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[photo] Archeological dig at Fort Atkinson, "Feature 21 A," c.1960
Photo by John Garrett, Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society

Lewis and Clark set up camp on July 30, 1804, at this site which later became known as Fort Atkinson, and during their stay here hosted their first Indian council. William Clark celebrated his 34th birthday on August 1 while awaiting the arrival of the Indians. To mark the occasion he "order'd a Saddle of fat Vennison, an Elk fleece & a Bevertail to be cooked and a Desert of Cheries, Plumbs, Rasberries, Currents and grapes of a Supr. quality" (Ambrose 1996, 152). At sunset on August 2, a party of Otoe and a few Missouris and a trader known as "Mr. Fairfong" arrived at the camp, named Council Bluff by Lewis and Clark. The first official council between United States representatives and western Indians began just after breakfast on August 3. This council established the routine for all subsequent councils on the expedition--Lewis, Clark and the Indian chiefs would give speeches; smoke a pipe; award peace medals to the Indians; exchange gifts; parade the men and display technology such as the air gun, magnet, spyglass, compass and watch. Upon conclusion of the council, the explorers continued their journey up the river.

Reanctors in front of the reconstructed Fort Atkinson
Photo by Robert Ericson,courtesy of the Friends of Fort Atkinson, NE, State Historical Park

The Yellowstone Expedition of 1819 established Fort Atkinson, named after Col. Henry Atkinson, commander of the Yellowstone Expedition, as the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River after the recommendation of William Clark that the site was an excellent location for a fort. Between 1820 and 1827, the years of the fort's existence, Fort Atkinson was home to the first school and library in Nebraska, served as a gateway to the fur regions of the Upper Missouri and the Rocky Mountains and served as the starting point for several early expeditions to the Mexican settlements of Taos and Santa Fe. Based on more than 10 seasons of archeological fieldwork, most of the fort has been reconstructed and an interpretive center established.

Fort Atkinson, a National Historic Landmark, is located one mile east of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. The Fort Atkinson State Historical Park is open year-round and the Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Nebraska State Parks require an entry permit for which there is a fee. Please call 402-468-5611 or visit the park's website for further information.

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