Hartsuff will always be our favorite Nebraska fort. There were others, a lot of others. Military sites were variously called CAMPS, CANTONMENTS, STATIONS, POSTS, BARRACKS and FORTS.
The rules for designation were not set in stone but generally reflected their degree of anticipated permanency. A generic, all encompassing term INSTALLATION, might sometimes be used during the 1870’s, though it did not enter general usage until the 20th century.
You may recall that Hartsuff was first called POST on the North Loup River and had replaced CAMP Ruggles. It soon was designated FORT Hartsuff. Contrast this with CAMP Sheridan. Sheridan was a large, important establishment built to control the Spotted Tail Sioux Agency. It lasted from 1874 to 1881 (the same time as Fort Hartsuff) yet was never designated as FORT.
Another interesting example was CAMP Robinson. Robinson was built to protect Red Cloud’s Agency. It was not proclaimed a FORT until 1877. It did have the distinction of surviving as a viable military INSTALLATION until after World War II. This important site is now one of Nebraska’s six major State Parks and a great favorite of the visiting public.
The oldest fort in the state began life as a CANTONMENT. Cantonment Missouri was the immediate predecessor of FORT Atkinson. It was built in 1819 just north and east of its successor. Fort Atkinson dates from 1820 to 1827. Atkinson spawned a sub-post called Engineer CANTONMENT which based Major Long’s famous expedition to the Rockies.
All three of the above sites are on or near Council Bluffs, but not the city of that name in Iowa. Fort Atkinson is on the bluffs used by Lewis and Clark to counsel with local Indians in 1803. It is now a State Historical Park. It is located nine miles south of Blair near the town of Fort Calhoun which was never a fort at all!
Confusing? Yes, a little! All compounded by the presence of an Atkinson town in northern Nebraska which was near no fort at all! While on the subject of confusion, we should remember that once an established military site is decommissioned by the government, it technically is no longer a fort. Yet the site will probably be remembered and always be called a fort even though no physical evidence remains.
Fort McPherson near Maxwell is a good example of a fort gone with no trace. It does claim Nebraska’s only National Cemetery. At least the name of this very important fort will be perpetuated. Forts Mitchell, early Fort Kearny and previously mentioned Camp Sheridan are other examples of forts in memory only. New Fort Kearny a few miles southeast of Kearney city, is maintained by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Interpretation and limited reconstruction of this vital transportation link helps bring it to life.
Forts Crook and Omaha near Omaha city still retain many of their buildings from the late 1800’s. The nature of their use has changed dramatically. Fort Crook has been swallowed up by the huge Offutt Air Force Base. The old officer’s quarters still house Air Force generals. Fort Omaha, early designated a BARRACKS, is now a tech school. Two of the early structures are restored and serve to interpretsome of the fort’s history. The writer recalls taking our military physicals there as late as the 1950’s and 60’s when it was a Naval Reserve Center!
Fort Sidney and North Platte STATION were blessed and cursed by their proximate towns. In both cases they were surrounded and consumed by their communities. Sidney is a classic case of such consumption. However, three buildings were saved through the process of resident adaptive use as houses following the military use period.
Modern twentieth century designations will not be detailed here. Suffice it to say that many BASES, P.O.W. CAMPS, National Guard ARMORIES, missile SILOS and Reserve TRAINING CENTERS could be listed. The Spanish-American war and World War I still used training sites designated as CAMPS. It is said that a few local inductees received some training here at old Fort Hartsuff in 1917 or 18.
The listing of all Indian War nineteenth century camps is beyond the scope of this article. Remember we had Camp Ruggles, Vincent, Munson and Canby within forty miles of here. Post on the South Loup (jokingly called “Fort Banishment” by some) was a sub-post of Fort Kearny. It was located just southeast of Ravenna. Dozens of other such camps are virtually forgotten.
Militia “forts” have their place in local history. Though not military forts, they did help provide a sense of community security. Among local examples we have “fort” Rodney west of Burwell toward Sioux Creek (named for Rodney Alger, “Captain” of the Taylor County Rangers.) There was a similar sod stockaded site near Springdale across the river northeast of Ord. Another was “fort” Garber, often called “Fort Disappointment”. It was so called because of the lucky settlers’ “disappointment” at having no Indians to repel and defeat. It lay across the Middle Loup west of later day Comstock., named for the fort’s founder and leader “Cap” Comstock. Another such settler strong point was built on the Post family farm near modern Elyria.
Taken as a whole, the assemblage of forts, camps etc. scattered within Nebraska served to mold the state. Settlement patterns were greatly influenced by the military presence. They first protected the flow of people through the state. Later they stabilized broad communities by their presence. Finally, Fort Niobrara (which replaced Fort Hartsuff in 1881) served to totally insulate most of Nebraska from any threat of Teton Sioux from their reservations to the north.
The Indian Wars finally came to an end. Only the rich memories of members of the frontier army remain. Such memories are kept alive by the presence of restored interpretive sites such as Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park.