Fort Kearney


Fort Kearney was a staple of the Gold Rush. Amos Bargdoll writes in his journal that the day after he passed through Fort Kearney he had counted 140 teams of travellers passing his team in under four hours. He also writes that upon his arrival there was an estimate that over 5000 teams had passed through Fort Kearney "all on May 30."[2] That number is higher than most estimates, but nevertheless implies the massive number of journeyers that would have passed through Fort Kearney on a given day.

Having been established around 1846 specifically for the purpose of accomodating and protecting westward travellers, Fort Kearney was originally named Fort Childs. However, in 1848 the fort was renamed "Fort Kearny" after then-Colonel Stephen W. Kearny.[3] The name was so commonly misspelled by Postmasters and others that the incorrect spelling of "Kearney" became more common in print than the correct "Kearny," establishing a precedent that became the rule.[4]

After its official incorporation into military use, the fort became one of the most common stops for westward travellers in the Gold Rush as well as those travelling to the Oregon Territory to claim lands. Serving as a "way station, sentinel post, supply depot" and reliable mail center, Fort Kearney was one of only a few sights that might have brought some form of relief to travellers along their way.[5]

While some travellers did utilize Fort Kearney for sending and receiving mail, Amos Bargdoll being among them, others arrived at the Fort only for the spectacle of it. William Murray, for instance, writes of his experience, "at noon arrived at the Fort. When in and about the fort looked at it, and then went back to the waggon [sic]."[6] For some, although this fort was rather unimpressive as a structure or military site, it was one of the first places that they might have been exposed to thousands of people coming and going in such a manner. 


[1] This, the first photo ever taken of Fort Kearney, was taken by Samuel C. Mills in June 1858. Interestingly, it depicts a fort that was clearly intended to be utilized openly, rather than as a fortified site for munitions or militaristic purposes. With no fortifications of any sort, excepting some small fences, the fort appears to have been more of a trading post than anything else.

[2] "Amos Bargdoll Diary," June 2nd.

[3] Gannett, Henry. The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1905), 172.

[4] Ellis, Mark and Heather Stauffer. Kearney (Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 7.

[5] Nebraska Historical Marker: Fort Kearny.

[6] "William Murray Diary," Friday June 8. Amos Bargdoll kept a log of the mail that he sent while on his trip on the first page of his diary. His log indicates that he sent one letter to Nancy Bargdoll on May 30 from Fort Kearney.