In July of 2013, the story of the Fort Scott Wreath Ride begins. Keith Yount approached Kevin about the Wreaths Across America program that had been going on in Fort Scott for about 4 years. Keith had heard about it from his friends, Wayne Sprenkle and Michael Freeze. Wayne had been involved with WAA in Arkansas and had told Michael about the program. Freeze knew there was a national cemetery in Ft. Scott, KS and attended the ceremony there the next year. Freeze organized his motorcycle ride, the Silver Eagle Poker Run, for the Nevada area. This year will be the 5th anniversary of that ride.
Keith & Kevin organized the first ride, Ride for the Wreath, and it was held October 5, 2013. It was quickly organized, as planning had been short. We had 13 bikes the first year and raised enough funds to purchase 150 wreaths. It was rainy that morning and very cool. After leaving Ft. Scott, it rained on us off and on for several miles, until we passed through Redfield and crossed 54 highway. The sun came out, and we had a great ride the rest of the day. We ended the ride at the Hammond Community Center with several door prizes were given away. Mike Faul won the red, white, & blue glass knife that had been hand crafted by Tom Slaughter. Cooking his first meal for a crowd, Kevin provided a pulled pork dinner after the ride. Rachel Wagner and Kim Yount provided deserts and sides for the meal also.
Due to personal reasons, Keith bowed out for the 2014 ride, and Kevin & Rachel began organizing it again in July. The date was moved forward to Sept 12, 2015 to avoid Mother Nature’s sometimes cold and rain in October. Nick Sander, Jim & Misty Scales, and Toni & Wayne Sprenkle began helping this year. The name this year was changed to the Wreath Ride. Learning from the previous year, we began promoting the ride more, but we still had a short time to do it.
Wayne had a connection to 96.9 KKOW. Kevin and Wayne were able to be interviewed by Bobby during the morning show, and Ty Caffrey provided another interview during her mid-day show just before the ride. These radio interviews provided a much needed boost that could be seen on the Facebook page daily. More people wanted to be involved and were calling and asking how they could help. This year, we also moved the ride to behind the Nu Grill. The parking lot provided a location off of the busy street of National Avenue, and the Konantz Cheney funeral home provided a nice backdrop to drape the US Flag over. Pictures were provided this year by Kole Wagner and included in the price of the ride. They were sent out via email after the ride. This year we had grown to 52 bikes. We had several pictures from the previous year, but this year we were able to have a group picture in front of our flag before we left. The weather was cool, but no rain this year. We changed the route a little, but still ended the ride at the Hammond Community Center. Tom Slaughter once again provided the red, white, & blue glass knife for the grand prize and Sandy Hicks won this year. Looking out at the parking lot and inside the building, it was evident we were outgrowing the community center.
KKOW also provided another interview after the ride to provide more information about how to purchase wreaths for the cemetery. During this year, Cindi Lauderback and Tena Tyler from Nevada asked how they could help. They had heard it on KKOW and wanted to do their part to help with the cause. We were very fortunate this year, the Wreath Ride was able to purchase 665 wreaths, more than all of the groups from the previous year. The Fort Scott National Cemetery was covered with 838 wreaths this year with help from all of the groups, closer to our goal of full coverage. The Fort Scott and Nevada groups both met at Emery’s Truck Plaza in Deerfield, MO, and we rode into the National Cemetery as one group. The weather cooperated this year, and we had a large turnout for the Wreath Ceremony held Dec. 12. We were able to completely cover the area surrounding the center of the cemetery, called the heart. A long way from our goal of total coverage, but a large step in the right direction.
After the ride this year, people were still talking about it and wanted to know when the ride would be next year and how they could help out. Colby contacted Kevin and asked how he could help out with next year’s ride. A committee was formed, consisting of Nick, Jim & Misty, Wayne & Toni, Kevin & Rachel, and Colby. Trent joined the committee later that year. We began talking and planning for the next year’s ride in January. You could tell there was a lot of momentum coming from last year’s ride, and everybody was determined to make the next Wreath Ride better and provide even more wreaths to the heroes buried at Ft. Scott National Cemetery.
