Fort Atkinson

wooden fort buildings arranged in a square around a large grass field

Quick Facts
201 S 7th Street, Fort Calhoun NE
Site of the first formal meeting between gov't reps and western tribes
National Historic Landmark, National Register of Historic Places

Benches/Seating, Entrance Passes For Sale, Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Information, Information - Maps Available, Information - Park Newspaper Available, Information - Ranger/Staff Member Present, Information Kiosk/Bulletin Board, Parking - Auto, Picnic Table, Restroom, Scenic View/Photo Spot, Toilet - Flush

Lewis and Clark NHT Visitor Centers and Museums

Fort Atkinson is a High Potential Historic Site on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

On July 30, 1804, Lewis and Clark encamped at a site on the west side of the Missouri River they named Council Bluff, in order to meet with members of the Oto and Missouri tribes. Tribal representatives finally arrived on the evening of August 2, and council was held throughout the following day. Recognizing the strategic value of the location, Clark wrote, “The Situation of this place which we Call Council Bluff which is handsom ellevated a Spot well Calculated for a Tradeing establishment, the Bank high & leavel on top well Calculated for a fort to Command the Countrey and river the low bottom above high water & well Situated under the Command of the Hill for Houses to trade with the Natives a butifull Plain both abov and below at no other bend on either Side does the High land touch the river for Some distance up, as I am told.” 

In 1819, Fort Atkinson was established at the site of Council Bluff. As the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River, it was a gateway to the fur trade in the Upper Missouri and Rocky Mountains. The fort’s strategic importance eventually dwindled and it was abandoned in 1827. By the 1850s, it had almost entirely deteriorated. In the 1950s, the Nebraska State Historical Society completed archeological surveys to determine building sites. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission acquired the property in 1971, and reconstructed the fort during the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, Fort Atkinson is open to the public as a Nebraska state historical park.

On July 30, 1804 the Corps set up camp at a site which later became known as Fort Atkinson. During their stay here hosted the first formal meeting between representatives of the U.S. government and western tribes. At sunset on August 2, a party of Otoe and a few Missouris arrived at the camp, and official meetings began after breakfast on August 3. The structure of the council would establish the routine for all subsequent councils on the expedition. Upon it’s conclusion, the explorers continued their journey up the river.

Fort Atkinson was established officially established during the Yellowstone Expedition of 1819. Named after the Expedition’s commander, Col. Henry Atkinson, it was the U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. During it’s existence, between 1820 and 1827, it served as the first school and library in Nebraska. It was also a gateway to the fur regions of the Upper Missouri and the Rocky Mountains, and served as the starting point for several early expeditions to the Mexican settlements of Taos and Santa Fe. 


Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Last updated: January 25, 2021