Brigadier-General Stephen W. Kearny (1794-1848) established a new post to protect travelers in Nebraska.
Courtesy California Heritage Collection, University of California, I0040788a
Fort Kearny (which was first named Fort Childs) was moved to the Platte River in 1848, and would become one of the most prominent manmade landmarks on the Oregon Trail. Yet, its beginnings were not auspicious. The few sod buildings and the small compliment of poorly equipped soldiers received only passing mention in early emigrant diaries and letters. The letters of Pvt. William Wilson Ingraham to his brother in Peoria, Illinois, are a rare exception, providing a word picture of life at both the original Fort Kearny on the Missouri River and new Fort Kearny on the Platte. Also, there are reports by Capt. Charles Frederick Ruff that describe conditions at the new fort when he took command of the installation late in 1848.
William Henry Tappan
William Tappan was born on October 30, 1821, in Manchester, Massachusetts, home to four generations of his family. He spent six months with the Missouri Mounted Volunteers as the company’s civilian sketch artist. He chronicled life at Fort Kearney, making drawings and collections of plants, animals, people, and the geographic features of the area.
His diary begins in April of 1848. The unit was about to embark on its trip to the future site of the second Fort Kearney along the Platte. Tappan made reference to his sketches, as well as recording his experiences and interactions with soldiers, Native Americans, Mormons and others. He writes about plains vegetation, land formations, weather extremes, and animals, which undoubtedly were exotic to the New Englander.
In early October Tappan left Fort Childs. The diary ends during his return trip aboard an Ohio River Steamboat.
Fort Kearney Letters
Private William Wilson Ingraham
When William Ingraham enlisted in the Missouri Mounted Volunteers he had the mistaken notion that he would be sent to the Far West to "kill indians and hunt buffaloe." Instead his unit spent the winter of 1847 - 48 at the first Fort Kearny at present day Nebraska City, Nebraska. In the spring they traveled about 180 miles west to build Fort Childs on the Platte River.
Ingraham was born on July 24, 1826, to Harry E. and Content Wilson Ingraham in Kickapoo, Illinois. He died on June 9, 1888. In his letters Ingraham wrote about the possibility of going to Mexico, Oregon, or Missouri after he left the army. Whichever path he ultimately chose seems to have led to obscurity.
There is also a certain murkiness concerning his letters. Typed copies were given to the Nebraska State Historical Society by Virginius H. Chase, Ingraham’s grand-nephew, in the fall of 1955. It is clear from references in the existing correspondence between Chase and the Historical Society that other letters were lost or, more likely, that details of Ingraham’s life history had been discussed in conversations for which no notes were kept.
Captain Charles F. Ruff
In the fall of 1848, the Missouri Volunteers were replaced by the regular army’s Mounted Rifleman, led by Captain Charles F. Ruff. Ruff’s reports to his commanding officer, Adjutant General, Roger Jones paint another picture of life at the fort.