Kearney County - Genealogy Trails




Early History








The history of what is now Kearney County may be said to date back to the time of the establishment of Fort Kearney, in 1848.


This fort was located in the northern part of the county, on the second bottom lands of the Platte River and but a short distance there from, and about half way across the county from east to west.


At the time of the establishment of this post, Nebraska was one vast uninhabited territory, popularly supposed to be a barren desert, where none but the Indians could exist. Thousands of these savages, however, roamed over the prairies, and the reason why Secretary of War Marcy sent soldiers to this remote place was to protect the overland travel to Oregon, which had then commenced.   This was previous to the discovery of the gold fields of California, and there was but little travel to that portion of the Pacific slope until long after the garrison was stationed at Fort Kearney.


Under orders from Secretary of War Marcy, Captain Childs, of Missouri Volunteers, visited Nebraska to establish a fort somewhere on the Oregon Overland Route at some distance from the Missouri River.


He started early in the year 1848, and first made an encampment near where the town of Aurora, Hamilton Co., now stands. Here he intended to build the fort, but upon careful examination of the Platte River at and near the point where Lone Tree, now Central City, Merrick Co., was located, he found the fording of the Platte to be so difficult and dangerous, that the site which had been selected was abandoned in May, 1848, and he moved on up the Platte River to what was then known as Carson's Crossing, where he arrived on the 17th day of June of the same year. A site was at once selected for the proposed fort, on the south side of the river and near the bank.


Building was commenced at once, hut on the 8th day of July there was a heavy rise of the Platte, which swept away the partially completed buildings, and the troops were compelled to move to the higher grounds a little further to the south, where work on the garrison buildings was again commenced. This was the site where the fort was afterward completed, and where its ruins may still be seen. The new post was called Fort Childs, by the war department, in honor of Captain Childs.


In February, 1849, Childs was succeeded in command by Major Ruff, of the Mounted Rifles, U.S.A., and soon after, the name of the post was changed to Fort Kearney, "Oregon Route," by order of the war department at Washington.


In 1854, its name was changed to Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory. It was so named in honor of the famous commander and Indian fighter, Phil Kearney, and was known by the overland freighters as new Fort Kearney, on account of the old fort at Nebraska City, bearing the same name.


In July, 1849, Major Ruff was sent to establish Fort Laramie, and was relieved of his command at Fort Kearney, by Colonel Crittenden, of the same regiment. The Rifle Company was soon after ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Phil Kearney then succeeded in command, and sometime after that Gen. Harney.


The following is the roster of the successive commanders at the fort in their order of succession, as near as can now be ascertained.


After Kearney, was:


Major Morris, Fourth Artillery

Captain Wharton, Sixth Infantry

Colonel Charles A. May, of Mexican war fame

Captain E. McGowan, Fourth Artillery

Colonel Bachus, Sixth Infantry

Colonel Miles, Second Infantry

Colonel Alexander, who, with Colonel May, is remembered by the early settlers of Central Nebraska, for his firm and earnest friendship toward the settlers.


Next after Colonel Alexander, of the Tenth Infantry, came the Second Nebraska troops, under Captain Fisher


Colonel Wood, Seventh Iowa troops

Colonel Livingstone, of the Nebraska troops

Colonel Wood again

Colonel Carington.


Next came the First Nebraska troops, under Colonel Baumer


Major T. J. Majors, of the Nebraska troops.


Majors is now contingent member of Congress for Nebraska.   


The subsequent commanders were:


1st, Captain Ladd

2d, General Wessels

3d, Lieutenant Dibble

4th, Major A. J. Dallas

5th, Gen. Gibbon

6th, Lieutenant Foulk

7th, Colonel Ransom

8th, Major Sinclair

9th, Captain Fenton

10th, Captain Pollack, who was in command of the post when it was abandoned in 1871.   


The last of the Nebraska troops, under Captain Weatherwax, were mustered out of service at Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory, by Gen. Wessels, on the 2nd day of September, 1866.


As soon as the building commenced at this post, trees were planted and various improvements made, that would ornament the otherwise lonesome place.


Again Colonel May, when assuming command, made a great many more improvements. The old sod and adobe buildings were destroyed, and others rebuilt, and various other improvements made.


The lands, on which the fort was located, belonged to the Pawnee Indians, who were then a powerful tribe, consisting of five divisions. It was transferred by them to the Government, for which they received the reservation now known as Nance County. They were also to be taught to farm, and schools were to be established. The project of schools was never carried out. The Pawnees also received an annuity. By another treaty, a tract of land ten miles square was set apart, to be known as the Fort Kearney Military Reservation. This tract extended two miles west from the fort, and eight miles east, to a point near Lowell; and to the north it extended to what is now Buda Station, on the Union Pacific Railroad. In addition, this reservation included the islands of the Platte, including Grand Island, which was sixty miles long. The treaty was signed by the Indian chiefs and the officers of the United States Army.


As soon as the heavy travel to California, after the discovery of the gold fields there, began, Fort Kearney was a scene of continued activity. It was situated on the line of the overland freight and emigrant route, over which there was a continuous line of travel, and life at the fort then be­came exciting and interesting.


Though there was before that an extensive travel of emigrants and freighters over the route, it was not until after the discovery of gold at Pike's Peak, and in the mountains of Colorado, and other Territories, that the greatest travel of emigrants, and the consequent freighting began.


There was no cessation to the stream of travel that now poured up the Platte Valley. Thousands were making their way to the new Territories.

By the year 1860, a daily overland stage and mail route had been established, and a telegraph line built from Omaha up the Platte Valley.


This line followed along the overland road up the north side of the river, until it reached a point opposite the fort where it crossed over, and from the fort again extended westward up the south side of the Platte River. The first telegraph office at the fort was kept in a sod house, and Mr. Ellsworth was the operator.


At the time of the breaking out of the war of the Rebel­lion, in the spring of 1861, there were exciting times at the fort. The greater number of the officers and the residents about the fort were sympathizers with the secessionists, though there were a large number of staunch union men.


Party spirit between the unionists and secessionists ran very high, and on many occasions there was danger of its leading to bloodshed. Though brave, the union men were in a hopeless minority. Other than petty trials and persecutions, these troubles had no serious results. In the anticipation of a civil war's breaking out, all was anxiety at the fort. Arrangements were made with the telegraph company for all the news. Whenever exciting news came in, a number of copies of the dispatch were written and sent out. A crowd would continually throng around the telegraph office eager for news.


The officers at the fort were divided in their sentiments. Many were union men but those who sympathized with the rebels of the South, urged secession as soon as the war commenced. Among the latter were Beverly Robertson, of Virginia, and Captain R. Henderson, both of whom afterward became generals in the Southern army. After Colonel Miles left with the Second United States Infantry, Captain Tyler, of the Second Dragoons, was left in temporary command.    He then spiked   fifteen large brass cannon, which came near causing mutiny on the part of the union soldiers.


Tyler then left the fort, and, going south, joined the rebel army. After remaining there some time, he returned north to Cincinnati to see his wife. Though in disguise he was recognized, captured, and sent a prisoner to Fort La Fayette, in New York harbor.


After the troubles on the breaking out of the Rebellion, there were no serious outbreaks from the secessionists, though they were numerous about the fort.


The first newspaper ever published in the county was at the fort, in 1862.


It was called the Fort Kearney Herald  and was edited and published by Moses Sydenham.










History of Nebraska 1882