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Nebraska Forts - Page 2

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Fort Lisa (1812-1823) -  A non-military post, Fort Lisa was established in 1812 by famed fur trader Manuel Lisa and the Missouri Fur Company. Lisa built the post, north of present-day Omaha, after abandoning his trading posts on the upper Missouri River -- Fort Raymond in Montana and the original fort Lisa in North Dakota. The fort traded in furs, cattle, horses and land, and served as a base from which Manuel Lisa traded with the neighboring tribes. Lisa spent the winter of 1819-20 at Fort Lisa with his third wife, Mary Hempstead Keeney, while his partner, Joshua Pilcher,  moved from camp to camp trading with the Indians. When Pilcher returned to the post, he found Manuel Lisa in poor health and Lisa soon returned to the St. Louis, Missouri area for treatment. This was not successful; however, and Lisa died on August 12, 1820 at the age of 48. Pilcher then succeeded Lisa as the president of the Missouri Fur Company and ran Fort Lisa. He closed Fort Lisa in 1823 after building Pilcher's Post downriver at what became Bellevue, Nebraska. Today, there is nothing left of the old trading post, but a marker indicates the site located at the intersection of John J Pershing Drive and Hummel Road, at the entrance to Hummel Park in Omaha, Nebraska.


Fort McPherson (1863-1880) - The fort was first established in October, 1863 in Cottonwood Canyon to protect the Overland Trail between Fort Kearny and Julesburg, Colorado. It was first known as Cantonment McKean, but was changed to Fort Cottonwood when construction began.


Manuel Lisa established Fort Lisa in 1812.




However, it was soon moved closer to the town of Maxwell, Nebraska. It was renamed Fort McPherson on February 26, 1866 to honor General James B. McPherson, who had fallen while fighting with General William T. Sherman against the Confederate forces in the battle for Atlanta. The main activities of the Fort during its 17 years of activity, were escorting stagecoaches and immigrant wagon trains; pursuing and punishing Indians for depredations; and protecting the mail and the telegraph lines.


Fort McPherson played an important role in the Indian Wars from 1864 until its abandonment in 1880. Numerous important campaigns and expeditions were launched from the fort including that of General Eugene Carr which culminated in the defeat of the Cheyenne Indians at the Battle of Summit Springs. Buffalo Bill Cody, the North Brothers, and the Pawnee Scouts all served at Fort McPherson during this period. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer led the 7th Cavalry from Fort McPherson on June 15th, 1867 for operations against Indians in Kansas.


On October 13, 1873, a tract of 107 acres was set aside as a national cemetery. Subsequent reductions have limited the size of the cemetery to twenty acres. Burials in the McPherson National Cemetery have included soldiers who served in the Indian Wars through the west, as well as those who have served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.


After providing nearly two decades of strong economic and developmental influences for hundreds of miles, the fort was abandoned by the Army in 1880. The following spring, the buildings were sold at auction. Today, all that's left is the National Cemetery, located at Maxwell, Nebraska.


Fort Mitchell (1864-1867) - The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 stretched the Federal Governmentís resources for the West thin, making it increasingly difficult for the government to protect emigrants and other travelers on overland trails. Many U.S. soldiers went back East to fight for the Union, which weakened the frontier garrisons. Beginning in 1860, the short-lived Pony Express followed the Oregon Trail past Scotts Bluff and daily stage coach service along the route began in 1861, the same year the transcontinental telegraph line went through.


Fort Mitchell, Nebraska

Fort Mitchell by William Henry Jackson.


These changes prompted Indian raids. Beginning in 1861, frequent attacks by Sioux and Cheyenne war parties on telegraph lines, overland mail service, stage coaches, and wagon trains forced the government to establish several small military outposts, among them Fort Mitchell, on the Oregon Trail near Scotts Bluff. Both the fort and the nearby pass through the bluffs got their name from General Robert B. Mitchell, commander of the military district of Nebraska.


Colonel William Collins of Fort Laramie designed Fort Mitchell as an outpost of Fort Laramie, which had too few troops to combat the Indians. Constructed in 1864, the 180-by-100-foot sod and adobe fort consisted of barracks, shops, and a horse corral. Company H of the Eleventh Ohio Volunteer Cavalry under the command of Captain J. S. Shuman garrisoned the fort. Soldiers from Fort Mitchell participated in a famous skirmish with Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at Mud Springs in 1865 that was prompted by the massacre of hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado in 1864.


In 1866, two travelers through the area described the fort. Julius C. Birge recounted:


"At Fort Mitchell there was stationed a company of soldiers to impress upon the Indians the idea that the strong military arm of the U.S. government extended over the West. As we learned later, three-score soldiers were but a feeble menace to the thousands of dissatisfied warriors who were then roaming over the plains, awaiting some assurance from our authorities that the last of their ancient hunting grounds would not be invaded or traversed by the whites."

The wife of Colonel Henry B. Carrington traveling with her husband on an expedition to the Powder River country reported:

"Almost immediately after leaving the Bluff, and at the foot of the descent, after the gorge is passed, we find Fort Mitchell. This is a subpost of Fort Laramie of peculiar style and compactness. The walls of the quarters are also the outlines of the fort itself, and the four sides of the rectangle are respectively the quarters of officers, soldiers  and horses, and the warehouse of supplies. Windows open into the court or parade-ground; and bed-rooms, as well as all apartments, are loop-holed for defense."

Because the United States regained control of the region after the
Civil War, Fort Mitchell became unnecessary, and the United States Government abandoned the post.


The site of Fort Mitchell is a significant archeological time capsule. The site provides valuable data on the tools, weapons, personal property, and other objects used at the time. Although overshadowed by the fort, Sibsonís Road Ranch was also located at the site, and today offers important historical and archeological records. The temporal and geographical proximity of the two sites affords researchers a rare opportunity to compare civilian and military outposts of a single time period.

The Fort Mitchell site is located near
Scotts Bluff, though the address and visitation are restricted due to its fragility and lack of extant historic buildings. Visitors wishing to learn more about the fort can visit Scotts Bluff National Monument. The monumentís visitor center includes a scale model of the fort as it existed in 1866, as well as other resources regarding the fort and life in and around Scotts Bluff.



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