Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park

A while back Harland and I zipped up to central Nebraska to visit a restored military fort on what was once the western frontier. The fort was started in 1874 for the purpose of protecting settlers during Plains Indian Wars.

There are nine restored buildings to tour, all constructed primarily of concrete. The buildings are arranged around a central square or parade ground, so we started in one corner and worked our way around.

First we stopped at the Barracks where the soldiers were housed.

Each bunk consisted of a simple mattress on wooden slats. Didn’t look too comfy. But Harland thought they were just right.

Next we visited the Mess Hall,

and the Fort Kitchen.

A  vintage “Cooks Creed” poster hanging on the wall proclaims, “Better wear out your pans with scouring than your stomachs with purging; and it’s less dangerous to work your elbows than your comrade’s bowels.”

Next was the first of several buildings which housed the officers and their families and servants. Each building was a duplex.

View From The Officer's Quarter's Porch

Inside were small but homey rooms. Officer’s wives entertained frequently, and so the Officer’s Quarters were the formal social center of the fort.

Parlor

Dining Room

Dining Room

Kitchen

Master Bedroom

Nursery

Up next is the Hospital.

The Hospital Steward’s (male nurse) quarters were a single room just off the main hospital floor so he could be near the patients.

Up next is the Quartermaster Stables.

Wagons

Harnesses

It held stalls for 40 horses, a room for saddles and harnesses, and a forage room.

Up next is the Laundry.

There were three laundresses at the fort. They were provided living quarters,

and collected $13 per month from each soldier to wash his clothing. This fee was deducted from the soldier’s pay and given directly to the laundresses. Doing laundry was a three day job of mending holes, treating stains, washing with soap and a scrub board, ringing out with hand crank wringers, boiling to kill lice, rinsing, bleaching, hanging on a clothesline to dry, and finally ironing.

Up next is the Bakery. Each soldier was entitled to 1 pound of bread per day, so bread was baked twice per day, 365 days per year.

Oven

Breadpans

The baker was given living quarters for himself and his family, and paid for his labors.

Baker's Quarters

Imagine how uncomfortable these rooms must have been in the summer right next to the wood fire heated oven.

Finally the last building was the Guardhouse.

It was used to contain prisoners-  soldiers who were serving for liquor or gambling violations, and sometimes for taking leave without authorization. Cells could be quite small, in fact some were just a large wooden box.

The fort was only active for seven years. When the railroad came through the area, the fort was no longer needed, and it was abandoned in 1881. It was then sold to the Union Pacific Railroad, who intended to start an immigrant center there, but that never materialized. In 1897 the site was bought by local investors who used it for a farm headquarters until 1961 when it was donated to the state of Nebraska. The buildings had fallen into disrepair, but were restored back to their original condition, and today visitors can tour the buildings, see living history exhibits, and talk to period re-enactors.

More information about Fort Hartsuff can be found here and here.

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