f you could see Nebraska through my eyes, you would see its history. That’s because I bring history to life as a volunteer living history interpreter at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park. Every first weekend from May to November, you’ll find me dressed in corset and petticoats, cooking over an open fire. My fellow interpreters and I re-create life as it was at this early 1800’s fort, the first U.S outpost west of the Missouri.
200 years ago, Fort Atkinson housed about 20% of the standing Army, and established many of Nebraska’s “firsts” – the first school, library, hospital and the first large scale farming and livestock operation. The post, which included soldiers, traders, trappers, and other frontier people, has been credited by the Nebraska State Legislature as the first town in Nebraska.
The men and women who lived, served and passed through Fort Atkinson left their marks. Commanding Officers included Henry Atkinson and Henry Leavenworth, whose names we see on our towns and streets today. Names like Jim Bridger, Stephen Long and Captain Bennett Riley. Mountain man Hugh Glass, popularized by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, ended his journey for revenge at Fort Atkinson.
Even before it was officially called Nebraska, it was the home of the Otoe and Missouria Nations, who were the first Native people to hold government to government council with Lewis & Clark. Our state name comes from the Otoe-Missouria word Ni Brathge (“Nee-brath-gay”) meaning “water flat”, referring to the Platte River. Fort Atkinson was built on the site of this first council meeting 15 years later.
When I see Nebraska, I see history come alive. I experience it with all my senses. I hear the cannon BOOM and feel the thump in my chest. I see and smell the hot iron of the blacksmith as he pounds out nails. I taste the venison stew bubbling over the hearth. I hear the fiddle music and feel like it's 1825. And so can you.
My name is Julie and this is Fort Atkinson through my eyes.