An Interesting History of Fort Omaha

This is an interesting history of Fort Omaha. Every school student in North Omaha is taught about the fort, that it existed and stuff happened there. But what they are taught and what the average Omahan knows pales in comparison to the actual history of the place.

Here are five interesting facts about Fort Omaha.

A snow-covered Fort Omaha sits quiet in wintertime, circa 1880s.

Fact One: Fort Omaha Was Built To Make Money.

Omaha had an early banking mogul named Augustus Kountze. He and his brother Herman were determined to make their riches in their adopted boom town, and set out by doing it through loaning money and providing a place for savings to be held.

Their banking eventually allowed them to buy land, which they did across Omaha. Their holdings focused on North Omaha, including the areas that eventually held the posh Kountze Place suburb and Fort Omaha.

As soon as the fort was built out in the 1870s, Kountze’s holdings around the military reservation started to sell. His pockets got swollen and those of his friends were filled, too. Good investment!

When Fort Omaha became the Headquarters for the Department of the Platte in 1878, it covered land from the Missouri River into Montana and from Canada to Texas. More of Omaha’s land became valuable, and Kountze’s other holdings beyond North Omaha developed, too.

Fort Omaha was built to make money because of the railroads. As the United States pushed west, they dotted the land with forts to suppress the Indian tribes and protect the settlers from each other. The Fort made money for the government by protecting the product emerging from the West that they taxed. It made money for the speculators who, like Kountze, needed young Omaha to build, grow and expand so they could get wealthy. It worked!
Before balloons, Fort Omaha was home to the US Army Dirigible Unit in the early 1900s.

Fact Two: Fort Omaha Has A Vital Place In American History.

Fort Omaha was the first place in the United States of America that Native Americans were recognized as human beings by the law.

In 1879 the Ponca chief Standing Bear defied the United States’ orders that he move with his tribe to Oklahoma. After being given terrible land in that state in exchange for their claims in northeast Nebraska, Standing Bear led a band of Poncas back to their old land to reclaim what was theirs.
Ordered to imprison Standing Bear as a sign to other Indians, General Crook arrested the chief and locked him up at Fort Omaha.
General Crook ended up surprising everyone though.
During the subsequent trial at the Fort, Crook wore his full military uniform, proceeding to testify on behalf of Standing Bear and his tribe. Standing Bear won the case, was given some of his tribe’s land back, and was addressed as a human for the first time in American history. That’s why Fort Omaha has a vital place in this nation’s history.
Here are US Army Military Police from Fort Omaha circa 1900, courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society.

Fact Three: Fort Omaha Was An Experimentation Site For Technology That Didn’t Last.

In 1916, became home to the United States Army’s American Expeditionary Section’s brand new balloon unit. The Fort Omaha Balloon School had two hangers on the south end of the military reservation, along with a launching and landing ground called Florence Field.

After a few years the entirety of the school was moved to Texas. Meanwhile, in the early 1920s Florence Field was sold to a man named George Martin, who planned a neighborhood there and subdivided it. The neighborhood had a grand driveway, beautiful homes of many varieties, and sat just north of the popular Miller Park. Today, Minne Lusa is still a beautiful neighborhood!

Here’s a dashing group of US Army motorcyclists circa WWI.

Fact Four: Fort Omaha Was A Prison Camp.

During World War II, Fort Omaha was home to a supply battalion and was used as a work camp for prisoners-of-war. They were mostly Italian prisoners, and were assigned to military duties only at Fort Omaha with no off-post labor so were not visible to the general public.

The US Army Balloon Corps School was held at Fort Omaha.

Fact Five: Barely Anybody Actually Cared About The Fort.

Fort Omaha was built for the Indian Wars and was largely forgotten by the 1890s. It was abandoned in 1896. At the turn of the century it became a muster point for troops to ship out for the Spanish American War.
In 1907, Fort Omaha had hangers built for a few dirigibles, but that program was abandoned two years later. In 1908 though, the Fort Omaha Balloon School was opened. That facility was take from Fort Omaha and moved to Texas in 1917. In 1909, the Fort became the Army’s Signal Corps School; in 1913 it was abandoned.
By the 1920s, the Fort had fallen quiet again. It became a supply base and work camp for prisoners of war during World War II.

In 1947, command of the Fort was given to the Navy. Soon after, the Fort was named a Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center. In 1951 Fort Omaha was designated the U.S. Naval Personnel Center, a role it continues to play today.

The rest of the Fort was given to Metro Community College in the 1970s, and as they say, the rest is history!

US Army Signal Corps soldiers practice at Fort Omaha circa WWI.

Fact Six: Miller Park Racists Hated US Army Troops

According to the Omaha World-Herald, a regiment of Black soldiers was stationed at Fort Omaha. White people in the surrounding neighborhood protested a lot, writing letters to the newspaper and their elected officials. African American community leaders and politicians took it upon themselves to sound out loudly on behalf of the troops. Nebraska State Legislator John Singleton worked with Gene Thomas, a past commander of the Legion Post of Spanish War Veterans, and others to promote the inclusion of the troops there. The neighborhood eventually shut up.

Today, Fort Omaha is in the middle of a massive construction boom and expansion, due to investment from MCC. Its exciting to see what the future holds, but important to remember what was truly interesting from its history.

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  1. Adam. Interesting, but one error. The Fort wasn’t given to Metro rather they have a lease with the Feds, and still have some limitations on what they can do on that part of the campus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that Tom. I looked for leasee info but couldn’t find anything but conjecture. Any idea where I can find what you shared written up so I can learn more?


  2. Thank you for the history lesson. I had no idea the fort had such a diverse history. I recently went to a WWII style show there. Women showed off all the styles of clothes that were popular at that time.

    Liked by 1 person

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