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Rowdy Fort McPherson kept order, depicted at museumTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Fort McPherson soldier brandishes sword
Photo by George Lauby
Scale model
Photo by George Lauby
Sword, rifle
Courtesy Photo­Image
Libbie Custer
Courtesy Photo­Image
Display wall
Photo by George Lauby
Post office boxes
Courtesy Photo­Image
Woolen uniform coat

Soldiers at Fort McPherson – an outpost near Maxwell in the late 1800s -- used their guns to keep law and order in the Wild West.

They chased Indians and robbers into surrounding states, protected wagon trains, railroad crews and telegraph lines.

The fort, founded 150 years ago, was a vital post in the settling of the west.

The 150th year of its founding is a milestone that the Lincoln County Historical Museum is commemorating this year. In addition to a permanent display of artifacts, the museum is presenting a series of Humanities speakers and re-enactments.

The fort stood at the foot of Cottonwood Canyon, a few miles southeast of what is today Maxwell, situated along the east-west Oregon Trail as well as the main north-south trail from the Platte River valley to the Republican River.

The fort covered 40 acres and was staffed by 400 soldiers and nearly 1,000 horses.

Guns, swords, a bayonet, canteens, shell casings, a uniform, remnants of the Ft. McPherson post office and more items are on display at the museum, including an report of a high-scoring baseball game between the soldiers and a team from North Platte. The ballgame was held between skirmishes with Indians and outlaws.

The museum also has a scale model of the fort, created from one remaining photograph of the actual grounds, coupled with written reports from two of the post’s surgeons that described the size and location of each building, museum director Jim Griffin said.

“The fort has a fascinating history,” said Bob McFarland, a former teacher who lives on a hill near the old fort.

“The 5th Calvary was stationed at the fort." McFarland said. "Gen. Custer came through with the 7th Calvary in 1867, camped within 10 miles, awaiting orders."

And, he came back in 1872 to go on the buffalo hunt with the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia.”

Also, at the museum on Thursday, July 25, Humanities speaker Marla Matkin tells Libbie Custer’s story, the wife of General George A. Custer, at 7 p.m. Free admission.

As Custer camped near the fort in 1867, he parlayed with a Sioux Chief named, appropriately, Pawnee Killer. The Sioux and the Pawnee were bitter rivals. Peace talks were held at the fort between the Sioux and Pawnee.

Later, Pawnee Killer led an unsuccessful attack on Custer in northwest Kansas.

"I just like the history,” McFarland said. “Our home overlooks the Oregon Trail and the Lincoln Highway and Ft. McPherson National Cemetery. It’s fun to study the history of the area, especially since I was born in North Platte.”

One morning when McFarland was building his house on the hilltop, a low-lying fog covered everything in the valley but the tree tops. A funeral was held that morning at the Ft. McPherson National Cemetery and McFarland heard taps and a rifle salute, stirring his emotions.

“You could just imagine what it was like 150 years ago,” he said.

Life at the historic fort will be depicted at the museum by a group of re-enactors from Kearney, who will appear Aug. 17 at a “lantern tour” and again the next day for daylight presentations. A $5 admission will be charged.

McFarland said a man from Hastings searched the old fort grounds in the 1960s with a metal detector and found and categorized several items. Years later, he started selling them on ebay, and when the McFarlands found out about it, they bought what they could.

The McFarlands ended up with several thousand dollars worth of items, including two fireplace grates, bullets, buttons, buckles and shell casings – hundreds of them, Bob said.

They donated the collection to the historical museum.

“Those things belong to the people,” McFarland said, “to the county, the state and the country. They don’t belong to one individual.”

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 7/24/2013
Copyright © 2013 northplattebulletin.com - All rights reserved.
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