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For the next decade Fort Crook served as a recuperation center and recruit training center.  It was almost inactive immediately prior to World War I when the garrison was ordered south to help General Pershing chase Pancho Villa.  Like its neighbor to the north, the post was used to train Signal Corps balloonists during World War I.  When the first air officer, Captain Ira A. Rader, reported for duty in September 1920, there was no aircraft landing field.  In 1955 then Colonel (Ret.) Rader recalled how the first field was built:

I spotted a cornfield back of the barracks that had been leased to a farmer.  I arranged with the Q.M. to terminate the lease as soon as the corn then ripe could be harvested.  My sergeant [Byron L. Fowler] knew nothing of Army Regulation.  I told him to make me a field and he did.

I learned later this involved putting the three men in the detachment out to work gathering corn in exchange for a mule team and scraper [the following spring].  He also dealt with the county road authorities and got a grader into action.  I don’t know what this deal was, but believe he promised the votes of the detachment at the next election.

At any rate, within a month after starting on it, he had a level space big enough to land my planes.  The Air Service headquarters promised me a construction man from McCook Field [ Dayton , Ohio ] to supervise the erection of a hangar if I could get soldier labor to put it up.  This was beyond Sergeant Fowler’s ability for the moment, as the post authorities were already suspicious of his activities and wouldn't loan him a man.

However, I borrowed 20 men from Fort Omaha .  The hangar and the construction supervisor arrived and it was erected.  I brought the planes over from the airmail hangar and Fort Crook had an operating Air Force of two planes.46

In 1924 the landing field was named the “Jarvis Offutt Field” in honor of the first air service Omahan killed in World War I.47  The field was used continually as the landing point for Omaha air mail operations until early 1941.

The post was an important midwest reserve training center during the late 1920’s and money-starved 30’s.  A new rifle range northeast of Plattsmouth was added to the facilities in 1927.48  In 1933, F.D.R.’s New Deal” became a reality to many Nebraskans through the establishment of the state headquarters and regional camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Crook .

In 1941 the hospital was demolished to make way for the Glenn Martin Bomber Assembly Plant.  During the war an induction center for draftees and a quartermaster motor supply depot were added.  The imposing barracks, which first echoed the voices of the men of the 22nd Infantry, echoed the unfamiliar sounds of Italian prisoners of war during 1945.

The Army lost Fort Crook to the Second Air Force in June 1946 and the Air Force promptly renamed the post Offutt Field.  In 1948, the far reaching significance of Colonel Rader’s 1920 actions culminated when the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command was transferred to the mid-continental, newly named Offutt Air Force Base.49

The contrast between the remaining 19th century buildings and the modern air force base is never more evident than when looking north from the south end of the old parade ground.  On the left are the extant officers quarters and on the right the north and south wings of the original barracks.  Three hundred yards to the north is the concrete ribbon of the runway from which the whine of jet engines of aircraft landing and taking-off envelops the parade ground.

Other remaining 19th century buildings include the guard house at the southeast corner of the parade ground and the three northern most non-commissioned officers’ quarters east of the guard house.  Near the northeast corner of the base, the old Fort Crook post cemetery is hidden between modern base housing units.

In June 1992 Offutt became the headquarters of the Strategic Command when the Strategic Air Command ceased operations.  The presence of the awesomely-powerful Strategic Air Command and now the Strategic Command has given Omaha a military importance never before attained.

The Quartermaster Depots:

In May 1866 the quartermaster of the Department of the Platte directed that two temporary storehouses be built at Omaha to hold stores destined for the plains.  The two structures were constructed that summer on Union Pacific property near the railroad’s main building.

Augustus Kountze, Omaha banker and president of the city’s Board of Trade was concerned the Department's primary quartermaster depot would be established at a point farther west and not at Omaha .  He wrote M.C. Meigs, the Quartermaster General of the Army, of the importance of making Omaha a permanent warehouse and distribution point for supplies for the Army on the western frontier.  Mr. Kountze pointed out the following facts concerning Omaha ’s advantageous location:

[T]he Union Pacific Railroad is now completed and in working order two hundred and forty miles West of Omaha, . . . . by the first of November it will have crossed the north fork of the Platte River a distance of three hundred miles west of Omaha and . . . by the first of July next it will be completed to a point not less than four hundred miles west.

[T]he North Western Railroad from Chicago to Omaha is also being constructed with almost equal rapidity, this latter road is now within about seventy miles of Omaha and . . . will be completed to form the connection by the first of March next thus forming an unbroken line of railroad from New York and all the other eastern cities to a point four hundred miles west of Omaha, . . .  At the same time the St. Joseph and Council Bluffs Railroad is being pushed forward with great energy and it is confidently expected that these two points will be in railroad connection by the first of April next thus forming a continuous line of railroad from St. Louis to Omaha.

With these lines of railroad and the navigable waters of the Missouri River, Omaha becomes eminently the great distributing point for the West and northwest.

[O]maha is located in the center of the richest agricultural region of the West . . . corn, wheat and bacon can be purchased in Omaha , at rates much lower than it can be shipped from St. Louis .

