Fort McPherson National Cemetery
Located a few miles south of the town Maxwell, Fort McPherson National Cemetery was established in 1873. It is named after the fort that had occupied the site (or near it) from 1863-1880. The U.S. Army established the fort to protect the pioneer settlers traveling west on the overland trails (the Oregon and Mormon Trails) from Indian attacks. The fort was built south of the Platte River at a strategic location at the mouth of the Cottonwood Canyon. The troops stationed at the fort—including George Armstrong Custer, who would later be killed in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana—launched a number of campaigns against local Indian tribes including. The cemetery features a number of buildings including the cemetery lodge and a columbarium (a building which houses urns). Hundreds of individuals are buried here including several Medal of Honor recipients, Indians, Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th cavalry, and the last surviving Civil War veteran in Lincoln County.
Backstory and Context
Fort McPherson was one of several military posts that the Army built in the 19th century as the country expanded westward. These posts served to not only protect settlers, they also became settlements that helped secure territory for the growing nation. Settlers formed communities outside the walls. They established businesses (gristmills, sawmills, blacksmith shops, etc.) that served the settlers and the troops.
Fur trappers, riders of the Pony Express, and then settlers on the overland routes all passed through the Platte River Valley. The route was ideal because it was relatively flat, it was near water, and there was plenty of Buffalo to hunt for food. As the numbers of settlers traveling through the valley increased from hundreds to thousands during the late 1840s and early 1850s, Indian tribes became more alarmed and began to try to drive the settlers away; violent confrontations between settlers and Indians ensued, starting the Indian Wars that would last for many years.
It was in this context Fort McPherson was built (it was originally called Fort McKean and the Post at Cottonwood Springs before being renamed Fort McPherson in 1866). The fort had officer quarters and troop barracks, a hospital, commissary, horse stables, offices, blacksmith shop, saddle shop, bakery, and even a theater.
The Army abandoned the fort in 1880. By that time, the transcontinental railroad had made wagon travel obsolete. The cemetery, however, has been maintained ever since, although it is much smaller than its original size of 107 acres. Today, the Department of Veterans affairs oversees the cemetery (and all other national cemeteries). The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
"Fort McPherson National Cemetery." National Cemetery Administration. Accessed October 15, 2019. https://www.cem.va.gov/CEM/cems/nchp/ftmcpherson.asp#gi.
"Fort McPherson, Nebraska." History Nebraska. Accessed October 15, 2019. https://history.nebraska.gov/sites/history.nebraska.gov/files/doc/Fort%20McPherson,%20Nebraska%20%5bRG503%5d.pdf.
""Fort McPherson National Cemetery." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. March 7, 2012. https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_NE/12000075.pdf.
Gaster, Patricia C. "The Fort McPherson National Cemetery." History Nebraska Blog. Accessed October 15, 2019.
National Cemetery Administration