"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder


Old Fort Kearney Block House at Nebraska City.
(Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

Old Fort Kearney was built in 1847 at Nebraska, City. It was a log blockhouse on the hill looking down on the Missouri River and soldiers returning across the plains from the war with Mexico wintered there. The very next year its name was taken away and given to the new fort called first Fort Childs, two hundred miles west in the Platte valley. The new Fort Kearney soon came to be the old Fort Kearney in the minds of travelers across the plains. It was the one fort between the Missouri River and the mountains in the early years. It was the place where other roads united with the Oregon Trail. The wide Platte valley about the fort was the camping ground of thousands of wagons every summer. Some days over five hundred ox teams passed the fort. The overland stage and pony express stations were here.

Old Earthworks at Fort Kearney, 1907.

When the Indian war of 1864 broke out Fort Kearney became the central point for the army. The First Nebraska cavalry was placed there. The wagon trains going west were not allowed to proceed until there were fifty wagons or more. Then they went on together through the wild country beyond.

Just west of the fort there grew up a village called Dobytown. It was a wild, rough place where all kinds of bad characters lived. When General Sherman rode through Dobytown during the Sioux war he was hissed by some of these people who favored the South. The old general remembered the insult and soon after an order came from Washington to abandon the fort. On May 17, 1871, the last soldiers departed and with them went the last support of Dobytown.

Fallen Cottonwood Tree on Site of Headquarters 1st. Nebraska Regiment at Ft. Kearney, 1864, as Seen in 1907.
(From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)

Fort Kearney is fallen into ruins. Mounds of earth now mark the place where its buildings stood. Low ridges and trenches almost filled are all that now remain of its outer works. The deep furrows of the old trails are blotted out by the plow and harrow. About the old parade ground giant cottonwood trees planted in 1848 stand like soldiers on guard. At one corner of the parade ground a fallen cottonwood marks the site of the First Nebraska headquarters. Five miles away the city of Kearney, full of life and bustle, looks across the Platte River at its namesake the deserted fort. So long as the story of early Nebraska and the memory of the Oregon Trail endure, the name of Fort Kearney will be remembered.


  1. Locate the first and the second Fort Kearney on the map.
  2. Why was the village near Fort Kearney called Dobytown?
  3. Why is Fort Kearney on the south side of the Platte and the present city of Kearney on the north side?
  4. What should be done with the site of Fort Kearney?