Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
The Battle of Blue Water was the first major clash between U.S. soldiers and the Sioux Indians. In 1855, to punish the Sioux for their depredations following the Grattan Fight near Fort Laramie, Wyo., the previous year, the Army sent out Col. William S. Harney and an expedition of 600 men from Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Harney discovered the Brule Sioux village of Little Thunder in Blue Water Creek Valley, just above the creek's junction with the North Platte. By a circuitous route dragoons entered the valley and advanced downstream, while Harney and a force of infantrymen marched up the valley from the Platte. Attacked from two directions on September 3, the Indians scattered, but not before the troops killed 80 warriors, wounded five, and captured 70 women and children. Four soldiers met death and seven suffered wounds. The rest of the Sioux and Northern Cheyennes in the vicinity managed to avoid the troops. The latter moved northwestward to Fort Laramie and marched over the Fort Laramie-Fort Pierre Road through the heart of Sioux country to Fort Pierre, on the Missouri River. There they joined part of the expedition that had come up the Missouri and spent the winter of 1855-56. For almost a decade most of the Sioux gave no further serious trouble.
Except for patches of cultivation along Blue Water Creek, most of the valley is stock range and essentially resembles its historical appearance. The terrain near the mouth of the creek is rugged, but the site of the Indian village farther upstream is more level. Broken hills are on each side, where the Indians took refuge from Harney's troops. The site is in private ownership, but a 40-acre State historical park overlooks the battlefield.
This fort (1874-81) protected settlers in the Northern Loup Valley of central Nebraska and the Pawnee Indian Reservation, in present Nance County, from the raids of roving Sioux who resided farther north and west. The transfer of the Pawnees to Indian Territory, the Army's push of the Sioux into the Dakotas, and the ensuing influx of settlers into the region ended the need for the post.
After the Army departed, farmers utilized some of the buildings, constructed mostly of concrete and stone. Traces remain of practically all of them. Some are mere ruins or shells, but others have roofs and interior plaster. Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park has completed restoration of the guardhouse and dispensary and has begun work on the adjutant's office and the officers' quarters.
Forts Kearny, Nebr., and Laramie, Wyo., were the first two posts garrisoned to protect the Oregon-California Trail. The original Fort Kearny (1846-48) was a two-story log blockhouse not continuously occupied, along the west bank of the Missouri River at the eastern edge of the State on the site of Nebraska City. Because this location was too far from the Oregon-California Trail, in 1848 troops founded in its stead a new post some 200 miles westward in mid-Nebraska along the trail on the south bank of the Platte River and about halfway between Forts Leavenworth, Kans., and Laramie, Wyo. The post guarded the trail, served as an ammunition depot, and protected peaceable Indians in the area from hostiles and outlaws. In 1871, the transcontinental railroad having been completed 2 years earlier and the usefulness of the trail negated, the Army relinquished the fort.
Fort Kearny State Historical Park, primarily a recreational area, includes 40 acres of the second Fort Kearny site. There are no above-surface remains. The State is conducting archeological excavations and has placed interpretive markers at building sites. Replicas of the palisade and blacksmith-carpenter shop have been erected. An interpretive center presents audio-visual programs and museum displays. The reconstructed blockhouse of the first Fort Kearny, located on the main street of Nebraska City, Nebr., serves as a youth center.
The Post of Omaha came into being in 1863 to train Civil War Volunteers. Three years later it became headquarters of the Department of the Platte. In 1868 a new post was activated 4 miles northwest of the city. Known as Sherman Barracks the first year and then as Omaha Barracks, in 1878 it was redesignated as Fort Omaha. From 1875 to 1882 and from 1886 to 1888, as commander of the Department of the Platte, Brig. Gen. George Crook was stationed at the post when he was not in the field. He directed many major campaigns on the northern Plains, serving in which were numerous troops that had passed through Fort Omaha.
The Fort Omaha garrison moved in 1896 to Fort Crook, which had been activated 5 years earlier about 10 miles south of Omaha as the New Post of Fort Omaha. The first soldiers had arrived there in 1895. In 1905 the Army reactivated Fort Omaha, and during World War I used it for a balloon school. The Navy has had jurisdiction over the base since 1947, and still utilizes it along with other branches of the Armed Forces for recruiting. Reserve training, and administration.
Seven buildings from the 1870's and 1880's have survived. One of the oldest is the commanding officer's house, or Crook House, completed in 1879. Its first tenant was General Crook, and today the commander of Fort Omaha occupies it. A large two-story brick structure, asymmetrical in plan, Italianate in style, and crowned by hipped roofs, it is in good condition. A long one-story porch projects from its eastern facade. The interior has been altered over the years, but the exterior has changed little. Fort Omaha is not ordinarily open to the public.
At this site in the extreme northwestern corner of Nebraska near the Wyoming and South Dakota boundaries occurred one of the series of defeats inflicted on the Indians after the Custer debacle in 1876. The victorious Indians had scattered across eastern Montana. Soon large reinforcements poured up the Missouri. Col. Wesley Merritt, commanding the 5th Cavalry, en route from Fort Laramie Wyo., to Goose Creek to reinforce General Crook, learned that 1,000 Cheyennes had left the Spotted Tail and Red Cloud Agencies in Nebraska to join the triumphant Sioux of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Merritt delayed his movement to intercept them. On July 17, 1876, at War Bonnet (Hat) Creek, Nebr., he whipped them and drove them back to their agencies. In the battle, "Buffalo Bill" Cody reputedly killed Chief Yellow Hand, an episode that novelists and Cody publicity agents later turned into a legend.
The rolling grassland where the battle was fought has changed little since 1876. The site, in private ownership, is not designated by any monument or marker and is not open to the public.
Last Updated: 19-Aug-2005