Fort Kearny, 1860

Henry E. Palmer visited Fort Kearny in 1860 while on his way to Pike’s Peak with James A. Maxwell’s party. The group started from Omaha, crossed the Platte at Shinn’s Ferry, and arrived at Fort Kearny in April. Palmer recalled of that installation more than forty years later that it was like an oasis in a desert.

“The commanding officer in April, 1860, was Col. Dixon S. Miles of the 2d Infantry. Around the parade ground on three sides were the soldiers’ and officers’ quartermasters’ buildings and stables, all one and two-story buildings, frame, with a row of cottonwood trees extending around the ground between driveway and walk in front of the buildings. The trees were all at least ten years old and were large and flourishing, looking fine indeed. Here we found a sutler’s store with a large stock of goods, and a postoffice (the first one after leaving Fremont), presided over by Moses H. Sydenham, who was the first postmaster at Ft. Kearny. He had a news depot and small book and stationery store in connection with the postoffice.

“The military reservation at Ft. Kearny was ten miles square, extending east from the fort eight miles, and west two miles to Dobytown, where there was a cluster of sod and log houses, tents and shacks; a population of possibly 100, as bad a crowd of men and women as ever got together on the plains. There, to gather in a few dollars that were spent by the soldiers and emigrants, knowing that they were safe from the Indians, they lived by preying upon travelers and soldiers. It was here that I saw the first game of poker and faro. A long log building, known in those days as a ‘gambling hell,’ was wide open, of course. A woman playing an old cracked piano, and three or four fellows playing on a violin and base [sic] viol, and a cornet player, constituted the band–the attraction that drew people into the den. Here I saw them throwing three card monte and playing probably every game that was known to the gambling profession in those days. Fortunately I did not have a cent to spend, . . .

“During our day’s stop-over at Ft. Kearny I saw the pony express rider going westward at the rate of ten miles an hour. I learned that the first pony express rider had left St. Joseph, Missouri, at 5 P.M., April 3, 1860, about ten days previous to my first acquaintance with the pony express rider.”

Photo: Fort Kearny, June 1858. Photographer Samuel C. Mills, Simpson Expedition. History Nebraska RG2102-1-2

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