Hundreds of soldiers and pioneers died on the Nebraska frontier. Some were killed by Indians, some were drowned, some were frozen to death in great storms, some died of disease. Some of these were buried where they died. Many were buried in the cemeteries belonging to the United States forts.
One such cemetery, Fort McPherson Military Cemetery, was chosen by the United States for the final resting place of the bodies of the brave men and women from all the plains and the mountains. It is in Lincoln County, Nebraska, on the south side of the Platte, about six miles from Maxwell on the Union Pacific Railroad. There are six acres in the cemetery, enclosed by a brick wall. Within are tall, beautiful cottonwood trees. Beneath the shade of the trees are long rows of graves, each grave with a white stone at the head. Some are large handsome monuments with the story of the dead cut upon them. Others are only small white slabs bearing the one word "Unknown." There are 361 of these unknown graves.
Within the wall is a house belonging to the cemetery in which lives the officer in charge with his family. Everything about the place shows loving care and attention. From a tall flagstaff a large United States flag floats from sunrise to sunset above the graves. Birds nest and rear their young in the trees. All is quiet and restful as befits the place.
The officer keeps a book wherein are recorded names of the dead so far as they are known, where they died and where they were first buried. Their bodies have been brought here from eighteen different graveyards near the old forts which have been abandoned since the frontier days are gone. From the plains of Colorado to the mountains of far-off Idaho, and even from the Philippines, the buried heroes of the frontier have been tenderly brought and laid away in Nebraska soil. One walks for hours and reads the stories written upon the headstones. Here are the bodies of the soldiers killed with Lieutenant Grattan on August 18, 1854, in the beginning of the war with the Sioux. Here are the graves of women and little children who died on the frontier. Here are the dead of Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie. Here lies Spotted Horse, a brave Pawnee scout. Here rest the heroes of the Sioux and Cheyenne wars. From all the well-known forts the dead are here -- as shown by the record books.
From Fort Hall, Idaho . . . . . . . . 11 From Fort Bridger, Wyoming . . . . . . 23 From Fort Fetterman, Wyoming . . . . . . 30 From Fort Laramie, Wyoming . . . . . . 133 From Fort Crawford, Colorado . . . . . . 25 From Fort Halleck, Wyoming . . . . . . 28 From Fort Lewis, Colorado . . . . . . . 41 From Fort Kearney, Nebraska . . . . . . 198 From Fort Saunders, Wyoming . . . . . . 51 From Fort Sidney, Nebraska . . . . . . 4 From Fort Steele, Wyoming . . . . . . . 49 From Fort Hartsuff, Nebraska . . . . . . 3 From Fort McPherson, Nebraska . . . . . 125 From Fort Independence Rock, Wyoming . . . 3 From Fort White River Camp, Colorado . . . 2 From Fort Gothenburg, Nebraska . . . . . 1 From Fort Farnam, Nebraska . . . . . . 1 From Fort La Bonte, Wyoming . . . . . . 8 From Fort Manila, Philippine Islands . . . 1 _____ Total . . . . . . . . 737
There is room now for but a few more graves. Only soldiers and their wives may be buried here, and the wife only if her husband is already interred here, and then above him in the same grave. It is the plan of the United States to gather the bodies of those who died for the nation into national cemeteries where their graves will be cared for so long as the nation lives. There are more than eighty of these. This is the only one in Nebraska.
Fort McPherson Military Cemetery.
(From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)
The spot chosen for this cemetery is rich in memories of the early days. The Oregon Trail runs within a few yards of the wall, the deep lines made by its wagon wheels still plain in the unbroken sod. Here was the place where the wagon trains were most often attacked, since here the trail runs close to the bluffs where the Indians could hide. Fort McPherson itself stood near the bluff and about a mile southeast of the cemetery. It was built in 1863 and abandoned in 1891.
Many visitors come each year and linger among these monuments which recall the border days. The frontier is gone, the old forts are pulled down, the soldiers have marched away, the overland trails are grown over with grass or turned under by the plow. But the memories of the early years will always abide here. Gathered from all the forts and battlefields of the frontier West the bodies of these brave men and women here sleep their last sleep in quiet repose in Nebraska soil. At the entrance are these words:
Their silent tents are spread;
While Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.