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Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Kearney County
Produced by R. J. Christensen.

Part 1

Kearney County is situated in southern Nebraska, twenty-four miles north of the Kansas line, and in the eighth tier of counties west from the Missouri River. In extent, it is twenty-four miles square, and it is bounded on the north by Buffalo County, on the east by Adams, on the south by Franklin, and on the west by Phelps.


The Platte River borders it on the north, and separates it from Buffalo County. Within the limits of the county are no streams of any importance. There are a few deep draws that contain deep holes filled with a very fair quality of water suited for stock purposes, but this is all. Kearney County is very poorly provided with natural water courses, and the most of the water used by the settlers has to be drawn from wells. This is generally done by wind-mills, and when once got at, is of the very purest quality.

The surface of the land is a high, upland prairie, and quite level, but just rolling enough to afford good drainage. Many draws, most of them shallow, with gently sloping banks, relieve the monotony of the otherwise unbroken prairie. The soil is deep and fertile, and thus adapted to the growth of all agricultural products common to this latitude.

The settlements now extend throughout all parts of the county and are rapidly increasing in numbers. The population already aggregates nearly 5,000. Large and attractive farms under a good state of improvement have been opened up in all parts of the county. The farmers have been very successful in the raising of both crops and live stock, but those who have combined the two branches of industry have received a much greater reward for their labors than those who depend on grain-raising alone.


The history of what is now Kearney County may be said to date back to the time of the establishment of Fort Kearney, in 1848. This fort was located in the northern part of the county, on the second bottom lands of the Platte River and but a short distance therefrom, and about half way across the county from east to west. At the time of the establishment of this post, Nebraska was one vast uninhabited territory, popularly supposed to be a barren desert, where none but the Indians could exist. Thousands of these savages, however, roamed over the prairies, and the reason why Secretary of War Marcy sent soldiers to this remote place was to protect the overland travel to Oregon, which had then commenced. This was previous to the discovery of the gold fields of California, and there was but little travel to that portion of the Pacific slope until long after the garrison was stationed at Fort Kearney.

Under orders from Secretary of War Marcy, Captain Childs, of Missouri Volunteers, visited Nebraska to establish a fort somewhere on the Oregon Overland Route at some distance from the Missouri River. He started early in the year 1848, and first made an encampment near where the town of Aurora, Hamilton Co., now stands. Here he intended to build the fort, but upon careful examination of the Platte River at and near the point where Lone Tree, now Central City, Merrick Co., was located, he found the fording of the Platte to be so difficult and dangerous, that the site which had been selected was abandoned in May, 1848, and he moved on up the Platte River to what was then known as Carson's Crossing, where he arrived on the 17th day of June of the same year. A site was at once selected for the proposed fort, on the south side of the river and near the bank. Building was commenced at once, but on the 8th day of July there was a heavy rise of the Platte, which swept away the partially completed buildings, and the troops were compelled to move to the higher grounds a little further to the south, where work on the garrison buildings was again commenced. This was the site where the fort was afterward completed, and where its ruins may still be seen. The new post was called Fort Childs, by the war department, in honor of Captain Childs.

In February, 1849, Childs was succeeded in command by Major Ruff, of the Mounted Rifles, U. S. A., and soon after, the name of the post was changed to Fort Kearney, "Oregon Route," by order of the war department at Washington. In 1854, its name was changed to Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory. It was so named in honor of the famous commander and Indian fighter, Phil Kearney, and was known by the overland freighters as new Fort Kearney, on account of the old fort at Nebraska City, bearing the same name.

In July, 1849, Major Ruff was sent to establish Fort Laramie, and was relieved of his command at Fort Kearney, by Col. Crittenden, of the same regiment. The Rifle Company was soon after ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Phil Kearney then succeeded in command, and sometime after that Gen. Harney.

The following is the roster of the successive commanders at the fort in their order of succession, as near as can now be ascertained. After Kearney, was Major Morris, Fourth Artillery; then Captain Wharton, Sixth Infantry; then Col. Charles A. May, of Mexican war fame; then Captain E. McGowan, Fourth Artillery; then Col. Bachus, Sixth Infantry; then Col. Miles, Second Infantry; then Col. Alexander, who, with Col. May, is remembered by the early settlers of Central Nebraska, for his firm and earnest friendship toward the settlers. Next after Col. Alexander, of the Tenth Infantry, came the Second Nebraska troops, under Captain Fisher; then Col. Wood, Seventh Iowa troops; then Col. Livingstone, of the Nebraska troops; then Col. Wood again; and next was Col. Carington. Next came the First Nebraska troops, under Col. Baumer; then Major T. J. Majors, of the Nebraska troops. Majors is now contingent member of Congress for Nebraska. The subsequent commanders were: 1st, Captain Ladd; 2d, General Wessels; 3d, Lieutenant Dibble; 4th, Major A. J. Dallas; 5th, Gen. Gibbon; 6th, Lieutenant Foulk; 7th, Col. Ransom; 8th, Major Sinclair; 9th, Captain Fenton; and 10th, Captain Pollack, who was in command of the post when it was abandoned in 1871. The last of the Nebraska troops, under Captain Weatherwax, were mustered out of service at Fort Kearney, Nebraska Territory, by Gen. Wessels, on the 22d day of September, 1866.

As soon as the building commenced at this post, trees were planted and various improvements made, that would ornament the otherwise lonesome place. Again Col. May, when assuming command, made a great many more improvements. The old sod and adobe buildings were destroyed, and others rebuilt, and various other improvements made.

