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Kenneth Mays
A sign welcomes visitors to Fort Kearny.

An important site on the Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer Trails was Fort Kearny in present-day Buffalo County, Nebraska.

Named after Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, this fort provided a safe refuge for the many pioneers traveling during the overland trails period of Nebraska history. It was used heavily by trail travelers because it was connected to mail service, had a hospital and offered protection. In fact, William Hartley and Gary Anderson note that “It was the first and only post the government established along that trail solely to protect emigrants” (see "Sacred Places, Vol. 5," edited by LaMar C. Berrett).

This handcart in the blacksmith shop at Fort Kearny makes reference to Latter-day Saints who passed by with handcarts, 1856-1860. | Kenneth Mays

According to a published brochure provided to visitors, the fort was established in 1848 and discontinued as a military post in 1871. Its buildings were torn down and the site was opened to homesteaders. The fort’s original site was purchased in the 1920s for historical purposes. It was officially opened as a state historical park in 1959. The rebuilt fort complex has a visitors center, blacksmith shop, rebuilt fort and other features. There is a campground/recreation area several miles away.

Today’s fort is just a few miles from the city of Kearney, Nebraska. In the name of the city, the letter “e” is between the “n” and the “y,” which is not found in the name of the fort. This can be confusing. That “e” in the name of the city was a postal error that has been perpetuated over the years.

Kenneth Mays is a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and a retired instructor in the LDS Church’s Department of Seminaries and Institutes.