Built in 1848, Fort Kearny was the first fort built to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. Later, it served as a home station for Pony Express riders, as well as sheltering crews building the Union Pacific Railroad. I expected to see a detailed history of these events. This is what I saw:
Fort Kearny was discontinued as a military post in 1871. The buildings were torn down and the land was opened for homesteading. Nothing remains except a grease spot on the ground.
So let me tell you what I learned over the last couple of weeks that led me to want to see Fort Kearny:
The growth of overland emigration to Oregon from 1842 to 1848 resulted in the establishment of military posts across the West to protect the travelers. The first post established was Fort Kearny.
At Fort Kearny all the trails radiating from the Missouri River towns converged to form the main line of the Platte Valley Route. The newborn Fort Kearny faced an onslaught of traffic during the 1849 California gold rush (you remember the 49’ers). Actually, it’s busiest year was that year, a year after it was built. During the months of May and June, 25,000 people passed by.
Despite its lack of fortifications, Fort Kearny served as way station, sentinel post, supply depot, and message center for the 49’ers and pioneers bound for the west. The Fort was a vital communications link between the settled East and the golden West. It was a participant in all of the day’s major forms of frontier communications: Overland Stage, US mail, Pony Express, and the telegraph. One of it’s final duties was the protection of workers building the Union Pacific Railroad.
The Union Pacific Railroad reached Fort Kearny in August, 1866. Its coming marked the end of an era for the fort, as well as for the territory. Nebraska became a state in 1867. The transcontinental railroad, which crisscrossed the new state, made Fort Kearny obsolete. The Overland trail ceased to be used with the advent of the railroad (why take a 6 month journey in a covered wagon, when you can ride the train for $50.00 and get there in a week?)