Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska
Blackbird County
Produced by Pat Waitley.


The Omahas
List of Agents at the Omaha Reservation
The Winnebagoes

Part 1


That portion of Nebraska formerly known as Blackbird County, now called the Omaha Reservation, lies on the Missouri River, immediately north of the forty-second parallel of north latitude. It extends westward from the Missouri about thirty miles, and northward from the parallel about eighteen miles, and contains 310,000 acres. "For election, judicial and revenue purposes," it was, in 1879, by separate legislative enactments, partitioned among Burt, Cuming & Dakota Counties.

It was named Blackbird in honor of the Omaha chief, Blackbird, who was buried in the Blackbird Hills, in an artificial mound, along with his favorite horse, surrounded by provisions enough to last him until his arrival in the happy hunting-grounds, and by implements of the chase to be used there in the pursuit of his favorite game. Being thus prepared for his lonely journey to the unknown world, the entrance to the grave was closed, the favorite horse was permitted to accompany him, and both he and his former rider to crumble to the dust from which they sprang.

The reservation is well watered by the Logan, Blackbird, Omaha and other creeks. The Logan enters it near its northwest corner, and flows through it in a southeasterly direction into Burt County. Blackbird Creek enters it from the south, and flows northeasterly into the Missouri, and the Omaha rises in the reservation and flows northwardly into Dakota County.

The soil is fertile, especially in the valleys, and is well adapted to both agriculture and grazing. There is superior timber of the kinds native to this part of the country--ash, basswood, cottonwood, elm, oak and walnut--which determined their choice of this reservation. Were the Indians civilized, there is nothing here to prevent them from enjoying all the amenities of civilized life.

We can but briefly sketch the history of the Omahas previous to their final settlement on the reservation, in 1855. In 1804, when Lewis and Clarke were on their way across the continent, the Omahas had found their way from the region of the great lakes westward across the Missouri, and had settled near the mouth of the Niobrara. At this time, they numbered about six hundred. The Sioux were then, as since, their inveterate foes, and, to escape their frequent attacks, they removed from the mouth of the Niobrara to the Blackbird Hills, the present reservation, where, for the most part, they have since remained. However, for a period of about twenty-five years just preceding the formation of the treaty of 1854, they had lived along the Missouri, north of the Platte, having their principal villages at Bellevue and Saling's Grove.

By the terms of the treaty above mentioned, they were to receive, in consideration of having relinquished all claim to other territory, and of making the reservation their permanent home, the reservation itself, and annuities as follows: Forty thousand dollars per annum for three years from January 1, 1855; $30,000 per annum for the next succeeding ten years; $20,000 per annum for the next succeeding fifteen years; and $10,000 per annum for the next succeeding twelve years--the President of the United States to determine the proportions of the annuity to be received in money and in goods. For several years they lived on their annuities, the products of the chase, and upon corn raised by the women, their provisions being stored in a cistern-shaped hole dug in the ground, about six feet in diameter at the bottom and about ten feet deep, called a cache, and this process was called cacheing their food. The Indian looks upon labor as does the white man--he loves it not; and, in addition to his natural aversion to it, there attaches to it a traditionary degradation which creates, in the minds of both male and female, an almost invincible prejudice against the male Indian's performing any labor. Hence the difficulties met with by the Government agents in attempting to persuade the Omahas to leave their villages, go on to farms, and make their living as white men do. Although each single man and head of a family had a certificate from the Government entitling him to a certain portion of land, and although they had houses built thereon, they still insisted on their village life and own ways of providing for themselves.

