Julia is on the far right on her grullo Festus (named for the Gunsmoke character!) together with fellow Saddle Club drill team members Jenny, Estelle and Carrie on their quarter horses, two of which were rescue cases. For the non horsey among you, grullo is a dark smokey dun colour with black legs, mane and tail and often a dorsal stripe.
Lyle Gronewald, the president of the Nebraska division of the NPEA, had arranged for me to actually stay at Fort Kearny State Historical Park, and I was met by custodian Gene Hunt.
...who guided us to a secluded sylvan corral where the horses were turned out to graze and put their hooves up..
Fort Kearny was founded in 1848 as a military outpost at a strategic location on the Platte river where major trails (Oregon, California etc) merged to follow the Platte river valley corridor westwards. It was named after Colonel subsequently General Stephen W Kearny but it must be noted that the town of Kearney just across the river is confusingly spelt with a second letter 'e', a later addition to the name probably caused by misspelling. The fort was established to protect the growing number of emigrants moving west, but also served as a supply and service depot and mail centre. It was originally an unfortified collection of adobe houses and then wooden buildings, but during the Indian war of 1864-5 a small stockade was erected. Construction of the Union Pacific railroad obviated the need for an army post at this location, and the fort was abandoned in 1871.
Nothing has remained of the original buildings, but following acquisition of part of the site in 1929 by the State of Nebraska, the original layout has been identified and marked out, and the stockade, smithy and powder magazine reconstructed. There is now a visitors' centre and small museum with a range of interesting artifacts....
It appeared I had only just missed a major local attraction as Kearney is the self-styled 'Sandhill Crane Capital of the World' due to the sandhill crane migration which takes place from February to mid-April. Having over-wintered in Texas like many other North Americans, in early spring over half a million sandhill cranes fly north to breeding grounds in Canada. Along the way they stop over in their thousands on wetlands along the River Platte. Visitors pour into the area to see the sight, and there is even a sandhill crane festival.
After being treated to supper in Kearney by park visitor Malia, I retired to my cosy quarters for the night...
Monday April 25th. A couple of miles west of Fort Kearny, we came to the site of Dobytown, which is thought to be the location of the Fort Kearny Pony Express station. Originally called Central City and then Kearny City, it was more commonly known as Dobytown after the sod buildings which looked like adobe structures. Situated just outside the military reservation of Fort Kearny and on the emigrant route to the west, Dobytown contained 14 saloons, and quickly developed a reputation as a centre for gambling, whisky and wild wild women.
But with the abandonment of Fort Kearney in 1871, Dobytown soon became a ghost town and nothing now remains but an open field. Not even the appropriately named Dirty Woman Ranch survived.
I was looking for a likely place to stop near Elm Creek at the end of the day when a pick-up pulled up and the driver asked where I was going. Frank Meyer immediately offered accommodation for the horses and use of an empty house we had just passed which he owned. Frank and family run a large ranching concern of around 50,000acres. Frank with Rhino, one of his beloved young Charolais bulls, who is off for stud duties in the sandhills area of Nebraska.
The house that Frank built..
Frank proudly shows me the view from the new state of the art house he is in the process of building on a specially constructed mound above flood level by gravel pits on the Platte river valley floor.