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military post on the Oregon Trail
The first Fort Kearny, consisting of one log blockhouse, was built atop a hill overlooking the Missouri River near present-day Nebraska City in 1847; it was named for Stephen W. Kearny, who had scouted the area previously. Soldiers returning from the Mexican War wintered there. However, just a year later, the military decided that the site was ill-chosen and a new fort was built some two hundred miles west on the south bank of the Platte River and about halfway between Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. This new fort was first called Fort Childs, but then took the name of the original fort. The new post, established along the Oregon-California Trail, was soon protecting thousands of westward bound pioneers who camped in the wide Platte Valley around the fort. Reports estimate that on some days over five hundred ox teams passed the fort. The post also served as an ammunition depot and protected peaceable Indians in the area from hostiles and outlaws.
In 1850, stage coach service began between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City, Utah, providing the fort with regular once-a-month mail and passenger service, and a small settlement called Dobytown was established just west of the fort about 1859. The fort served as an important stop on the Pony Express in 1860-1861, and as the home of the First Nebraska Cavalry and Seventh Iowa Cavalry during the Indian wars of the mid-1860's. The importance of Fort Kearny began to decline after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, and the last soldiers departed on May 17, 1871.
None of the fort's original sod and adobe buildings have survived, but the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has reconstructed two of the fort buildings as part of Fort Kearny State Historical Park. The city of Kearney, Nebraska, was named for the fort, but a postal error resulted in an extra "e" in the name, and the error has never been corrected.
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This page was last updated on June 18, 2017.