This state of things continued, in the main, until the year 1873, when Indians, becoming dissatisfied with Dr. Painter, their Quaker agent, petitioned for his removal. Mr. Gillingham was appointed in Dr. Painter's stead, but hesitated a considerable time before accepting the appointment. It was evident that, unless the Indians could be got to work, they would be dissatisfied with any agent. How to get them to work their farms was still the unsolved problem. Happily for the Omahas, however, they had an intelligent friend in Henry Fontenelle, a brother of their last great chief, Logan Fontenelle, who, in 1855, had been murdered by the Sioux. To him Mr. Gillingham made a statement of his reasons for hesitating to accept the appointment as agent, among which reasons was this unsolved problem. Mr. Fontenelle replied that, to his mind, the solutions was easy, and made substantially the following suggestion: "There is to be spent this year the sum of $32,000 for goods and supplies of various kinds. With this money, buy say 100 wagons, 100 sets of harness, 100 plows, etc., bring them all to the agency, call the Indians together, and say to them: 'Here are these things. Every Indian who will go to work on his farm, and give me assurance that he will stay there and make his living in that way, shall have a wagon, a set of harness, a plow, and everything else necessary to cultivate his land and care for his crops. He must not sell them, and if he leaves his farm he forfeits all.' Do not permit the chiefs to distribute the goods; if you do, the plan will fail."

Mr. Gillingham accepted the appointment, acted upon the suggestion, and, in three weeks from the time of the distribution of the farming implements, every Indian was out of the village, on his farm and cultivating the soil. Since this time, there has been no return to village life, and all are making considerable progress in farming. In 1880, they raised 20,000 bushels of wheat--had plenty for their own use, and some to sell.

In 1855, when the Omahas were removed to the reservation, they numbered a little over eight hundred. At the present time (1881), they have increased to something over eleven hundred. They are divided into about two hundred families, each family living on a farm. They own, in addition to their ponies, which were not issued to them by the Government as a part of their annuities, about two hundred and twenty-five wagons, two hundred and twenty-five plows and two hundred and fifty cultivators. These are individual property. And as a tribe, they own twenty-four combined mowers and reapers, six mowers, fifty breaking plows and two threshing machines. In 1881, they raised 1,700 acres of wheat, 1300 acres of corn, 25 acres of oats and 200 acres of potatoes, and, had the season been good, they would have had an abundance.

At the agency there are the following buildings: The agency house, assistant farmer's house, and separate houses for the carpenter, blacksmith, interpreter and miller; a storehouse, implement-house, schoolhouse, and boarding-house for the scholars; blacksmith and carpenter shop, steam saw and grist mill, and block-house.

Mr. Robert Ashley, who arrived at Decatur from England in the fall of 1860, now resides at the agency house, and practically has control of the Omahas. He was blacksmith for them from 1872 to 1880, in which latter year he received the appointment as farmer. His brother James, now hardware merchant at Decatur, was blacksmith from 1860 to 1872. In addition to the farmer and blacksmith, there are employed at the agency a carpenter, a miller, a Superintendent of the Industrial School, and one or two teachers, as may be required; a matron, a seamstress, a laundress and cook--all of whom are employes of the Omahas and are paid salaries according to the importance of their positions, out of the annuities. These are all under the agent of the two reservations, which were consolidated in 1876, Col. Arthur Edwards, who resides at the Winnebago Agency. Col. Edwards' successor was appointed by President Arthur on Monday, October 17, 1881. The new agent is Dr. George W. Wilkinson, a long-time resident of Dakota County, and well and favorably known throughout Northeastern Nebraska.


The gentlemen named below have been agents at the Omaha Reservation. We give simply the year of appointment, as each agent served until his successor was appointed. The first was George Hepner, appointed in 1854, who made the first payment of annuities to the Omahas on the reservation; the second was John Robertson, appointed in 1856; then followed William Wilson, 1858; W. E. Moore, 1859; George B. Graff, 1860; O. H. Irish, 1861; R. W. Furnas, 1863; William Callon, 1866; Edward Painter, 1869; T. T. Gillingham, 1873; Jacob Vore, 1876; Howard White, 1878; Col. Arthur Edwards, 1880; and Dr. G. W. Wilkinson, October 17, 1881.


As a general thing, missions among the Indians have met with but indifferent success. The first among the Omahas was a failure. This was in 1839. In 1846, a mission among them was but a slight improvement on the first. That established in 1856, however, on the present reservation, by the Rev. William Hamilton, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, has met with considerable encouragement in its results. It is still continued, and the amount of good it does is increasing from year to year.

