“Fort Kearny was the true beginning of the Great Platte River Road, for it was here that various trail strands joined to become one grand highway for the western migrations. . . . Fort Kearny was recognized as the port of call of the Nebraska Coast, the end of the shakedown cruise across the prairie and the beginning of the voyage across the perilous ocean of the Great Plains, a place to pause and reflect, to recuperate, to reorganize, to get your bearings. For the fainthearted it was a good opportunity to change their minds, make a 180-degree turn, and go back where they came from before they became committed to California and later, somewhere out in the Great American Desert, reached the point of no return. . . .
Fort Kearny and the head of Grand Island were nearly synonymous in terms of general location. They were both reckoned at midpoint between St. Joe (the number one jumping-off point on the Missouri River) and Fort Laramie, at a distance of some 600 miles plus. As to the merits of the fort’s location, many elements were considered other than the equidistance from the Missouri River to Fort Laramie, the relative proximity of the 100th meridian (the theoretical dividing line between prairie and plains), or the quantity of timber on Grand Island.