In 1820, Fort Atkinson became the westernmost U.S. military post. It was placed on the same Missouri River bluff where Lewis and Clark held their Council with the Oto Indians. The fort was originally built as part of a military strategy to stop the perceived British influence into the upper Missouri and Mississippi river valleys. Fort Atkinson was also charged with resolving disputes between the region’s Indian tribes.
At its height, over 1,000 soldiers garrisoned the post. Despite the fact that the log barracks walls had gun slits pointing to the outside and artillery bastions, Fort Atkinson was never attacked. At least some of its garrison, however, did march into the area that would become northern South Dakota and attacked an Arikara village. In 1825, Indian Agent Benjamin O’Fallon and General Henry Atkinson traveled far north on the Missouri River on a major treaty-signing expedition. The fort was abandoned in 1827.
In the east, there was history of Indian wars. Because of this, some white Americans new to the Louisiana Purchase area thought they needed protection from Native Americans. The reality in these early years was that there were only occasional skirmishes, but that didn’t affect the perception.
Later, as more explorers, traders, trappers, missionaries, overland trail travelers, and after 1854, settlers moved here, there were demands for the U.S. government to provide protection. It responded with Forts Kearny 1 and 2, Forts Omaha, Crook, McPherson, Hartsuff, Niobrara, Robinson, Mitchell, Sidney, and Plum Creek Station.
|Move around Fort Atkinson, including the barracks, in this virtual panorama.
A panoramic view of the reconstructed interior of a Ft. Atkinson barracks room.
Courtesy Bill Ganzel
Take a self-guided audio tour of the fort
with the Friends of Fort Atkinson.