The cavalry company are used entirely for escorting the mails between this post and Fort Dodge 55 miles west and Fort Zarah 33 miles east. The mails come and depart twice a week.
William Forwood, captain, Fort Larned post surgeon, 1868
Imagine the West as it was in the late 1850s, before any telegraph lines or intercontinental railroads had been built. Between the Mississippi River states and the Pacific coast, only a handful of small settlements and Army posts lay scattered amidst millions of square miles of lonely prairies, high mountains, canyons, and deserts.
All information—whether for private business or for purposes of the federal government—moved by handwritten paperwork. Newspapers, reports, requisitions, bills, and letters typically crossed the Plains at the speed of a horse-and-rider or wagon—some 15-to-20 miles a day.
By 1859 the United States Post Office was demanding that mail crossing the Great Plains move faster. Letters leaving Independence, Missouri had to arrive in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 15 to 20 days. That requires moving at 45 miles a day. To make that possible, Hall & Porter, mail contractors, set up a new relay station here in August 1859. But within only a few weeks, hostile Kiowas had killed two Hall & Porter employees.
The 1st Cavalry came to investigate—and
stayed. From October 1859 until this post closed in 1878, the most vital regular mission for troops at Fort Larned was to make sure communications from the East to the West kept flowing.
Soldiers here at Fort Larned could expect to spend many weeks of every year on mail escort duty on the Santa Fe Trail. The mail from the East arrived through the open prairie you see just ahead.