The Rev. William Hamilton in this year put up the first building at the mission. It is a three-story building above the basement, seventy-five feet by thirty-five feet in dimensions, and is of concrete, except the basement, which is of stone. These stones were found there already quarried out, some of them lying on the surface of the ground, others in the ground, but loose, and about three feet thick, by four or five feet wide and seven or eight feet long. They were exceedingly hard, so much so that it was necessary to keep a man constantly sharpening the stone-mason's tools during the building of the basement wall. Upon being broken open, in the cleavages were plainly discernible the imprints of the leaves of the cinnamon and fig.

During the first three years of the mission, Rev. Dr. Sturgis was Superintendent. Mr. A. Wolfe and wife and Miss Emily Ensign were engaged as teachers. There were also in that field of labor Miss Good, Mr. Salic and some others. Rev. R. J. Burt succeeded Dr. Sturgis, and, in 1867, was himself succeeded by Rev. William Hamilton, who, during the previous ten years, had been stationed at Bellevue. Rev. Mr. Hamilton still continues missionary labor among the Indians, principally away from the mission, but also as assistant there.

The converted Indian shows some improvement over the Indian that remains outside the church. He not only sustains a better moral character, but he takes more pride in his personal appearance, and as a consequence has more self-respect. There are now forty members of the church, rather more of them being women than men. While missionary labor is not as productive of good results as is desirable, yet, if the Indians are ever to be made good citizens, it must be continued, as it is, though slowly yet surely, aiding them in their upward march. This is evident from their attitude toward religious matters compared with the past. At first, when the missionary approached them for the purpose of giving religious instruction, they would cease card-playing long enough to hear the sermon through, but would at its close immediately resume their amusement. Now there are usually about one hundred in attendance on Sunday at the chapel, and their attention is very earnest and intense, though very few real conversions have been made, and the men generally adhere to plurality of wives. Upon joining the church they insist upon a change of name, giving up the Indian for an English name, to correspond with their change of nature. They also then generally desire a change of dress from the blanket and moccasin to citizen's clothing. The men, however, more readily make this change than the women.


The Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions established a school for the education of the children in the year after it established the mission itself. This school was maintained until 1869, when, under President Grant's Quaker policy, it was broken up, and day schools established in its stead. These schools were continued until 1879, when they were abandoned as virtual failures, and the education of the Indian again devolved on the mission. A portion of the annuity is set apart for the support of the school, viz., $120 for each pupil remaining there one year, provided the number so remaining does not exceed fifty. It is now in charge of H. W. Partch and wife, assisted by as many lady teachers as may be needed. There are in attendance about sixty scholars. This school is held in high estimation by the Indians, and it has had surprising success, when conducted as a mission school. The scholars educated there previous to the Quaker regime of day schools, from their superiority in educational attainments, be easily distinguished from any other Indians on the reservation. These day schools failed, not because they were managed by the Quakers, but because they were day schools. The parents, having the scholars under their influence except during the few hours they were in school each day, exerted more power for evil than the teachers could for good, as has occurred with other parents off the reservations; whereas the children at the mission school are from under the baleful influences of their parents during almost all of the school year. In addition to this mission school, there is the Omaha Industrial School at the agency, three miles to the westward. It is in charge of Judge A. D. Cole, of Dakota, as superintendent, assisted by one or two teachers, according to the number of scholars whose parents can be persuaded to permit them to attend; a matron, seamstress, laundress and cook. In connection with this school is a small farm of thirty acres, upon which the boys and young men occasionally perform light labor. The school was established in February, 1881, and is supported by the Indians themselves, out of their annuities. In consequence of the indifference and sometimes opposition of the parents, only about one-half the youth of school age are in attendance, and, while those who do not attend learn to read and write English and acquire some of the rudiments of a common English education, yet, so long as they live at home with their parents, and in their social intercourse use the Indian language, and altogether, with the mere exception of their school life, are under Indian influences, so long will they make slow progress and remain essentially Indians. It is but natural that they should prefer their Indian language and customs. They cling to them from choice, and did they not from choice, they would from necessity. Both elevation and degradation are the work of time, and the length of the time is a question of influences. The Indian, to be successfully educated within a reasonable time, must be isolated from Indian surroundings during the time of his education and adolescence; and if he could be during his childhood, the transformation would be all the more rapid and permanent. But of course, this is impracticable. If ten Indian youth from each tribe, at the age of ten years, were annually sent East to some good school or schools, and thoroughly disciplined and instructed in the ideas, arts and institutions of modern civilization, and permitted to return to their tribe not before they were twenty-one years of age, they would themselves have made some progress, and be able to do much good to those who had remained at home. It is evident to the observer that an Indian, bad and useless as he is by nature, is made worse and more useless by a little education, especially when not accompanied with moral and religious training; and to him is more applicable, perhaps, than to any other race, the oft-quoted couplet of Pope:

        "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
        Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."


The Winnebago tribe of Indians occupy a portion of the original Omaha Reservation.

After selling their lands in Northern Illinois and Wisconsin to the Government, and after various treaties, troubles and wanderings, they at last left Crow Creek, in Dakota Territory, in 1864, and moved to their present location. Here they purchased of the Omahas, in 1865, 97,000 acres of land, paying therefor $50,000. In 1874, they made an additional purchase of 12,800 acres, for $30,000.

In the fall of 1880, a census was taken, and there were found to be 1,422 of them in all, divided into about three hundred families. Two hundred and fifty of them, with their families, are living on what might properly be called farms, the remainder living on and cultivating small pieces of land.

There is not any Indian village on the reservation. There are on the reservation, in addition to the buildings at the agency, 102 houses, built expressly for the Indians. Of these, sixty-two are frame, twenty-five half brick and half frame, and fifteen all brick, the last forty being comfortable two-story dwellings. Besides these, there are a few log houses, and some tepees or wigwams.

In 1881, they cultivated 850 acres of wheat, 1,200 acres of corn and about 30 acres of potatoes. They own individually 200 wagons, 150 plows, and a few single cultivators. As a tribe, they own twelve double cultivators, two reapers, four combined mowers and reapers and nine mowers, besides two threshing machines and a few horse hay-rakes and grain-drills.

They do but little farming compared with what they might do, but do much more work for farmers off the reservation than the Omahas. They also are considerably in advance of the Omahas in the adoption of citizen's clothing.

Col. Arthur Edwards, who was appointed agent in 1880, resides (1881) at this agency. Besides the agency house in which he resides, there are the farmer's house, physician's house, a large storehouse, steam flouring-mill, steam saw-mill, carpenter-shop, blacksmith shop, the Industrial School building, three small schoolhouses, a store and post office, and a block house.

The Industrial School building is a large two-story frame, with a capacity sufficient to accommodate eighty boarding scholars and eighty day scholars, and was built in 1873. There are in attendance forty scholars, two-thirds of them girls, ranging from seven to eighteen years of age. There are 250 children of school age among the Winnebagoes, but less than 150 attend when the school is most flourishing. As a general thing, the Winnebago scholars are tractable, and find but little more difficulty than the white children in mastering the rudiments of a common English education, except the English Grammar. They are opposed to learning the English language, and, where the opportunity is continued of using their own Indian language, they will continue to use it. This opportunity is one of the great obstacles in the way of civilizing the Indian.

The school is in charge of Rev. S. D. N. Martin, of Kansas, as Superintendent, assisted by his daughter as teacher.

As in the case of the Omahas, all the employes of the Winnebagoes are paid by them, out of interest moneys, however, instead of out of annuities, annually received from the Government, amounting to $44,162.47, the principal being $883,249.58. In the matter of annual income, although they have considerably less land than the Omahas, they are much better off, each individual Indian among the Winnebagoes having a yearly income of over $300; and it will be observed that this is a permanent fund, whereas, the annuities of the Omahas expires on January, 1, 1895.

The gentlemen named below have been agents for the Winnebagoes: St. A. D. Balcomb, who came with them from Crow Creek, in Dakota Territory; Charles Mathewson, appointed in 1865; Howard White, in 1869; Taylor Bradley, in 1874; and Howard White, again appointed in 1878, since which time one agent has had charge of the affairs of both Omahas and Winnebagoes.

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