If you click on the above picture it gets big enough to read.
The Revolutionary War was only 36 years in the past. A second war with England, the War of 1812, only 8 years behind the United States.
The Louis and Clark Expedition is 16 years in the rear view mirror.
The City of Chicago didn’t exist except as an Indian village, and in fact wouldn’t exist for 13 more years.
It would be 23 years before the first wagon wheel turned on the Oregon Trail beginning the Great Migration West.
The American West was Indian Territory. There were no white people allowed. Iowa had not one white settler in it, nor did any state west…and that certainly included Nebraska.
But there were fur traders.
The United States decided to establish a series of forts in the wilderness to support the fur trade.
Fort Atkinson was first. No others were built.
This one single fort stood as the single outpost guarding America’s entire west. The closest town was St. Louis, 2700 brutal miles to the south and west.
It’s not like they could send out for flour if they ran short.
So Fort Atkinson became more than a fort. It became a self-supporting town in the middle of the wilderness. I said once I might be able to do a year of blog posts about Fort Atkinson and that’s mainly because to cover all I learned would go on for far too long.
I talked about the medical care here: The Doctor is IN
And about the punishment here: Is it a jail? Or is it a romance novel?
Today I’m going to talk about Firsts
No one was allowed at Fort Atkinson if they weren’t somehow attached to either the fort soldiers or the mountain men. There were many women who lived there but they were almost all wives and children of soldiers.
These pictures are sort of hard to read, but the First School in Nebraska was at Fort Atkinson. Yes, there were children there, the soldiers were allowed to bring their families to the fort with them.
This was the first community that wasn’t made up of Native American people. Over a thousand soldiers…equal to 1/4 of the U.S. Army at that time, and at least one thousand other people supporting those soldiers. A town of two thousand. To put that in perspective, St. Louis had a population of four thousand in 1920.
The fort had to be completely self-supporting. They had many small businesses. They were farming to raise food, but they also had all these businesses listed, plus entertainment was available like a bowling alley and a theater.
They were also furthering scientific knowledge, much like the Louis and Clark Expedition had. There were biologists among the fort’s population who were carefully recording new species of plants and animals.
They were also keeping records of the weather, which added to the knowledge of climate in this part of the world. It’s odd to think of it now, but so much of what was known about the west was rumor and tall tales. And many people didn’t know what was truth and what was lies. Fort Atkinson added greatly to the knowledge of the west.
This was Fort Atkinson. Open for only seven years then abandoned as the fur trade died out.
Next I’m going to talk about Mountain Men–many of whom traveled through Fort Atkinson. A quote I found about mountain men, at Fort Atkinson.
These were men who lived life large, and of whom it was said, “They feared God but little, and the Devil not at all.” Men like Jim Bridger, who discovered the Great Salt Lake in Utah, like Jim Beckworth, a former slave who became a war chief of the friendly Crow Indians, and Hiram Scott, whose lonely death near it gave Scotts Bluff Monument its name; men like William Sublette, who sold his bed for a dollar, ran away to join Ashley’s men and went on to discover Yellowstone, founded Ft. Laramie and retired as co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company; and Hugh Glass, who was mauled by a grizzly, left for dead by his comrades, yet was still able to crawl and walk hundreds of miles back to Ft. Atkinson; men like Jedediah Smith, who is credited with discovering the South Pass route to California; and the riverboatman Mike Fink, who modestly liked to claim, “I’m a Salt River Roarer, half horse and half alligator, suckled by a wildcat and a playmate of the snapping turtle.”