Fort Kearny State Historical Park, Buffalo County, Nebraska
An important site on the Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer Trails was Fort Kearny in present-day Buffalo County, Nebraska. Named after Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny, later General Kearny, this fort provided a safe refuge for the many pioneers traveling during the overland trails period of Nebraska history. Moreover,as commander of the Army of the West during the Mexican war, Kearny needed more infantry–more foot soldiers. That need and the location of many of the Saints factored into the U.S, government’s request for men to serve in the Mormon Battalion.
The fort was utilized heavily by trail travelers because it was connected to mail service, had a hospital, and offered protection. In fact, William Hartley and Gary Anderson note that “It was the first and only post the government established along that trail solely to protect emigrants.” It was also a base for the Pony Express during 1860-61.
According to a published brochure provided to visitors, the fort was established in 1848 and discontinued as a military post in 1871. It’s buildings were torn down and the site was opened to homesteaders. The fort’s original site was purchased in the 1920s for historical purposes. It was officially opened as a state historical park in 1959. The fort complex has a visitors’ center, blacksmith shop, rebuilt fort and other features.
There is a campground/recreation area several miles away. Today’s replica fort complex is located just a few miles from the city of Kearney, Nebraska. In the name of the city, there is the letter “e” between the “n” and the “y” which is not found in Kearny’s name or the name of the fort. This can be confusing. That “e” in the name of the city was a postal error which has been perpetuated over the years.
Map and Directions
Fort Kearny State Historical Park is owned and maintained by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. It is usually open from 9-5, but those times may fluctuate because of staffing and other issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Fees vary depending on what one wishes to visit, a day pass costing between $4-6. One may walk on the grounds outside of the visitors’ center and fort without charge during daylight hours.
Articles & Resources
William G. Hartley and A. Gary Anderson, in LaMar C. Berrett, ed., Sacred Places, Vol. 5, 285.
Richard E. Bennett, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus 1846-1848, 42.
Russell R. Rich, Ensign to the Nations: A History of the LDS Church from 1846 to 1972, 57.