Romance of Omaha, Chapter XX

Wars and rumors of wars interspersed with Indian raids and scares, were the lot of the earliest settlers in Nebraska and in Omaha.

When the first men came to the state and city they found Indians all around them.

Braves stalked through village streets.

Bands of painted warriors roamed the prairies.

Tribal wars kept the plains country in constant excitement.

Omaha was fortunate that in the beginning of its existence the neighboring Indians were friendly.

No attempt was made to raid the new settlement, although there were rumors of an Indian invasion on more than one occasion. Uprising and massacres on the plains to the west occurred just often enough to keep the settlers anxious and wary.

Big Army Outpost

Long before Omaha was even dreamed of, Nebraska was considered important enough to be selected as the site of the largest western outpost of the regular army.

Gen. Henry Atkinson came up the Missouri river in 1819 with 1,200 regulars and established "Camp Missouri" just east of the present village of Fort Calhoun, a few miles north of Omaha. It was soon after named Fort Atkinson.

For eight years, under the administrations of Presidents Monroe and Adams, the Nebraska fort was the farthest flung military establishment in the west. On its little garrison rested the responsibility for keeping the Indians of the plains in order and curbing British activities in the west.

Indians Armed

The war of 1812 was not long past. During that war Manuel Lisa, famous trader, is credited with having prevented the western Indians from joining the British in an effort to seize the entire region. The British had armed thousands of Indians with "fusees" and furnished them powder and ball. British traders were still numerous and active.

Log houses were erected by the soldiers of General Atkinson's command.

They started the first farm in Nebraska and raised corn and vegetables.

They hunted buffalo, deer and other wild game. Although isolated in the wilds, they apparently had a rather enjoyable time.

General Atkinson was succeeded by Col. Henry Leavenworth. During the latter's term as commander Lieut. Jefferson Davis, afterward president of the southern confederacy, and Lieut. Albert Sidney Johnston, later a famous southern general, were stationed at the fort.

Fort Abandoned

After the fort had been abandoned no other attempt at a military establishment was made until 1847, when a temporary fort was built at Nebraska City, known now as Old Fort Kearney. The following year Fort Kearney, near Kearney, Neb., was established. For years it was the main outpost on the western highway for freighters and the pioneers.

Fort McPherson, also known as Fort Cottonwood, was established near North Platte in 1863. In 1868 Fort Omaha, first known as Sherman Barracks, and Fort Sidney, in western Nebraska, were established. Fort Robinson in 1874, Fort Niobrara in 1879 and Fort Crook in 1889 were the other Nebraska forts.

Fort Omaha, Fort Crook and Fort Robinson still exist. The latter is in the extreme northwestern part of the state near Crawford.

All Army Generals

Aside from regular army activities Nebraska's first military force was composed of two regiments of militia authorized by the territorial legislature of 1855. All the officers were appointed, but apparently there were no privates and the two regiments passed away.

The killing of two men by the Sioux Indians near Fontenelle, a settlement not far from Omaha, caused wild excitement in the '50s. Armed forces were gathered together to protect the little settlement. They saw no fighting and spent so much time fishing in the Elkhorn that the excursion was long called the "Catfish war."

An outbreak of Pawnees near Fremont in 1859 was a more serious affair.

Governor Black and his military staff, colonel, afterward general, John M. Thayer, United States "Dragoons," the Fontenelle Mounted Rifles, who road in wagons armed with muskets and shotguns, and a volunteer force overtook the Indians and forced them to surrender the men who had committed the depredations.

Civil War Forces

When the civil war broke out wild rumors that the Missouri "secessionists" were coming up the river to seize Omaha were not allayed until General Miles, then a colonel, camped here with several companies of regulars on his way to the war zone.

In May, 1861, the famous First Nebraska that won honors in the civil war, was authorized. The Second Nebraska was mustered in the following year.

The Curtis Horse, composed of four companies of cavalry, saw service as part of the Fifth Iowa cavalry. The new territory, out of a population of 28,000, sent 3,300 men to the colors.

Offer for Fort

Public spirited citizens of Omaha purchased land in 1868 and offered it to the government if a fort were established here. Sherman Barracks, later to be named Fort Omaha, was established. It was "away out" in those days and several hundred men were stationed there after the civil war.

In 1889, 543 acres of land were purchased for $66,666. On that land Fort Crook now stands.

The department of Platte, now the headquarters of the Seventh army corps area, was brought to Omaha during the civil war. Gen. John R. Brooke was the first commander. Since that time Omaha has been the headquarters of military activities in this region. Famous generals have come here to inspect the department headquarters and the forts.

Generals W.T. Sherman, U.S. Grant, Phil Sheridan and George Custer were among those who were here at intervals.

Army Life Gay

For years after its establishment, Fort Omaha was the center of social activities in Omaha. Gayest of dances and receptions were held there. No social function was complete without the presence of officers in gold braid.

Omaha has sent its full quota to two wars since the civil war. It had its share of men in the First, Second and Third Nebraska regiments during the Spanish war and thousands of the young men of the city saw service during the world war.

For some years before the Spanish-American war the Omaha Guards and Thurston Rifles were two famous military organizations in Omaha. They were the last word in swank. They won national honors in several competitive drills and were noted socially as well as on the drill field.

Two Forts Here

At the present time Omaha has the two forts, Omaha and Crook, also the headquarters of the Seventh army corps area. It is the most important military city in the middle west.

Army purchases alone in Omaha amount to approximately $5,000,000 a year. In addition large sums are disbursed in pay to the hundreds of men and officers stationed here.

The army has proven one of Omaha's best friends, dating from the time the regulars defended the city from the Indians.

Chapter XXI
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