The lands on which the fort was located, belonged to the Pawnee Indians, who were then a powerful tribe, consisting of five divisions. It was transferred by them to the Government, for which they received the reservation now known as Nance County. They were also to be taught to farm, and schools were to be established. The project of schools was never carried out. The Pawnees also received an annuity. By another treaty, a tract of land ten miles square, was set apart, to be known as the Fort Kearney Military Reservation. This tract extended two miles west from the fort, and eight miles east, to a point near Lowell; and to the north it extended to what is now Buda Station, on the Union Pacific Railroad. In addition, this reservation included the islands of the Platte, including Grand Island, which was sixty miles long. The treaty was signed by the Indian chiefs and the officers of the United States Army.

As soon as the heavy travel to California, after the discovery of the gold fields there, began, Fort Kearney was a scene of continued activity. It was situated on the line of the overland freight and emigrant route, over which there was a continuous line of travel, and life at the fort then became exciting and interesting.

Though there was before that an extensive travel of emigrants and freighters over the route, it was not until after the discovery of gold at Pike's Peak, and in the mountains of Colorado, and other Territories, that the greatest travel of emigrants, and the consequent freighting began. There was no cessation to the stream of travel that now poured up the Platte Valley. Thousands were making their way to the new Territories. By the year 1860, a daily overland stage and mail route had been established, and a telegraph line built from Omaha up the Platte Valley. This line followed along the overland road up the north side of the river, until it reached a point opposite the fort where it crossed over, and from the fort again extended westward up the south side of the Platte River. The first telegraph office at the fort was kept in a sod house, and Mr. Ellsworth was the operator.

At the time of the breaking out of the war of the Rebellion, in the spring of 1861, there were exciting times at the fort. The greater number of the officers and the residents about the fort were sympathizers with the secessionists, though there were a large number of staunch union men. Party spirit between the unionists and secessionists ran very high, and on many occasions there was danger of its leading to bloodshed. Though brave, the union men were in a hopeless minority. Other than petty trials and persecutions, these troubles had no serious results. In the anticipation of a civil war's breaking out, all was anxiety at the fort. Arrangements were made with the telegraph company for all the news. Whenever exciting news came in, a number of copies of the dispatch were written and sent out. A crowd would continually throng around the telegraph office eager for news. The officers at the fort were divided in their sentiments. Many were union men but those who sympathized with the rebels of the South, urged secession as soon as the war commenced. Among the latter were Beverly Robertson, of Virginia, and Capt. R. Henderson, both of whom afterward became generals in the Southern army. After Col. Miles left with the Second United States Infantry, Capt. Tyler of the Second Dragoons, was left in temporary command. He then spiked fifteen large brass cannon, which came near causing mutiny on the part of the union soldiers. Tyler then left the fort, and, going South, joined the rebel army. After remaining there some time, he returned north to Cincinnati to see his wife. Though in disguise he was recognized, captured, and sent a prisoner to Fort La Fayette, in New York harbor.

After the troubles on the breaking out of the Rebellion, there were no serious outbreaks from the secessionists, though they were numerous about the fort.

The first newspaper ever published in the county was at the fort, in 1862. It was called the Fort Kearney Herald, and was edited and published by Moses Sydenham.


During the days of the overland travel and freighting, two or three temporary towns sprang up along the route.

Central City, about two miles west from the fort, one of these towns, was projected in 1858. The originators of the scheme were from St. Joseph, Mo. A locating committee was sent out, and they came to the fort with the name of the proposed town, Central City, painted on their wagon cover. Among them were Col. Scott, Mr. Pfoutts and Alex Constant. A town was laid out and named Central City. A sod store was erected and Constant left in charge, but it was soon bought by that noted frontiersman, J. A. Morrow. After this, the store changed hands frequently. John Holland, who died at his farm near there, early in 1882, was at one time its owner. Central City never built up to any extent, and soon another town was laid out near by, which completely ruined its chances, and the site was soon abandoned.

Upon the establishment of a daily stage and mail route, Col. Rankin and Dr. Henry left the Central City town site and, with Lorin Miller and others, laid out Kearney City, not far distant. This was after the immense rush of emigrants and gold seekers to the Territories of the far West had commenced. On account of the immense travel, this town grew rapidly. A large and profitable business was carried on. The Territorial Legislature of Nebraska had organized Kearney County, and this new town of Kearney City became the county seat. The county officers were elected and kept their offices here. As long as the heavy rush of business over the old freight road was kept up, the town continued to flourish. At one time it was so large as to have a city government, but as soon as the railroad was completed in 1866, it disappeared as quickly as it was brought into being, and now there is nothing but a few ruins to mark the spot where Kearney City once stood. This was also called Adobe Town by the freighters.

Valley City was the name of another of the towns of past history. It was situated on the eastern part of the reservation, near the Platte River, and not far from the present town of Lowell. This was a permanent stage station, having daily mails. A number of stores and places of habitation were built there and as long as the overland travel continued it was a flourishing point. Now there is nothing but a few mounds and piles of sod, to mark what was once the site of Valley City.

Junctionville was another of these towns. It was located in the eastern part of the county on the freight road across from the Little Blue River, to the Platte, and was also a station of considerable importance.

From the floating and temporary character of the population of the above towns it is impossible to estimate the numbers with any exactness, but at some periods it was quite large.

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