Kearney, Nebraska

Folks in the Cornhusker State seem to appreciate pronunciations that are a bit off-kilter to most Americans. Beatrice, a town due south of the State Capitol Lincoln, is spoken Bee-AT’-riss, with the accent on the second syllable. Kearney is pronounced Carnie, as in county fair concessionaire. Counter-intuitive to most, perhaps, but the folks here won’t have it any other way. Perhaps it’s a clever method of identifying out-of-towners.

Kearney is named for the antebellum army officer Stephen Kearny, who received a Generalship in the Mexican War and engaged in several failed military encounters with Californio Lancers before being bailed out by the U.S. Marines and John Fremont’s California Battalion. Kearny re-assumed command of US military forces after being rescued, and court-martialed Fremont. No good deed shall go unpunished.

Kearny was subsequently named Military Governor of California Territory and left a legacy that includes two cities named after him, Kearny Arizona, and Kearney, Nebraska. The misspelling of the Nebraska town is widely attributed to the Post Office commonly adding the second e and the locals coming to just accept it. I’m not so sure, however. It seems more likely that Nebraskans just like doing things their own way. At any rate, Lincoln is pronounced just as Old Abe said it. Fremont? His sentence was commuted by President Polk, and he went on to a successful civilian career that included election as a Senator from California and nomination as the first Republican Presidential candidate in 1856. Kearny didn’t live to see the triumphs of his old adversary or the misspelling of his name in Nebraska. He died of Yellow Fever in 1848.

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