Fort Scott National Cemetery is located on the eastern outskirts of the city of Fort Scott, Kansas. Fort Scott is located midway between Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, on the route historically known as the Military Road. The fort at Fort Scott was established in 1842 and named for Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, then, General-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. The fort’s primary purpose was to maintain a three-way peace among Native American tribes forcibly relocated from Florida and the East, local tribes, and incoming white settlers. Troops guarded caravans on the Santa Fe Trail and patrolled the vast frontier territory.
Roots of the American Civil War began with the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and, afterwards, in the new Kansas territory. In addition to wars and uprising with Native Americans in the waning Indian Territory, Fort Leavenworth served to protect citizens determined to settle in the Kansas territory. During the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s, Kansas was plagued by violent skirmishes between pro-slavery and "free state" proponents. Kansas became an official U.S. territory in May 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and as the dream of statehood was kindled, the fiery debate over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a "free" or "slave" state ignited more violence and bloodshed.
By 1853, boundaries of the American frontier extended farther west and the need for a military garrison at Fort Scott diminished. In 1855, the government abandoned the post, sold the lumber and auctioned off the buildings. In 1857 and 1858, the Army was ordered to quiet civilian unrest related to the violent struggles over Kansas’ future: was Kansas to enter the Union as either a free or a slave state? Kansas became the 34th state when it entered the Union on Jan. 29, 1861. Four months later, the official outbreak of the Civil War took place at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Scott was rebuilt and it once again became an important military post. The fort served as a concentration center for troops and a large storage facility for supplies intended for the use of Union soldiers fighting in the South. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, one of the Union Army’s African-American regiments, was assigned to Fort Scott in 1863. The unit took part in five engagements and suffered more casualties than any other Kansas regiment. For a short period after the Civil War, the Army continued to use the fort as a base to monitor and handle the movements of displaced Native Americans to the western territories. However, as new military posts were established farther west, Fort Scott was again abandoned in 1873--this time permanently.
During the 1840s, the Army established a cemetery on the west side of town to accommodate the burial of soldiers who died while stationed at the Fort Scott garrison. In 1861, town officers and citizens of Fort Scott purchased approximately four acres southeast of the old post for use as a community burying ground. Since the cemetery was controlled by the Presbyterian Church, it was known as the Presbyterian Graveyard. After the start of the Civil War, the new cemetery was used for the interment of soldiers stationed at Fort Scott. When Congress approved the creation of national cemeteries in 1862, the cemetery became one of 14 national cemeteries to be designated or established as such that year. On Nov. 15, 1862, the Presbyterian Graveyard and an adjoining tract owned by the Town Company were designated as Fort Scott National Cemetery.
After the war’s end in 1865, the remains of those buried in the old military cemetery, as well as other soldiers buried in the vicinity, in Missouri and Kansas, were re-interred at Fort Scott National Cemetery. Following the close of the Indian Wars and resettlement of Native Americans, the Army closed or consolidated many of its small military outposts in the West. As a result, between 1885 and 1907, the federal government vacated numerous military post cemeteries, such as Fort Lincoln, Kansas, and re-interred the remains at Fort Scott National Cemetery.
Eugene Fitch Ware, a noted Kansas poet, is buried in Grave 1 in the heart-shaped section of the cemetery. Ware was a Connecticut native who moved to Ft. Scott at the age of 26 in 1867 and spent the remainder of his life in Kansas. Ware served in the 7th Iowa Cavalry during the Civil War and was based at Ft. Scott. After the war, he entered the bar and practiced law at Ft. Scott and became active in Kansas politics. Ware achieved fame as a poet writing under the pseudonym, "Ironquill." He was a prolific poet and some of his most famous works include "The Washerwoman’s Song" and "John Brown." A large native sandstone boulder marks Ware’s grave. The natural beauty of this boulder impressed Ware and one of his final requests was that it be used as his grave marker. Also interred at Fort Scott National Cemetery are the remains of 16 Native American soldiers--all privates in the Indian Regiments of the Union Army who served as invaluable scouts.
Fort Scott National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.