Featured Archeological Site

Featured Archeological Site: Fort Atkinson

Fort Atkinson is a National Historic Landmark and one of Nebraska’s premier archeological treasures. The site retains national historical and archeological significance related to the expansion of the American West.

The Yellowstone Expedition, under the command of Colonel Henry Atkinson, traveled up the Missouri River in 1819 to establish several military posts along the river. In the fall of 1819, the troops built Cantonment Missouri on the floodplain near present-day Fort Calhoun. The location was flooded and the Army built the more permanent Fort Atkinson on higher ground in the summer of 1820. Over 1000 soldiers and civilians lived at the fort until its abandonment in 1827. The post was the first military installation west of the Missouri River. The site of Fort Atkinson is now a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Historical Park.

History Nebraska has conducted archeological investigations at the site of Fort Atkinson intermittently since 1956. Excavation, surface survey, and geophysical techniques have identified over 200 archeological features such as foundations, cellars, trash dumps, trails, and graves. This research has allowed for accurate reconstruction of major portions of the fort. The archeological projects have also amassed one of the finest collections of early American material culture from the Great Plains region. Study of those remains has added significant detail to our understanding of life at Fort Atkinson. In particular, the investigations bring into much sharper focus topics such as diet, architecture, weaponry, and material culture. The park’s visitor center offers displays of many artifacts recovered during the archeological work.

Living History at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.

Living History at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.

Excavation of the Fort Atkinson Powder Magazine

Excavation of the Fort Atkinson Powder Magazine

Dining items recovered from Fort Atkinson archeological excavations.

Dining items recovered from Fort Atkinson archeological excavations.

Further Reading

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, National Historic Landmark Nomination Form. On file, Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office. History Nebraska. Lincoln.

Carlson, Gayle F.
  • 1979 Archeological Investigations at Fort Atkinson (25WN9), Washington County, Nebraska, 1956-1971. Publications in Anthropology 8. Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.
  • 1990 Archeology and Reconstruction of the Fort Atkinson Council House. Central Plains Archeology 2(1):91-131.
  • 1998 1997 Archeological Surveying, Testing, and Remote Sensing at Fort Atkinson. On file, Nebraska State Archeology Office, History Nebraska. Lincoln
Johnson, Sally A.
  • 1956 Cantonment Missouri, 1819-1820. Nebraska History 57(2):121-134. Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln.
  • 1959 The Sixth’s Elysian Fields-Fort Atkinson on the Council Bluffs. Nebraska History, 40(1):1-38.

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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