About the Fort
Who You'll See
The fort's first commanding officer was its namesake, Colonel Henry Atkinson. The nerve center of the garrison was the Orderly Room, and that remains true today. Here you'll find the commanding officer at his desk surrounded by lower-ranking officers and his adjutant (assistant). You may also spy him on the parade ground, inspecting troops' quarters, or entertaining dignitaries.
Company G of the 6th US Infantry may be the smallest company on post, but they're sure to be the least forgettable. You can see (and hear) them several times a day firing any number of our period reproduction artillery pieces. These guns were used for signaling, celebration, and warfare. The fort was originally armed with artillery pieces that could fire parallel to the fort walls and eradicate entire ranks as they approached.
The 6th can be readily identified by their blue wool dress coatees, or in the summer months by their white roundabouts. They fire a .69 caliber smooth bore flintlock musket, have a bayonet at the ready, and go by the nickname "The Regulars."
1st Rifle Regiment
The Riflemen functioned as the special forces of the time period Fort Atkinson was in active military service. They can be identified by their yellow-fringed green frocks and flintlock rifles. They often are armed with a menacing belt axe and knife. During the time of the fort, the Rifle Regiment was disbanded. Many of those stationed at Fort Atkinson were amalgamated into the 6th Infantry.
Because the fort was situated deep in the frontier territory and amongst native tribes, the Indian Agent played an important role in maintaining communication and balancing the tensions of a growing nation. Visit the Council House located beyond the north gate to catch a glimpse of the "grand hall on the plains." Be sure to inspect the elaborate candle chandelier system.
The blacksmiths (and their variants, including ferriers and armorers) were responsible for nearly everything made of steel or iron at the frontier fort. Employing roughly 25 smiths at its height, the fort produced nails, horseshoes, wagon wheel bandings, door latches, hinges, farming implements, and much more. They were also responsible for repairing the weaponry housed here. Today the blacksmiths carry on this tradition and have fabricated and maintained all of the hardware used in the construction of the fort. They also make reproduction pieces that can be purchased in the Sutler's Store.
Watch as our master carpenter demonstrates the tools and trade of an early 19th century woodsmith. Look for his handiwork and repairs throughout the fort, from caned chairs, dining tables, and benches to planer marks on the floors and window sashes.
The cooper was responsible for making buckets, barrels, canteens, and the like. Wooden vessels of this time are unique in that, they will leak for a short time until the water swells the wood, thus sealing the joints. You can see the handiwork of the fort coopers at nearly every turn.
Like the blacksmiths, the tinsmith was a crucial artisan in the early America military, particularly on this remote outpost. The tinsmith produced cups, lanterns, basins, canteens, and countless other items used in the everyday lives of those stationed here. After visiting the tinsmith's well-kempt workshop, be sure to peruse his wares for sale in the Sutler's Store.
The musicians served as the command and control mechanism of the early American military. Moving thousands of troops via voice commands over the thunderous roar of muskets, rifles, and cannons would be impossible. Instead, every maneuver, task, and event in a soldier's life had a musical counterpart. The musicians would translate officers' commands into musical form that could be heard over great distances. The military employed fifes and drums (Infantry) as well as whistles and bugles (Rifle Regiment). You can easily spot the Infantry musicians by their red coatees.
Come and explore the "cutting edge" medical technology practiced here at Fort Atkinson. You can view the surgeon's quarters, the sick bay, and a host of period medical implements.
The laundresses served an incredibly important role at this frontier post. Keeping a force of nearly 1,000 men clean was no easy task, considering the amount of physical work the men did in and around the post and the primitive tools and soaps the laundresses had at their disposal. Laundresses were paid directly out of soldiers' wages. Come see them work just outside the north gate.
Spinners and Weavers
Visit the talented spinners and weavers located along the southeast wall as they create period wares using time-honored techniques and tools. Watch as they spin raw wool into yarn and then weave it into any number of useful products.
The cultural center of the original post, the Sutler offered hundreds of items for sale to the soldiers and civilians living here. It still serves both functions today. Stop in and peruse the many items for sale, many made by Fort Atkinson artisans; enjoy a song or two on the period music box; have a slice of pie and cup of fresh-squeezed juice while you enjoy any number of musicians playing traditional instruments.
Teacher and Pupils
Fort Atkinson housed the first school in Nebraska. Many of the married officers had children, as did many of the civilian families living just outside the walls. Come and see what they were learning in the 1820's by visiting the school room on the northeast wall. Be sure to listen for the school bell, and don't be tardy!
Officers were treated to a substantially finer staple than the average enlisted men. You can watch the officers' mess prepare the noon meal over an open fire each day on the west wall. Also, be sure to visit the outdoor bread oven located just across from the Council House.