Fort Calhoun, Nebraska; Washington County
Fort Atkinson was the first U.S. Military post west of the Missouri River. Previously known as Lewis and Clark’s Council Bluff, the military post was located at this site between 1820 and 1827. It became the largest and most westerly military post in the country and housed over 1,000 people, including military personnel from the elite Rifle Regiment and Sixth Infantry, their families, and civilians. The Sixth U.S. Infantry was the last to occupy Fort Atkinson when it was abandoned in 1827.
The fortification was made up of one-story barracks built with horizontal logs arranged in a rectangular pattern. The structures faced an enclosed parade ground with loopholes on the exterior walls. The center of each wall had one of the four entrances. The bastions at the northwest and southeast corners mounted cannons. The center of the enclosed area had a robust powder magazine. Outside the fortification were several buildings, including a large council house for negotiating with the Indians, a gristmill, a schoolhouse, a sawmill, and others. A brick kiln produced a significant quantity of bricks.
Fort Atkinson played a crucial role in opening up the West. In the 1950’s History Nebraska archeologists found the original locations of the buildings and made numerous archeological discoveries. These artifacts can now be found at History Nebraska. The site of the fort is now recognized as Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, a National Historic Landmark. Replicas of the fort and surrounding buildings have been constructed and are used to educate people about the period through living history demonstrations.
Fort Atkinson: Famous Firsts at Ft. Atkinson
- First place in Nebraska where white people farmed. The Army proved that eastern crops could thrive in Nebraska. Also the first time a dairy herd and other farm animals were introduced to Nebraska.
- After Manuel Lisa’s wife, Mary, the first white women to make their home in Nebraska were the laundresses who worked at the fort. The wife of an enlisted man could live there only if she worked as a laundress. A few unmarried women also worked in the laundry. Officers’ wives did not have to work.
- First brickyard in Nebraska.
- First bowling alley.
- First library that included several hundred books. Fines of 2-cents a day were charged for overdue books.
- First school. A grade school was taught by a soldier who received 15-cents a day for each student. At the time, children usually went to school for just a few terms. Class hours were 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., October through May. Still, education was thought to be important, and soldiers got into trouble if they didn’t send their children to school.
- First sawmill and grist mill for grinding wheat into flour.
- First detailed record of Nebraska weather taken. These records included wind speed and direction, temperature, and rainfall.
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