better image of the Monument Station that housed the fort.

Drawing by Pvt. J. Stadler, 5th Infantry (stationed at Fort Wallace)

I had seen this image before in a print book. I knew about the wooden above-ground building with its cook shack off to the side. This building served the stage company employees and passengers as well as being the headquarters for Fort Monument.

I knew about the two dugout buildings – such structures were common on the Kansas frontier during that era – but this was the first source that specified the two buildings were used as barracks for the company of soldiers from the 38th Infantry that were stationed there, not for the stagecoach and Army livestock and feed. Based on information about other stations on the Smoky Hill Trail, I though those structures were underground corrals and a storage barn for hay and forage. In other stations along this line, tunnels led to underground corrals and feed storage.

My book was already read and proofread, yet I got this vital detail wrong. REWRITE !

I put the infantrymen inside the dugouts with the windows. I came up with dugout corrals and feed storage caverns similar to what was described for other stations. Like some stations built close to the banks of the Smoky Hill River, in my story, the corral for livestock was dug into the riverbank. Whether this was the case, I don’t know. The details might be available out there somewhere, but I did not find them as part of my research.

Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, Kansas ctsy Art Davis
Fort Monument was also known as Fort Pyramid because of the nearby rock formation which reminded many of the Pyramids in Egypt. It was established as a stagecoach station for the Butterfield Overland Despatch in 1865. Because of the increased attacks by the hostile Native American tribes – mostly Cheyenne, but also Arapaho and Sioux – who resented the arrival of white men settling on their buffalo hunting grounds, the Army sent military support to many stations. This was in addition to Fort Ellsworth (later Fort Harker), Fort Fletcher (later Fort Hays), and Fort Wallace on the Smoky Hill Trail in Kansas. Some stations had between five to ten soldiers assigned for protection and to provide escort. Others, like Monument, had a company or more of men assigned.

 During the three years of its existence as a military post (1865-1868), several commanding officers and their men were sent to Fort Monument. Shortly before the time of my story in October 1867, Lieutenant David Ezekiel brought to Fort Monument Company I of the 38th Infantry, one of two “colored” infantry regiments comprised of black soldiers that were formed after the close of the American Civil War. Lt. Ezekiel was replaced by Capt. John B. Conyngham as commanding officer, but Lt. Ezekiel stayed as the second in command. Once the Union Pacific Railway-Eastern Division reached the Monument Rocks area, its tracks were laid several miles to the north. Since Fort Monument was charged with protecting railroad crews and the stagecoach stopped serving Monument Station once Monument became the “End of Track,” Capt. Conyngham moved his entire command thirty-five miles to the north-northwest to what became known as the town of Monument.

The 38th Infantry had several companies also assigned to Fort Hays. The photo below of what is labeled the Hays City Overland Stage Kansas City shows an escort of members of the 38th Infantry riding on top as escort.

Black soldiers of the 38th Infantry at Hays City station riding escort

A bit about John B. Conyngham, much of it taken from the

25th Anniversary publication

of the Yale College Class of 1846 published in 1871

and from Find-a-Grave:


He was born on September 29, 1827, at Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.  He studied law three years at Wilkes Barre, and opened an office there.  In Dec., 1851, he removed to St. Louis to practice law. 


When the American Civil War broke out, he "enlisted as a private at the first call for three months' volunteers in the 8th Penn. Regiment, and was chosen 2nd Lieutenant of his company."  At the close of the three months, he re-entered the Army for three years as Major of the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteers; was afterwards promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and then to Colonel, which office he held when mustered out with his regiment, July, 1865.

He was wounded in a night attack on the fortifications in Charleston harbor, taken prisoner, and confined a number of months in the prison camps at Charleston, Macon, and Columbia." 

He was present at the College Commencement, 1865, and soon after went to Montana.  Having returned, he "entered the regular Army with the rank of Captain in full, and the brevet of Lieutenant Colonel."  He was the commanding officer of Fort Monument between 1867 and 1868 when the fort was abandoned. Near the beginning of 1871, while stationed at Fort Clark, in Texas, he suffered from apoplexy, followed by Bright's Disease of the kidney.  He lived to reach Wilkes Barre, where he died May, 28, 1871 at the age of forty-four. He never married.

I hope you enjoy reading Mail Order Penelope which is currently on preorder and will be released this coming Friday, August 14th. In particular, I hope you enjoy how I portrayed Capt. Conyngham, Lt. Ezekiel, and fictional members of the 38th Infantry in my scenes that take place at Monument Station / Fort Monument. PLEASE CLICK HERE for the book description.

Please click on the book titles for Mail Order Roslyn and Mail Order Lorena, my other two novels I wrote as part of the Widows, Brides and Secret Babies series.



Trails of the Smoky Hill by Wayne C. Lee and Howard C. Raynesford; Caxton Press; Caldwell, Idaho: 2008


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