Friday, February 11, 2011

Brownville-Fort Kearney Trail goes through Homestead

The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 lead Brownville, Nebraska merchants to begin shipping goods to Denver and Central City areas of Colorado. They had much competition from merchants in the Nebraska towns of Omaha, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, Peru, and St. Deroin and the Kansas and Missouri towns of St. Joseph, Atchison, Leavenworth, Independence, and Westport. The Brownville merchants established a “feeder trail” that ran from Brownville to Tecumseh to Beatrice before joining the main line of the Oregon Trail near the crossing of Big Sandy Creek in what is now Jefferson County, Nebraska. This feeder trail became known as the Brownville-Fort Kearney Trail.
by Gene Finke

In some sources, the Brownville-Fort Kearney Trail is referred to as a “military road.” If that is true it means some of the Brownville Merchants were contracted to supply Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, and other military facilities. It also means the U. S. Army probably sent out a group of infantrymen to make improvements along the Trail. These improvements may have involved lessening some grades, but primarily would have been improving stream crossings. The largest crossings would have been at the Little Nemaha, Big Nemaha, and Big Blue Rivers; these streams usually had large wild spring floods so building bridges over them would have been an exercise in futility. But the Army may have built some bridges on the lesser streams. At the very least they made the banks less steep so the large freight wagons pulled by many yoke of oxen could cross the streams easier. At least once, and probably more than once, the Brownville Merchants financed improvements along the Trail. It is also possible that the merchants of Tecumseh and Beatrice made improvements at the stream crossings in their areas.

Hugh Jackson Dobbs writes in the History of Gage County that the Trail crossed the Big Blue River at the Market Street ford in Beatrice, swung northward along the river, and then traveled northwesterly crossing Cub Creek before starting its route along a high prairie ridge for 22 miles before crossing Little Sandy Creek and joining the main line of the Oregon Trail at the crossing of Big Sandy Creek.

Today, beginning at the Highway 4 curve on the northwest edge of Beatrice you can drive almost the exact route the Trail took from that point to another point just short of the junction of Highways 4 and 15 nine miles west of Plymouth, Nebraska. The one exception would be through Homestead National Monument of America. There the Trail crossed through the center of Daniel Freeman’s property and not around the north edge like today. This wayside on the walking trail just west of the Heritage Center at Homestead shows where the Trail went and gives an explanation of the activity on the Trail.


Dobbs, Hugh Jackson. 1918. The History of Gage County. Lincoln, Nebraska: Western Publishing and Engraving Company.

Lass, William E. 1972. From the Missouri to the Great Salt Lake: An Account of Overland Freighting. Lincoln, Nebraska: Nebraska State Historical Society.

Mattes, Merrill J. 1969. The Great Platte River Road. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

Lavender, David Sievert. The Overland Migrations: Settlers to Oregon, California, and Utah. Washington D.C.: National Park Service, The Department of Interior.

No comments: