Writing about the historical Old West is in my blood! Why? Because I was born near the Oregon Trail in Kearney, Nebraska. As a young girl, I became interested in the history of nearby Fort Kearny after which my hometown was named and equally fascinated to read about the soldiers, pioneers, and Native Americans who help create the history of America's growth westward.
Fort Kearny was founded in 1848 along the Platte River and named after then Colonel and later General Stephen W. Kearny. As an interesting side note, the "e" was added to Kearny by postmen who consistently misspelled the town name. Also one should not confuse Fort Kearny with the historic Fort Phil Kearny located in Wyoming and named after Kearny's nephew, Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny.
General Stephen W. Kearny
Despite its lack of fortifications, Ft. Kearny served as a way station, sentinel post, supply depot and message center for 49ers bound for California and emigrants traveling to California, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. Numbering in the hundreds of thousands, those brave pioneers crossed the continent searching for economic opportunity, and who associated land ownership and farming with freedom.
Throughout most of its 23-year history, the outpost consisted mostly of wooden buildings surrounding a central parade ground without fortified walls. Throughout the decades of its use until the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the buildings became slightly more permanent, changing from adobe and sod structures to the wooden frame buildings.
Fort Kearny State Historical Park
In 1960, Nebraska designated the land where the outpost once stood as Fort Kearny State Historical Park. Archeological exploration has located the building sites that are now marked with interpretive signs. Replicas of the palisade and blacksmith shop were built. An interpretive center presents audio-visual programs and museum displays. The park's 40 acres also acts as a recreational area, providing hiking trails, camping, picnicking and boating.
When visiting relatives, I've visited the park several times. Fort Kearny played a vital role in the history of the settlement of the American West and I feel fortunate to have spent part of my childhood living nearby and thus, developing a love for our western heritage and more importantly a love of writing about it.