: COMMAND AND
HISTORY OF THE POST OF
THE QUARTERMASTER DEPOTS
The 1868 Laramie Treaty sustained the Indians' right to hunt in the
valley “so long as the buffalo may range thereon in such numbers as to
justify the chase.” As settlement began in that valley in 1870 it became
evident the frontiersmen needed military protection, particularly during the
Indians’ summer hunt.
, informally named for the then
governor, was established for that purpose midway between the Republican and
Little Blue River watersheds for the summer of 1870.
, located on Turkey Creek in
about two miles north of its confluence with the Republican River, was
established for the summer of 1871 and Camp Red Willow near Red Willow Creek
in 1872. The responsibility for the
was shifted to the military District of the Republican, headquartered at
, upon the district’s reestablishment in 1872.
On May 15, 1870 Sgt. Patrick Leonard and four men of Company C of the 2nd
encountered approximately sixty Indians near the confluence of Spring Creek and
the Little Blue River in what is now
. The five men quickly formed a
tight circle, felled and shot their horses and awaited the Indian charge.
Using their dead horses for cover, these gallant soldiers repulsed charge
after charge until their discouraged assailants withdrew.
Their courage earned each of them the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Settlers began to penetrate into the now verdant
in 1871. They too demanded
protection. Various companies from
Omaha Barracks, notably Company C of the 9th Infantry, spent their summers in
that valley. These summer tent camps
attained a degree of permanency limited only by the imagination of the soldier
who sought to make life comfortable and the officer who was concerned with
mobility and unannounced visits by superior officers.
relieved Omaha Barracks of the responsibility for the
upon its establishment in 1874.
When circumstances required troops during the winter a telegraph message was
sent to Department headquarters at
. If the commanding general decided
to commit troops they were drawn from those wintering at Omaha Barracks and
placed on the next train west. They
detrained at the point nearest to where they were needed and then rode or
marched to the trouble. The troops
which remained at
with the regimental headquarters during the summer were also used effectively
in this manner. Whether transporting
a company of regulars to
to help quell a prison riot or to
from where they marched to
to protect the Pawnee Agency, the railroad served as the helicopter of its
time. A tactical reserve was
meaningless without it.
Part of the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873 assembled at Omaha
Barracks. The expedition was
charged with the security of the surveying party for the Northern Pacific
Railroad. Their journey up the
compounded the tenseness between races created by relentless expansion.
During 1876, companies of the 23rd Infantry, then headquartered at
, joined in the fatiguing and bloody campaign to the northwest.
Omaha Barracks was the “rear guard” for that campaign.
Its infantry reserve provided replacements for cavalry units at posts
farther west, freeing the mobile cavalry for use in the various phases of the
campaign. Troops were quickly
shipped west by train from
outbreak in late 1878. They served
in the blocking and reaction forces which attempted to contain Dull Knife and
In the spring of 1878 Congress passed a bill requiring all military
department headquarters, with tightly restricted exceptions, to be located at
military posts. In response, General
Crook moved department headquarters from its home of over ten years, the
Withnell Building in Omaha, to the rural environs of Omaha Barracks.20
That summer’s Army Appropriation Bill authorized the construction of
three brick buildings at the post for the use of the Department; quarters for
the commanding general, a headquarters and a storehouse.
Work did not begin on these buildings until the following spring.
Omaha Barracks became
on December 30, 1878.21 The
change was not based on the erection of a stockade or other fortification but
merely on the Army’s never ending desire for uniformity.
General of the Army Sherman directed
that all temporary posts be designated camps and all permanent posts such as
The stillness of the next decade was marred only occasionally and then
primarily by civil disturbances, visiting dignitaries, the shouts of spectators
at increasingly frequent baseball games, and by the incessant clamor of hammers
and saws being used to maintain the frame buildings of the post in habitable
condition. Company H of the 9th
Infantry was sent to Hastings in April, 1879 at the request of the governor to
preserve order and safeguard justice during the Olive Fisher murder trial.22
In November of that year General Grant spent three days at the post and
the following September President Hayes visited Fort Omaha briefly during his
tour of the West.
It was while
was serving as headquarters for the Department of the Platte that the important
federal case of Standing Bear v. Crook was decided.23
Chief Standing Bear and twenty-nine other Ponca severed their connection
with the Tribe in the Indian Territory and began the trek northward toward their
old home in the
. The Omaha Tribe in northeastern
befriended them and gave them land for farming.
