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Omaha-Fort Kearny Road

Territorial Governor Mark Izard reported in December 1855 that $50,000 had been appropriated by Congress to construct a road from Omaha to Fort Kearny. Lt. John N. Dickerson, First Artillery, was assigned the task. He took his surveying crew north from Omaha to the old Mormon "Winter Quarters Trail," where they turned west across broken country cut by the Big and Little Papillion creeks. These two difficult streams would require extensive grading before they could be crossed without undue difficulty. Once across the Elkhorn the party entered the Platte valley and continued upstream into the Loup River valley for a short distance where they crossed on the Mormon ferry. An old trail continued up the south side of the Loup, but Dickerson concluded that the best route to the fort would be to go south from the ferry to the Platte and follow that stream.

Dickerson's survey took him near the villages of the Pawnee, and he met some of the chiefs at Fort Kearny. Tribal leaders complained bitterly about the road because the emigrants cut timber for firewood and frightened away all the game in the area. The chiefs also complained that the Pawnee were often blamed when emigrant stock was stolen even though other tribes were usually guilty. The Pawnee assured Dickerson they would not attack a road-building party, but they wanted him to be aware of their opposition to it so the government could not later claim they had given their approval.

At the end of the survey Dickerson made a number of recommendations for bridging small streams. The Elkhorn River would require a large and expensive bridge. Dickerson also suggested that the Loup River be channelized so the ferry could operate more efficiently. The whole project would have cost $110,000, but the U.S. Congress could not be convinced and apparently a smaller amount was authorized. Governor Izard reported in January 1857 that contracts for some bridges had been let but that it would require an additional $30,000 to complete the road. It seems these extra funds were not entirely necessary because by the end of the year it was reported that the road was nearly finished. The cost of a bridge over the Loup River was estimated at $80,000, but Congress would not appropriate the funds. The Union Pacific Railroad spanned it in the fall of 1866.

The Platte River was the only remaining barrier on the road from Omaha to Fort Kearny. Bridging the Platte would have been very expensive and before funds could be acquired, both Fort Kearny and the Omaha-Fort Kearny Road were largely obsolete.

(November 1999)

 

 

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