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Fort Kearny was established by the U.S. Army in 1848 to protect the growing traffic along the Oregon Trail from the threat of Indian attacks. This military post was strategically located at a junction where various eastern feeder trails merged, forming one broad trail. Those routes joined at Fort Kearny and became one broad and vast trail following the Platte River 330 miles west to Fort Laramie. The fort was intended mostly as a supply post, and not as defensive position in the Indian Wars. The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad across Nebraska starting in 1867 largely marked the end of the need for a fort to protect and supply wagon train emigrants. Following the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the U.S. Army issued an order for abandonment of the post on May 22, 1871. In 1875, the buildings were torn down and the materials removed to barracks at North Platte and Sidney.

In 1928, the Fort Kearny Memorial Association was formed by Nebraska citizens to raise money to purchase and restore part of the grounds. The organization was able to purchase 40 acres of the original site, which it offered to the State of Nebraska. The State Legislature authorized the purchase, which became final on March 26, 1929. Thus acquired by the State of Nebraska in 1929, part of the original site is now operated as Fort Kearny State Historical Park by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The site has been entered on the National Register of Historic Places.

In cooperation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, which operates the current State Historic Park, the Nebraska State Historical Society conducts ongoing archaeological investigations of the grounds. These digs have uncovered and marked the foundations of all major building on the site including headquarters, officers and troops quarters, parade grounds, storage and livestock stockade. A small theatre that shows a 20 minute history of the fort, a museum with collected artifacts and a reconstructed blacksmith shop with period cannons, caissons, tack and other equipment is behind the museum. There is space on the park for RV and trailer parking with some facilities. The park is only open during the summer months.