Fort Kearny, established in 1848, served as a way station, sentinel post, supply depot, and message center for forty-niners bound for California and homeseekers traveling to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. By the 1860s the fort had become a freighting station and home station of the Pony Express. Although never under attack, it did serve as an outfitting depot for several Indian campaigns. In 1871, two years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the fort was discontinued as a military post.
Little remained of the old post in 1877 when J. C. McBride, Webster Eaton, and their wives visited the site. McBride reported in the May 1877 issue of The Nebraska Farmer, published in Lincoln: "A few weeks ago your correspondent, his wife, and Hon. Webster Eaton and his wife, paid a flying visit to the historical Fort Kearney. This being our first view of that much talked-of place we were somewhat disappointed. Instead of old crumbling walls and ruins of buildings, nothing presented itself save about forty gnarled and stunted cotton-woods, two or three heaps of bricks, the remains of chimneys and foundations, and an irregular ditch, which bore unmistakable signs of having once been a rifle pit. On the ground, around which stand the trees, is a small 10x14 frame shanty, the residence of W. O. Dungan, who has a squatter's claim upon the old site of Fort Kearney, and is holding it until the lands are surveyed by the Government, and thus placed within the reach of homesteaders.
"On the north side of the plaza stands an adobe building-the residence of C. L. Delabarre-who has a claim upon the south-east quarter of section 21, township 8, range 15, Mr. Dungan's claim, above referred to, being upon the S. W. l/4 of 22. Mr. Delabarre was 'at home' to our little party, and to him we are indebted for much of this data. Mr. D. was a soldier during the war, serving in company 'G' 134th Illinois. He settled, or rather squatted upon this claim in April, 1876, and expects to homestead the claim as soon as the government survey is completed. The surveyors are now in the field, and will soon be running their last line. There are several families occupying claims in that vicinity, and other settlements are being made daily."
McBride concluded by describing the remains of the "once business mart of this State-DOBY TOWN," located west of the old fort, and noting that Moses Sydenham, long associated with Fort Kearny, still lived in the vicinity.