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There is no picture available of Maj. Roy.
Major James P. Roy of the 6th U.S. Infantry assumed command of Fort Larned in October of 1871. He relieved Capt. George E. Head, who resumed his duties as company commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry troops stationed at Fort Larned. At this time in the fort’s history, dealing with routine matters, was pretty much the routine.
Some of the routine jobs soldiers were assigned to do during this period were escorting and protecting the railroad work crews, searching for deserters, or picking up supplies at Fort Hays. One such detail of several soldiers commanded by Sgt. John Morgan escorted Capt. John Ellinwood and A. A. Robinson, civil engineers for the railroad. They brought enough supplies to last for two months and camped without incident along a section of Big Coon Creek that only a few years before had been a favorite Indian ambush spot.
A group of Kaw Indians stopped at the post to ask for rations to make sure they didn’t starve on their way back to the reservation after an unsuccessful buffalo hunt. The Indian threat which had necessitated the fort’s founding 12 years earlier was so diminished that these Indians had gone out looking for buffalo only after getting a written permit from their agent.
Major Roy was a West Point graduate who had been born in England and raised in Virginia. He graduated from West Point in 1849 with the rank of brevet 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th U.S. Infantry. His first assignments after leaving the academy were on the frontier at various Texas forts. After his promotion to 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry in August of 1850 he was transferred to postings in California where he scouted for Indians, and then to Oregon for Coast Survey duties.
His Coast Survey duty lasted from October 1853 to September 1859. During that time he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in March of 1855. He also took time out to marry Kate Louisa Bridges On October 10, 1854 at St. James Church in Richmond, Virginia. He and Louisa would eventually have three daughters and one son. After leaving Oregon, Major Roy was transferred to frontier duty again, this time at Ft. Kearny, Nebraska, where he would remain until the Civil War broke out in April of 1861.
Major Roy spent most of his time during the Civil War stationed on the frontier. From April 29, 1861 to March 21, 1863 he served as Acting Assistant Quartermaster and Commissary Officer at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, receiving a promotion to Captain on May 14, 1861. He also served as the Purchasing Commissary of Subsistence at Fort Leavenworth Depot from March 21, 1863 to September 30, 1864. He assisted in organizing and fitting out an expedition against hostile Indians at Ft. Leavenworth from January to March, 1865 and with recruiting service at Cincinnati, Ohio from March to June, 1865. During his time in Cincinnati he received a promotion to Major on February 16. He served in different post in various Southern military departments from August 1865 to March of 1867. After a leave of absence lasting until May of 1868, he returned to frontier duty, spending time at Fort Scott, Kansas, Little Rock, Arkansas, Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, eventually ending up as Fort Larned’s commander in October of 1872.
Although, most Indian activity around the post had declined, all danger from Indian attack was not gone. In December Private Franklin Whitson and another soldier, along with a civilian tracker, were sent out to look for mules that had strayed from the fort. Sometime in January they were attacked by a group of Indians about 85 miles south of the fort and Private Whitson was killed. The two survivors made it back to Fort Larned to report the incident, which prompted Major Roy to send Lt. Fred Shebach with a 15 man party to the Medicine Lodge area to recover Whitson’s body and investigate the incident. Although Lt. Shebach’s orders were to avoid a confrontation with the Indians, he had permission to defend himself if attacked.
While the relative lack of Indian activity placed Fort Larned’s mission at a crossroads during this time, it had opened up the opportunity for settlement in the area around the post. In January 1872, Capt. Henry Booth, current post sutler and postmaster, as well as a former Army officer stationed at Fort Larned, began promoting the Larned Town Company. Former Kansas Governor Samuel J. Crawford was the company’s president. The site they choose for the new town was about 6 miles east of the post, and, more importantly, would soon have the Santa Fe Railroad running through the middle of it.
By April, Company D, 6th U.S. Infantry was transferred to Fort Hays, while a company from the 3rd U.S. Infantry came to Fort Larned. They were a welcome addition since before their arrival the post garrison had only 54 men. Maj. Roy went with the men from the 6th Infantry so command of Fort Larned passed to Capt. Henry B. Bristol. Capt. Bristol brought three companies of the 5th U.S. Infantry with him from Fort Harker.
After leaving Fort Larned, Major Roy ended up in command of the Recruiting Depot and Fort Columbus, New York from February 1873 to October 1874. He was promoted to Lt. Col. in the 15th U.S. Infantry on June 8, 1874. He died on October 24, 1874 at just 46 years old. His cause of death was listed as “gout of the stomach.”
Major Roy had a long and distinguished Army career, although as a Southerner, he had to defend himself in 1871 against charges of disloyalty during the Civil War. In a letter dated January 10, 1871, he explains that although he was indeed from Virginia, he chose to retake the loyalty oath when requested to at the start of the war against the wishes of his wife and other family members. He claims to have repeatedly expressed his loyalty to the United States throughout the war and speculates that the charge may have been prompted by the fact that he and Capt. Easton had offended “certain prominent parties” in their position as Fort Leavenworth Depot Quartermaster officer because they “could not be approached.”
While at Fort Larned, Major Roy was the only post commander known to have carved his name into the stone of the post commander’s quarters. The carving was discovered during the exterior restoration of the building. Since it was too damaged to use on the building it’s now in in the fort’s museum collection.
It’s not necessarily a surprise that Major Roy would take the risk of carving his name on government property. Although none of the soldiers and officers stationed here in 1872 could have known that the fort had only 6 more years to go as an active military post, it was obvious from the reduced activity in and around the post that its days as an active military post were coming to a close.
Last updated: May 28, 2020