Fort Calhoun and Atkinson, Washington County, Nebraska

[The following are notes furnished by W. H. Woods, of Fort Calhoun, in the month of September, 1920, especially for use in the volume now in your hands. These statements may be safely relied upon, as he has made the subject a special study many years and has a larger number of valuable and interesting documents and relics from the foundations of the old fort and surrounding buildings, perhaps, than any other living man. His narrative is as follows:]

There were perhaps forty cellars and foundations visible at the old fort before the lands were plowed up into fields and wagon roads made. There was a fur-trading station here and it was guarded by a dozen or more soldiers, a thing that we never quite understood why the Government would protect private interests in that expensive manner. When we commenced investigating the subject of this fort, we asked the Government authorities about this feature and were simply told that the fort was established in 1820 and abandoned in 1826. We attempted to get a history of this fort to please Governor Furnas, and make a school history of it. A few years later the State Historical Society found a lot of papers in the hands of the grandson of Colonel Atkinson, and at great expense and much time, the click of typewriters was heard for more than ten days in compiling from such papers and other sources the story of the fort. The writer had much to do in assisting in this work. Only a few years ago the grandson of Colonel Atkinson and one of his sons from Fort Crook were here. The Government sent him and another son from New York to our 1919 centennial celebration at Fort Calhoun. Fine portraits of the various members of the Atkinson family were donated to us here and suitably framed. These were given to the public schools. It has been definitely learned that Atkinson and sons came here in 1819 and left in 1827. The Government has changed their dates to correspond to these dates.

The powder house of this fort Lieutenant Dudley saw in 1854, a building eight by ten feet of limestone walls two feet thick. This the pioneers later burned into lime and we found the big padlock belonging to the building, in August, 1920. The flagstaff, a number of my neighbors told me, was for several years standing, but only a few feet high. It stood in front of the powder house, but was later destroyed entirely.

Jacob Miller, a Mexican soldier, told me most of the stone hearths were also collected for lime, or taken away for various uses, and that he himself took the brick from over twenty cellars and sold them to farmers and others. Probably twenty cellars and foundations can still be found in this September (1920), also hundreds of buttons and gun flints are still to be found. September 23, 1920, a man found a brass gun trigger. Cupboard latches, wagon irons, wrought hand-forged nails are to be picked up now by the dozens, after many hundreds have been taken away from the foundations. In the '50s it was learned that the officers were buried on the hill west of town. The owner of the land then wanted to plow and came to me and together we dug up the remains of two that slept in my corncrib for over a year till the Government sent me an officer from St. Louis, when we removed three more from the grounds and shipped all to Fort McPherson to the State Military Cemetery.

Only a few years ago more bodies were discovered in our very streets, and they were buried in the city cemetery and the government sent me a fine tombstone for them, bearing the inscription "Unknown American Soldiers."

They made 90,000 brick the first year the fort was established; these were produced about a half mile west of the fort.

On October 23, 1822, two men on horseback met a steamboat and started for a trip of 780 miles to St. Louis for Peruvian bark (quinine) for 720 sick men in camp at Fort Calhoun.

In March, 1823, men were ordered to build the Council House, half a mile west of the fort, on the hill. This was a large two-story log cabin with a shingled roof, plank floors and brick chimney.

No large bodies of Indians could come near the fort proper. In September, 1822, they reported four hewed log buildings, shingle roof and brick chimneys in all making eighty-eight rooms. The officers were to have windows nine feet long.

In October, 1823, a new term of school was commenced. January, 1822, they sent for blank music books. They sent $500 to Philadelphia for books to come via New Orleans.

Lime was made and stone quarried at Long's camp, at old Fort Lesa, now known as Rockport, four miles down the Missouri River. The court martials and punishments were something wonderful.

Lewis and Clark camped in 1804 one mile north of the fort. The duel grounds were a half mile south of that famous camp of Lewis and Clark.

Nebraska AHGP

History of Dodge and Washington Counties, Nebraska, Rev. William H. Buss and Thomas T. Osterman, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, Chicago, 1921.

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