The Department headquarters did not return to
The fort still fulfilled its mission despite its “lame duck” status.
Its garrison, the 2nd Infantry, was used to defend the Pine Ridge Indian
Agency and to prevent further departures from the Dakota Reservation during the
winter of 1890. Following
Depressed land values, coupled with the continuous occupation of the post
and the perennial lobbying of
The Secretary of War ordered the deactivation of
In 1908 the Signal Corps opened a balloon gas plant at
Swinging below a balloon at an altitude of one mile, two to five miles from
the enemy's lines, Fort Omaha Balloon School graduates were able to make far
more detailed, minute-by-minute analyses of the enemy's movements than could the
pilot of a fixed-wing aircraft. In
addition to their sentinel duty, the balloon aviators, communicating by
telephone, directed the fire of artillery batteries on to enemy targets.
The imposing balloons presented inviting targets for enemy aircraft.
The courageous balloonists had only pistols and parachutes for
protection. Their daring service
provided an impetus for
The fort was continuously occupied through the lull of the 1920’s and the
depression of the 30’s. During
World War II it served as a support installation for the 7th Service Command.
From 1947 until late 1973 the post served as a Naval Support Activity.
The senior and largest tenant was the headquarters of the Naval Surface
Reserve whose commanding officer occupied the house built for General Crook.
Although all of the original frame buildings were moved from the post or
demolished following the deactivation of 1896, the brick buildings built prior
to that deactivation have survived.33
The three buildings erected for the Department of the Platte during 1879
still stand.34 The house
built for General Crook sits proudly just north of the northwest corner of the
parade ground. General and Mrs. Grant
were guests in the house for three days in November 1879.
The interior retains much of its original character.
At the north end of the parade ground stands the Department headquarters,
building 8.35 One of the
first telephones in
Three other brick buildings erected in 1884 still serve.
Just south of the original main gate is building 4.
This structure and the garage behind it were originally just one, a
guardhouse. After the reactivation
of the post, the rear or east wing of the guardhouse was used as a hose house
and about 1914 the corridor joining the wing to the main building was removed.
The Magazine, building 9,37 located south of the southeast
corner of the parade ground, was used to store the Navy’s small arms
ammunition until they departed. Building
11A38 a double set of officers’ quarters, was built at a cost of
$11,000. It is the first building
north of General Crook’s house.
By February 1890 a 545 acre tract of grassy farmland had been purchased
Under the watchful eye of Major Charles F. Humphrey, who later served
as Quartermaster General of the Army, the plateau underwent an amazing
transformation. An eyewitness gave
this account of the progress:
Missouri Pacific has built a pretty little station at the west entrance to the
grounds, and it [Fort Crook] is a half mile walk across a grassy plain and along
shaded lanes from Bellevue on the east, which is reached by the B&M
Railroad. From this side [east] the
visitor will come suddenly out . . . into a great clattering of hammers and
hatchets, trowels and planes. Between
200 and 300 men are at work in all lines of the building trade, and under their
hands the plans of the architects are beginning to assume form . . . .
the buildings are grouped about and face the parade ground, an oblong piece of
level ground several acres in extent. The
officers’ quarters are on the west, the barracks and non-commissioned staff
officers on the east, the hospital on the north and the other regimental
buildings on the south.
most imposing building on the grounds is the barracks which when completed, will
have a frontage of nearly 800 feet. It
commands a view of the parade ground and the officers’ quarters beyond and the
palatial quarters of the Army mule is on the west side of the reservation, built
of pressed brick, . . . and in every way calculated for the comfort of their
occupants and the convenience of their attendants . . . .41
In June, 1896 the order was given for the 22nd Infantry to take station at
Immediately after its arrival the regiment plunged into a peace-time
garrison routine; continuous field training, constant drill and parades.
Once winter enveloped the post there was little to relieve the monotony;
a visit to one of the saloons in Crooktown just west of the main gate, a weekly
10-12 mile march which was rarely canceled despite the severe weather, or an
occasional trip to Omaha via the railroad. The
The only battle fought was the annual “Battle of Hospital Hill.”
The culmination of a series of mock skirmishes was the enlisted men's
charge north up hospital hill which was defended by the post’s
non-commissioned officers. The
NCO’s dug trenches for a defensive position for the first battle.
In the greatest tradition of practicalness the trenches were not filled
in by the NCO’s but were left for future battles.
These trenches and ricocheting bullets from the small arms range east of
the hospital were the primary source of casualties at the post.
The sinking of the
ran high; rousing cheers burst from transports to be unloaded later; regimental
bands played; out at sea the navy cannonaded the wooded mountains that rise from
the beach. The water was alive with
little boats that tossed and raced for the shore.
Shells screeched overhead and burst far up on the heights.
Tugging launches puffed and whistled.
Near the dock a wall of surf reared an angry welcome, then broke in
swamping torrents. Boat bumped boat,
was dashed against the piles, then stranded by the outgoing wave, swept forward
again and caught by a line from the dock. Out
scrambled the regiment, tossing blanket rolls ahead of them, but carefully
handing rifles to helping comrades--a surf drenched, panting regiment that
caught its breath again and cheered as their colors unfurled, the first on Cuban
The regiment exhibited extreme courage, endurance and the skills learned on
the western frontier during the drive toward the city of
Fred M. Greguras
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1977, 1999, 2000