[A]t no point west can the buildings necessary for the use of the government be constructed at so little cost, the material necessary for buildings at Fort Laramie or Fort Sedgwick would have to be purchased at Omaha and then transported at great cost to either of those points, . . . land is valuable at Omaha, . . . but we are instructed to say that for the purpose herein specified, that the citizens of Omaha will donate the grounds to the government . . . . 50

Mr. Kountze’s argument was apparently convincing and the central quartermaster depot for the Department of the Platte known to Omahans as the "Government Corral,” was established at Omaha .

The rectangularly shaped depot encompassed the aforementioned storehouses built along the Union Pacific siding.  From Thirteenth and Webster Streets, the depot extended northeast approximately nine hundred feet and southeast approximately three hundred and fifty feet to the siding.51  The siding served as the eastern boundary of the depot.  At the north end was a huge corral which at one time enclosed almost thirty thousand square feet.  The center was used as an assembly area for wagon convoys and was surrounded by a stable and the corral on the north, storehouses and loading platforms on the east, and by maintenance shops and a stable on the west.52

This conglomeration was built completely on the property of the Union Pacific.  The land was rented by contract for one dollar a year.53  The government retained the right to all improvements and of renewing the contract indefinitely provided the Union Pacific did not need the tract for strictly railroad purposes.

For more than ten years the depot received and dispatched supplies for the posts and campaigns to the west.  Before the railroad connections to the east were completed, munitions, goods and equipment came up the Missouri on steamboats which docked south of the foot of Jones Street .

In a typical one month period in 1867 stores were shipped to Forts McPherson and Kearny in Nebraska , to Fort Sedgwick in Colorado and to Forts Laramie, Phil Kearny and D.A. Russell in Wyoming .  The Christmas menu was brightened considerably by shipments of lobsters and oysters to the various posts during early December of that year.

William Fitch, chief storekeeper and inspector at the depot from 1867 to 1876, recalled:

That corral was the busiest place I ever saw . . . . We kept five hundred horses and mules there all the time . . . . The horses were sent on to the cavalry out on the plains.  The mules were used to haul the great supply wagons.

Our horses and mules grazed in the daytime out on the open prairie which was that country between Thirteenth and Webster and Fort Omaha .  At night the animals were all brought within the corral walls, for fear the Indians would run them off.

I remember the excitement when news of the massacre of General Custer and his command up on the Little Big Horn reached us.  We had outfitted and sent forward supplies for the Custer Campaign, some by boat up the Missouri and others by railroad to some Wyoming point, to be hauled overland by wagon train to the Custer command.

All the great generals of the war used to come to Omaha and to the corral.  There were more generals and colonels and majors and other officers around Omaha in those days than there are policemen at the present.54

In 1879, $10,000 was spent to construct a new storehouse at Fort Omaha for the Department of the Platte .  On May 9, 1879 General Crook ordered the abandonment of the depot.  He cited the duplication of effort between the depot and the new storehouse, the condition of the depot buildings, and fulfillment of purpose as his reasons.  

As usual, Omaha businessmen did not take this order lightly.  Senators Paddock and Saunders held a public meeting in Omaha on May 14th to discuss the situation with their constituents.  The following excerpt from the telegram sent by the Senators to the Secretary of War summarizes the outcome of the meeting:

The discontinuance is thought to be in the nature of discrimination against Omaha , Iowa and Nebraska in the interest of Chicago as a supply center. . . . we ask that the order herein may be recalled or so modified as not to affect the business interest . . . .

Luckily, but probably because of political perception, the pending Army Appropriation Bill contained an allocation of $30,000 to construct new warehouses at Omaha .  Thus the businessmen were appeased.  However, they donated the triangularly shaped tract of land on the mainline of the Union Pacific for the new depot.  The seven acre triangle on which the depot was constructed is formed by present day Twenty-Second Street on the West and Woolworth Avenue on the north with the mainline union Pacific tracks serving as the hypotenuse.

Bids were received for the construction of four buildings at the new site in April 1880.  The bid specification called for the completion of the buildings by the first of July.55  Two of those four buildings still stand; the long brick storehouse, now called Building One,56 and the brick oil house, Building Fifteen, just inside the Woolworth Avenue entrance.  Two other existing buildings were constructed prior to 1900.  Building Eighteen was built in 1889 for use as an ordnance storehouse and Building Twenty was built in 1894 as quartermaster and commissary storehouse.

As late as 1917 all supplies sent to Fort Crook and Fort Omaha were transported by horse-drawn vehicles.  Activity increased at the depot during World War I but by 1931 the government no longer wanted the facility and attempted to sell it.  However, an attempted auction did not generate any offers.  During the 1930’s, the depot handled the supplies for thirty-four Civilian Conservation Corps camps across a three state area.  It served in many capacities during World War II; as an ordnance school for officers, a POW camp in the latter stages of the war and, as in previous wars, it handled supplies.  For this war, however, no munitions or even food or clothing were handled or transported, only the expendable supplies for area recruiting stations.  In January 1958 the depot was designated as Headquarters for the XVI Army Corps area.  They too abandoned Omaha Depot.57

Thus although the supply depots at Omaha were relegated to a secondary role in the history-making events of the West, battling nothing more dangerous than the treacherous Army mule, they were of major importance.  The depots provided the food, medicines, ordnance, mounts and other necessities for the men whose actions facilitated the settlement of the west.

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Ó Fred M. Greguras
All Rights Reserved
1977, 1999, 2000