Fort Robinson

By Grant Gydesen, Kolten Marx, Kyle McClaren

We visited Fort Robinson state park collectively as a group on 10/12/15. Our visit was very productive. The staff at the park are very caring and courteous to the visitors. They provide great information, along with visiting tips while out exploring the park. The military base part of the park is laid out from east to west. The eastern end of the park is composed of a swimming pool, the military dog training site, small cabins, and an activity center. Across the highway to the west is where the majority of the barracks and housing buildings are located, that we will discuss later. Once our visit was complete, we had a newborn knowledge pertaining to Fort Robinson State Park and the surrounding areas.

Fort Robinson State Park contains closely 22,000 acres in the core of the Pine Ridge Unit located near Crawford, NE. The Pine Ridge Unit is approximately 100 miles long across Nebraska, it stretches between the Niobrara and White rivers. This unit offers many opportunities for hiking, hunting, fishing, and explorations.

One can partake in to relive how life was for people on the fort from 1874 to 1948. Some of these events include a hayrack ride, trail rides through the beautiful scenery of the park, and a more modern jeep ride around the rocky buttes. As Fort Robinson servers as tourist destination, with numerous thrilling events, there is a lot of important history to be learned as well.

Fort Robinson served as a military post from the times of the great Indian Wars until post World War II. Our group’s major impression was that of the different housing units and barracks. These units were occupied by soldiers, buffalo soldiers (African American soldiers), and Native Americans. Our main focus was on the famous people that were associated with Fort Robinson. The people we are most interested in include Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. Fort Robinson was an Indian Agency protective post. As the Indian Wars were underway, Fort Robinson was a protective post that outlasted the wars. Throughout the history of the wars, numerous major historical events took place here. These historical events were America’s biggest quartermaster remount yard, an artillery testing location, an Olympic horse training area, the Cheyenne Outbreak, a training unit for military dogs, a World War II war camp holding prisoners, and the final meeting of the Sioux Nation. A couple events our group was most interested in is the Cheyenne Outbreak and the final death of Oglala Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. The Cheyenne Outbreak was an event that occurred on January 9, 1879. A group of Northern Cheyenne Native Americans attempted to break out of their barracks. They did this in order to stray away from being sent back to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. This resulted in 65 Native Americans being captured and sent back to Fort Robinson and 32 escaped and were later killed by the soldiers. This historic event was one of the final battles of the Indian War. Barracks holding prisoners and Native Americans were designed as a place to successfully house these people without escape. Along with the prisoners and Native Americans, it housed cavalry units of soldiers as well. The death of the famous Sioux Chief Crazy Horse was on September 5, 1877 due to resisting confinement at the fort, he was bayoneted by a U.S. soldier. Overall, we toured the area of the barracks that the Cheyenne Outbreak took place, as well as read artifacts pertaining to the events.

Figure 1. 1909 Brick Barracks
Figure 1. 1909 Brick Barracks

An example of these barracks include the 1909 brick barracks ( See Figure 1). This particular barrack housed soldiers of the 8th and 12th Cavalry and also served as the Quartermaster Remount Service. The 1887 Barracks Row new additions of six new adobe made barracks (See Figure 2).

Figure 2. 1877 Barracks Row
Figure 2. 1877 Barracks Row

A few years later, new barracks with the style of two frames were added. Every building had a dormitory type area that was 170 by 30 feet. They also included a kitchenette area and a single troop inhibited one area. Typically, 45 to 80 troops were housed in the 1887 Barracks Row. It served as an area for Cavalry troops to live in until 1916.

The post commanders often were housed in the most modern and nicest setting. These were referred to as the Officers’ Row of 1909 ( See Figure 3).

Figure 3. Officer's Row of 1909
Figure 3. Officer’s Row of 1909

These were made up of four double sets and a single occupancy residence for the post commander. Officers’ Row were the final constructed homes to be built on Fort Robinson. Inside these Victorian military style design, there were elegant fireplaces and a bell system to call upon servants. Another type of housing unity includes the Adobe Officers’ Quarters. These were duplex styled officers’ quarters comprised of an adobe brick construction. As Fort Robinson became a cavalry headquarters, these adobe quarters went up in 1887. For our group, we observed that these different housing units and barracks served as an initial home on the range for the first military soldiers, not necessarily for Native Americans. Today the housing units provide the tourists and visitors a place to be accommodated with personal touch to the park.

For the current and past tourists visiting Fort Robinson, Nebraska Game and Parks took control of the park, since then there are numerous accommodation possibilities. Visitors are capable of being housed in the barracks and lodges from April 1 to November 30 typically, but camping is allowed year round. Visitors who want to stay on the Fort have the options of hosting events and renting larger type buildings for such events as family reunions. As mentioned before, there are numerous activities to partake in, but the Nebraska Game and Parks also allows for hunting and fishing to take place on the Fort Robinson State Park. Our group closely related these possibilities to the first Native Americans and settlers in this area. We felt the relation that we could hunt and fish in the same exact areas as people did so before us did. It was just another way for us to connect to making a home on the range by utilizing the game and fish capable of being harvested for food and other benefits such as tools made out of the bones.

We believe that a home on the range first came about with the Native American tribes that called the Great Plains home by utilizing the land as a resource to live off of. During the beginning of construction in Fort Robinson, and its’ association with the 1885 Congress granted railroad right of way through Fort Robinson Military Reservation, it brought many new people and the capability for them to make a living in the region. The Fort served as a home of soldiers and numerous people alike in war related efforts. For many, this was their first time in this new area, thus their first real “home” on the range areas of Northwestern Nebraska. Due to the railroad, the military was able to expand the Fort and allow for newcomers to have room to occupy the area. Crawford, Nebraska, is located approximately 3 miles east of Fort Robinson. Crawford is a town developed from the production of the railroad, thus a new community area was developed and people claimed a home. As for Native Americans, we believe their nomadic and historical free ranging “homes” were devastated. They were forced to live in man-made barracks, rather than their natural ways of life living with the land, not just on the land.