history of what is now Kearney County may be said to date back to the time of the
establishment of Fort
Kearney, in 1848.
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,
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
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
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.
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.
February, 1849, Childs was succeeded in command by Major Ruff, of the Mounted
and soon after, the name of the post was changed to Fort Kearney, "Oregon
Route," by order of the war department at Washington.
1854, its name was changed to Fort
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
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.
following is the roster of the successive commanders at the fort in their order
of succession, as near as can now be ascertained.
Morris, Fourth Artillery
Wharton, Sixth Infantry
Charles A. May, of Mexican war fame
E. McGowan, Fourth Artillery
Bachus, Sixth Infantry
Miles, Second Infantry
Alexander, who, with Colonel
May, is remembered by the early settlers of Central Nebraska, for
his firm and earnest friendship toward the settlers.
Alexander, of the Tenth Infantry, came the Second Nebraska troops, under
Wood, Seventh Iowa troops
Livingstone, of the Nebraska
Colonel Wood again
came the First Nebraska troops, under Colonel Baumer
T. J. Majors, of the Nebraska
is now contingent member of Congress for Nebraska.
subsequent commanders were:
2d, General Wessels
Major A. J. Dallas
Captain Pollack, who was in command of the post when it was abandoned in
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.
soon as the building commenced at this post, trees were planted and various
improvements made, that would ornament the otherwise lonesome place.
May, when assuming command, made a great many more improvements. The old sod
and adobe buildings were destroyed, and others rebuilt, and various other
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
the troubles on the breaking out of the Rebellion, there were no serious
outbreaks from the secessionists, though they were numerous about the fort.
first newspaper ever published in the county was at the fort, in 1862.
called the Fort Kearney Herald and was edited and published
by Moses Sydenham.
History of Nebraska 1882