FORT KEARNY, NEBRASKA
Monday, May 6, 1850
Today, John App and Jake are about 350 miles (563 km) west of St. Joseph, Missouri and are at an altitude of over 2,100 feet (650 meters). They are passing Fort Kearny in Nebraska on the south side of the Platte River. At this time the Platte was more shallow and much wider than it is today… it was said to be sometimes a mile or more wide and only several inches deep. The fort was established in 1848 as a station for troops to provide supplies and safety for travelers bound for California and Oregon, and was not used for a military purpose other than that.
This area was the Pawnee Indian tribe’s home and, similar to other Indian tribes along the trail, they had a habit of stealing livestock from the travelers… usually at night. An enclosed area was available at the fort where travelers could corral their livestock to prevent them from being stolen.
Stagecoaches were beginning to operate in 1850 between Salt Lake City, Utah and St. Joseph, Missouri so that once-a-month mail could be delivered. John undoubtedly took advantage of that service along the trail when he could. You will notice he mentions in his diary entry that today they “passed by” Ft. Kearny, but he makes no mention of having stopped there. It is early in their trip and they probably were still well provisioned.
Here is an interesting comment by one of the troops stationed at Fort Kearny a year before (in 1849):
“Four thousand four hundred wagons have already passed by this post — nearly all destined for California. There are four men and ten draft animals to each wagon-very nearly. Many, not included above, have traveled on the other side of the Platte and many more are still to come on this side.”
The comment is interesting for two reasons. First, it confirms how well John and Jake were configured for speed since it was only the two of them, two mules, and one wagon. Second, he mentions travelers on the south side of the Platte (California-Oregon Trail) and travelers “on the other side of the Platte”.
Travelers on the north side of the Platte (the other side) were mostly Mormon and their route was referred to as the Mormon Trail. It generally followed the north side of the Platte River approximately 425 miles (684 km) to Fort Laramie in Wyoming. They traveled on the north side of the Platte River in order to avoid conflicts with their former Missourian enemies from the Missouri Mormon War. Mormons were not particularly liked by other California-Oregon Trail travelers for several reasons. Because of the huge numbers of Mormons there were conflicts over grazing rights, water access, and campsites with travelers using the established California-Oregon Trail on the river’s south side. Keeping travel on separate routes made a lot of sense.
Route: Fort Kearny, Nebraska
Approximate Miles Traveled: 350 since St. Joseph, Missouri
GPS Latitude: 40° 38.469′ N; Longitude: 99° 00.300′ W
Elevation: 2,134 ft
Passed Ft Kerney monday on the 6th of May in good Health sent one letter to Father roads and weather Fine, the grass very short, a heavy frost last night,