The Ponca were arrested by command of General Crook and were held in the
guardhouse pending return to the
. Crook was acting under orders
which had originated in the Indian Bureau of the Department of the Interior.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs had charged the Indians with escaping
from the reservation, fearing that allowing the Ponca to remain off their
reservation would serve as a precedent which could undermine the concept of the
With the help of an
newspaper reporter, Standing Bear asserted the government had no grounds for
confining him and his people. The
hearing commenced in the federal court room in
on May 1, 1879 “for the purpose of inquiry into the cause of the restraint of
liberty.” The court’s decision in favor of Chief Standing Bear and the other
Ponca guaranteed the Indian race the right to choose the tribal way of life on
the reservation or to dissolve tribal relations and subsist independently
anywhere the white race could lawfully reside.
Additionally, by holding an Indian was a “person” within the meaning
of the habeas corpus act, the court secured for the Indian race the right to be
free from arbitrary, unlawful detention or imprisonment by the government.
The headquarters and a detachment of the 4th Infantry arrived at
in 1882 to replace the 9th Infantry. The
Department of the Platte lost its commanding general, George Crook, in August of
that year to the Department of the
where the General attempted to resolve new difficulties with the Apaches.
received a new garrison, the 2nd Infantry, and added a rifle range to its
facilities. Bellevue Rifle Range was
officially established on May 19, 1886 at the northern edge of
. Through 1894, in accordance with
the preparedness doctrine established by General Crook, it was the site of
summer marksmanship training for rotating companies of the garrison and the
annual Department of the
From its inception,
was a social center of
. Elaborate receptions, such as the
one given General Crook when he departed for
, were the order of the day for the post’s officers and the prominent citizens
Of Omaha. Charity balls, band
concerts and sleighing parties in winter rounded out the officers social
calendar. The officers either helped
start several of the fraternal lodges which presently exist in
or extended strong support to the fledgling chapters which had already been
established. They were very active
and influential in
's Grand Army of the Republic posts since most were veterans of the Civil War.
Another product of the somewhat aristocratic-like designs of the officer
corps of that period was the Fort Omaha Dramatic Association.
Even the 2nd Regiment's Colonel's lady, Mrs. Frank Wheaton, tried
her hand at acting via the association. An
1888 newspaper reported she gave “a gem of a performance” in the play “A
Lesson of Love.”25
During the decade 1879-1889, the immediate future of
was determined. The increasingly
shabby condition of the post is illustrated by the following excerpt from the
March 31, 1882 inspection report, “The buildings . . . [are] old and
shaky and in severe cold and rainy weather uninhabitable . . . ; to thoroughly
repair them now would cost almost as much as to erect new ones.”
This condition was primarily the result of General Sherman’s original
recommendation to erect “cheap barracks.”
The situation forced a decision as to whether
should be rebuilt.
One obstacle to rebuilding the post was the federal government's lack of
title to the entire tract of land. This
was cleared in April 1882 when the citizens of
conveyed the title of the rented portion to the government.
But an even greater obstacle, created by the lobbying of the same citizens,
was not to be surmounted. Secretary
of War Robert Lincoln was continually pressured by
’s Senators Saunders and Van Wyck to have the post rebuilt.
Mr. Lincoln asked General Sherman to state his position concerning
the rebuilding of the post. In
response General Sherman wrote,
five Years ago Congress enacted that all headquarters of departments should be
removed to military posts of the
owned wholly by the government, such cases only as the Secretary of War might
except in writing. In fulfillment of
that law the Headquarters of the Department of the Platte was moved out of the
to Omaha Barracks . . . . By some
process unknown to me, Mr. Ramsay, Secretary of War, consented to have the
Department headquarters changed back into the city of
where a rental of $6,000.00 a year is
paid for a building less valuable than the one erected on the ground belonging
and not three miles distant.
the Headquarters of the Department of the Platte be retained in the city of
, I must conclude that Omaha Barracks has fulfilled its destiny and should be
allowed as other discontinued posts to go to decay.
But if the Department of the Platte is to be maintained and the post of
Omaha again made Department headquarters, then I am willing to report that the
point is well adapted as a post of reserve for troops not actively engaged on
the frontier but held for service in any direction easily reached from Omaha,
and to recommend that the present barracks and quarters, replaced by brick
buildings which will last a century.26
Fred M. Greguras
All Rights Reserved
1977, 1999, 2000