At the intersection of geology, archaeology, history, and art: Engineer cantonment (1819-1820), Washington County, Nebraska

Jeremy S. Dillon, John R. Bozell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In the fall of 1819, members of the Stephen Long Expedition constructed two log and limestone buildings along the west bank of the Missouri River north of modern Omaha, Nebraska, to serve as their winter quarters (Engineer Cantonment). A detailed watercolor and sketches of the site by expedition member Titian Ramsay Peale were key to the rediscovery of Engineer Cantonment. Subsequent excavations of the site identified three distinct archaeological components: two Native American hearths that date to the late Holocene, about 870 and 810 14C years before present (BP), the Engineer Cantonment from AD 1819-20, and a farmstead from the late 19th to mid-20th century. The site is a low terrace-fan complex composed of four major depositional units: a late Holocene Missouri River alluvial fill, a late Holocene through modern alluvial fan, a younger historic alluvial fill, and 19th- to 20th-century Missouri River floodplain deposits. The late Holocene fill is a fining-upward sequence of channel sand and gravel overlain by silt and clay overbank deposits with redoximorphic features. The fan includes multiple beds of yellowish brown, brown, and gray alluvial fan sediments with thin, weakly developed buried soils. The historic alluvial fill truncates the distal portions of the alluvial fan and the upper portions of the late Holocene fill. The modern floodplain deposits consist of a thin bed of silty clay overlying cross-bedded silty sand. Our study demonstrates two things: the significance of the margins of the valley floor of the Missouri River as a record of late Pleistocene through modern fluvial activity, and a potentially long record of human occupation of the valley during the Holocene. Th is project also demonstrates the potential usefulness of 19th-century art in the study of cultural and environmental change during the last two centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalGreat Plains Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Alluvial fan
  • Engineer cantonment
  • Late Holocene
  • Long expedition
  • Missouri river
  • Nebraska
  • Titian Ramsay Peale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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