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The Birth of Sidney

By Dawn Graves


Gold had recently been discovered in California. Between 1845 and 1850, throngs of people made their way West across the prairie riding in covered wagons, on horses or even walking on foot to find their fortunes.

The way was rough, long and dangerous. Hostile Indians, inadequate provisions and extreme weather took their toll on many travelers. Something better was needed. Something better, safer and faster -- the railroad!

As the railroad expanded westward across the country, encampments sprung up along the tracks. Within these encampments, plenty of gambling, saloons and "Ladies of the Evening" were present to keep the railroad workers entertained in their free time.

In 1867, one such encampment became Sidney, named for the president of the Union Pacific Railroad, Sidney Dillon.

Numerous skirmishes between Indians and the railroad workers prompted the government to establish the Sidney Barracks at the site in 1867. The military's first purpose here was to protect the workers and the residents of the new town.

Was military protection necessary?

Well, one story goes that in April of 1868, Indians descended upon Sidney and before the they could be driven away, Thomas Cahoon, a conductor on the railroad, was scalped and William Edmondson, another conductor, was killed.

Railroad worker Daniel Richardson went to the creek for water and was filled with arrows by the Indians.

These three men are said to be the first recorded people buried in Sidney's Boot Hill Cemetery.


The Sidney Barracks was established in 1867 to protect the railroad workers and citizens from Indian attacks, and started as a sub-post of Fort Sedgwick.

Their first post here was set at the top of the hill north of town and consisted of just a tent and a blockhouse. When the camp was moved farther south, the blockhouse remained as a lookout point. This building, called Camp Lookout, can still be seen on the hill today and is currently being restored.

In 1870, the Sidney Barracks became an independent post and was later renamed Fort Sidney. Originally, 13 structures comprised the fort, eventually expanding to 51. By 1875 the post contained quarters for three companies, five officers' quarters, a hospital, guardhouse, bakery, laundry, stables and other structures.

The Post Commander's Home, Officers' Quarters and Powder House are all that are known to be left of these buildings.

The last Indian alarm at Fort Sidney may have been the most dramatic. In 1878 the Cheyenne tribe, under Dull Knife, broke from their reservation in Oklahoma and took off across Kansas and Nebraska. At Sidney, a special train was kept ready to be rushed either direction to intercept the Indians when they came to the Union Pacific. On October 4, the train was rushed to Ogallala, but the Indians escaped into the Sandhills.