Monday, January 4, 2016

Fort Kearny - The first U.S.Army post on the Oregon Trail ~ By Cheri Kay Clifton


 Howdy to the Sweethearts of the West! I'm certainly proud to be the newest member of your group and have the opportunity to learn more about all of you and the books you write, as well as participate in reading and writing informative blogs about our beloved West.

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. 


 As the first U.S. Army post on the Oregon Trail, it grew rapidly into an important trail stop.  The fort accumulated large stores of goods for travelers, with the directive of selling them at beneficial cost to the emigrants. The commander of the fort was authorized to sell goods at cost to emigrants, and in cases of hardship, to give goods to them for free.  In 1850, the fort acquired regular once-a-month mail service with the arrival of a stagecoach route between Independence, Missouri and Salt Lake City.  It was the first regular mail service established along the trail. By the 1860's the fort became a significant freighting station and home station of the Pony Express.

Although it was in the heart of lands inhabited by Native Americans, and was near the center of hostile action in the 1860's, no direct attack was ever made on the fort.  However, in the summer of 1864, the irritation of the Native Americans at the encroachment by white settlers culminated in violent attacks on wagon trains along the Platte and the Little Blue River.  During this time, soldiers from Fort Kearny began escorting wagon trains and the fort became a center for refugees fleeing from attacks.

The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad across Nebraska starting in 1867 largely marked the end of the need for a fort to protect and supply wagon train emigrants.  Following the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the U.S. Army issued an order for abandonment of the post in May, 1871.


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.

Sources:  http://www.america101.us/trail/FtKearny
                http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kearny,Nebraska
                http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/OregonTrail


14 comments:

  1. A very interesting post, Cheri Kay. Clearly, Fort Kearny had an important and, at times, critical role in the settlement of the West and on the Oregon Trail. i enjoyed learning more about the fort and was surprised to hear it was abandoned in 1871. Thought it would have been much later -- even with the railroad. Really makes me wonder if they regretted that decision. What happened to the men stationed there? Did they transfer to another fort in a more dangerous area? Sounds like a premise for a book. :) Thank you for a great post, and welcone to the Sweethearts of the West blog.

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    1. Thanks, AShley. Actually, I did refer to Ft. Kearny in my book, Trail To Destiny, Book 1 in the Wheels of Destiny Trilogy.

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  2. First of all, let me welcome you to the Sweethearts of the West blog, Kay. I hope you will enjoy writing the posts about the old west as well as reading posts by other writers.
    This article was certainly thorough and interesting to read. Although I wasn't born or raised in the west, I liked that you were and that you have such enthusiasm for the west and its history. I lived in Nebraska for a year. I admire anyone who can endure those winters. Brrrr!
    I am still amazed by the fact that Fort Kearny was never attacked and had no fortifications for such an event. With all those supplies and its determination to be a refuge for the pioneers, one would think it would be high on the Native American hit list. I liked that the fort gave food to those in need.
    A very interesting post, Kay!

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    1. BTW, I didn't know if you went by Cheri, Kay, or Cheri Kay. What do you prefer?

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    2. Hi Sarah, great to get acquainted with you through our site. Most friends call me Cheri.

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  3. The name of the fort is familiar, of course, to anyone who reads about the old West. But this is the first information I've read in depth about its history and its importance. Lucky you, to have such a wonderful area where you grew up that supplies so much rich history. Me? I use Texas every chance I get, and this is what makes our blog so good. Each author is familiar with a different region..except a few of us who do live in at least the same state. Like the others, I'm surprised the fort was never attached by Native Americans.
    I loved the photos--Well done, Cheri, and once again..Welcome to the Sweethearts of the West.

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    1. Celia, I really enjoyed writing about Ft. Kearny. In researching our western history, we learn so much and in fact, I'm sure you'll agree, sometimes get so interested in the research, we have to remind ourselves to get on with writing the book! Ha!

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  4. I loved your post. I wrote a story based on some of the information my great, great grandfather wrote about in his journal in 1849. When we moved to Wisconsin from California and drove through Nebraska and saw the Platte River I could almost see my grandfather as he came west. History can be so fun when your heart is in it.

    Welcome again to The Sweethearts of the West, Cheri!

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    1. Hi Paisley. In researching the Oregon Trail for my book, I read several personal journals from traveling emigrants. How special to actually read a journal of a family member who had traveled through the frontier.

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  5. I've always known this Ft. Kearny was important to the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, but it was interesting reading more of the history. For those "pilgrims" traveling the wagon trains west, it was about all there was between St. Joseph and Ft. Laramie.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

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    1. You're absolutely right, Robyn. However, I did use a fictitious fort between Ft. Kearny and Ft. Laramie. That way, I could use fictitious Cavalry officers and enlisted in my story.

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  6. Very informative and enjoyable article - Thank you, Cheri Kay

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    1. Thanks, Chad. Like I've told you before, you were given a great name, like our son's! Did you know that the English meaning for the name is "protector, defender." Wasn't surprised when our son became a Colonel in the Air Force!

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