Fort Omaha was first known as Sherman Barracks, and very soon as Omaha Barracks, when the federal government in 1868 obtained land from Omahan Augustus Kountze to establish a military reservation. The property was later renamed Fort Omaha and in 1878 became the Headquarters for the Department of the Platte, covering territory that stretched from the Missouri River into Montana and from Canada to Texas.
Fort Omaha was a supply fort, rather than a defense fort, and today looks much as it did at the end of the nineteenth century, its integrity having been preserved by its designation as a National Register District. The use, in some cases lack of use, changed through the years, until 1975, when the property was acquired by Metropolitan Community College by quitclaim deed from the federal government.
Facilities for military reserve forces still are located at the perimeters of Fort Omaha, and mustering in and deployment of troops continues from this location.
Between 1868 and today, the Fort records a diverse history. The Fort was abandoned in 1896, when its need was diminished by expansive settlement of the west the and end of the Indian Wars. It reopened in 1905 as the Signal Corps School, and the first balloon flight was launched in 1909, beginning the Army's first regular lighter-than-air center. The Fort was abandoned in 1913 when the Signal Corps School was moved to Fort Leavenworth.
Fort Omaha became the site of America's first military balloon school when the Fort was reactivated in 1916 as the Balloon Section of the American Expeditionary Force, known as the Fort Omaha Balloon School. Captain Chandler, pilot of the first 1909 flight, was named the Commanding Officer.
During World War II, Fort Omaha became the support installation for the Seventh Service Command and was used as a work camp for Italian war prisoners. In 1947, Headquarters, Fifth Army gave command of the Fort to the Navy, and Fort Omaha officially was named the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center. In 1951 Fort Omaha was designated the U.S. Naval Personnel Center.
Fort Omaha is best known for its role in the landmark trial in Omaha in 1879 of Standing Bear. General Crook, then the Commander of the Department of the Platte, followed orders to arrest and place under guard at Fort Omaha the great Ponca Chief, who had traveled north to his homeland along the Niobrara River from a reservation in Indian Territory in Oklahoma to bury his son, honoring the son's dying wish and Indian custom. However, General Crook's sentiments were with Standing Bear, and he secretly engaged the services of newspaperman William Henry Tibbles to rally support for the cause, and General Crook, in his full military regalia, spoke on behalf of Standing Bear during the trial. The ruling was in favor of Standing Bear, which represented the first time the Indian was recognized as a person under the law.
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