In 1985, Gloria and Herb Gibreal of Omaha donated a property just north of Omaha in the Ponca Hills area to the Nebraska State Historical Society Foundation. Little did they know that 18 years later, the Nebraska State Historical Society would unearth the site of the Engineer Cantonment.
The Engineer Cantonment is an important piece of Nebraska’s history. It is the site where Major Stephen H. Long and his party of scientists wintered in 1819 and 1820. Major Long’s expedition led his team up the Missouri River on an exploratory mission to learn more about the people, land, plants and animals, as well as to expand US trade in the region. After wintering at the Cantonment, Major Long’s team travelled west to the Rockies before returning with their findings.
The Engineer Cantonment was thought to be lost for 200 years, until in 2003 Rob Bozell and Gayle Carlson of the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Archaeology staff discovered the site. Were it not for an artist named Titian Ramsay Peale, the site may have remained hidden. Archaeologists only had a rough knowledge of the location of the site, but a painting by Peale of the site in 1819-1820 led the archaeologists to some bluffs on the property. From there, a trenching machine was used to unearth buttons, beads and other items that matched the time period. In 2003 and 2004, excavation of the engineer cantonment by the NSHS were completed.
For more information, check out these articles from History Nebraska, formerly the Nebraska State Historical Society: