Produced by Gary Martens and Laurie Saikin
COL. FREMONT'S EXPLORATIONS.
On the 22d day of May, 1842, John C. Fremont arrived in St. Louis, bound upon an expedition to the Rocky Mountains by way of the Kansas and Platte Rivers. He proceeded in a steamboat to Chonteau's Landing, near the mouth of the first-mentioned stream, and proceeded thence about ten miles up that river and six beyond the western boundary of Missouri, where he completed his final arrangements for the expedition. This was in the early part of June. On the 20th of that month, he reached the Big Blue, in longitude 96°32´35", latitude 39°45´8". "This," says Fremont, in his report of the next year, "is a clear and handsome stream, about one hundred and twenty feet wide, running with a rapid current through a well-timbered valley. Today antelope were seen running over the hills, and at evening ['Kit'] Carson brought us a fine deer." We continue the narrative in the explorer's own words:
"June 22.--we enjoyed at breakfast this morning a luxury very unusual in this country, in a cup of excellent coffee, with cream from our cow. Being milked at night, cream was thus had in the morning. Our midday halt was at Wyeth's Creek, in the bed of which were numerous bowlders of dark ferruginous sandstone, mingled with others of the red sandstone already mentioned. Here a pack of cards lying loose on the grass marked an encampment of our Oregon emigrants, and it was at the close of the day when we made our bivouac in the midst of some well-timbered ravines near the Little Blue, twenty-four miles from our camp of the preceding night. Crossing the next morning a number of handsome creeks, with clear water and sandy beds, we reached, at 10 A. M., a very beautiful wooded stream, about thirty-five feet wide, called Sandy Creek, and sometimes (as the Otoes are frequently there) the Otoe Fork. The country has become very sandy, and the plants less varied and abundant with the exception of the amorpha, which rivals the grass in quantity, though not so forward as it has been to the eastward.
"At the Big Trees. where we had intended to noon, no water was found. The bed of the little creek was perfectly dry, and, on the adjacent sandy bottom, cacti, for the first time, made their appearance. We made here a short delay in search of water, and, after a hard day's march of twenty-eight miles, encamped, at 5 o'clock, on the Little Blue, where our arrival made a scene of the Arabian Desert. As fast as they arrived, men and horses rushed into the stream, where they bathed and drank together in common enjoyment. We were now in the range of the Pawnees, who were accustomed to infest this part of the country, stealing horses from companies on their way to the mountains, and, when in sufficient force, openly attacking and plundering them, and subjecting them to various kinds of insult. For the first time therefore, guard was mounted to-night. Our route the next morning lay up the valley, which, bordered by hills with graceful slopes, looked uncommonly green and beautiful. The stream was about fifty feet wide and three or four deep, fringed by cottonwood and willow, with frequent groves of oak, tenanted by flocks of turkeys. Game here, too, made its appearance in greater plenty. Elk were frequently seen on the hills, and now and then an antelope bounded across our path, or a deer broke from the groves. The road in the afternoon was over the upper prairies, several miles from the river, and we encamped at sunset on one of its small tributaries, where an abundance of prêle (equisetum) afforded fine forage to our tired animals. We had traveled thirty-one miles. A heavy bank of black clouds in the west came on us in a storm between 9 and 10, preceded by a violent wind. The rain fell in such torrents that it was difficult to breathe facing the wind; the thunder rolled incessantly, and the whole sky was tremulous with lightning, now and then illuminated by a blinding dash, succeeded by pitchy darkness. Carson had the watch from 10 to midnight, and to him had been assigned our young compagnons de voyage, Messrs. Brant and R. Benton. This was their first night on guard, and such an introduction did not augur very auspiciously of the pleasures of the expedition. Many things conspired to render their situation uncomfortable; stories of desperate and bloody Indian fights were rife in the camp; our position wasbadly chosen, surrounded on all sides by timbered hollows and occupying an area of several hundred feet, so that necessarily the guards were far apart; and now and then I could hear Randolph, as if relieved by the sound of a voice in the darkness, calling out to the Sergeant of the guard to direct his attention to some imaginary alarm; but they stood it out, and took their turn regularly afterward.
"The next morning, we had a specimen of the false alarms to which all parties in these wild regions are subject. Proceeding up the valley, objects were seen on the opposite hills, which disappeared before a glass could be brought to bear on them. A man who was short distance in the rear came spurring up in great haste, shouting, "Indians! Indians!" He had been near enough to count them, according to his report, and had made out twenty-seven. I immediately halted; arms were examined and put in order, the usual preparations made, and Kit Carson, springing upon one of the hunting horses, crossed the river and galloped off into the opposite prairies to obtain some intelligence of their movements. Mounted on a fine horse, without a saddle, and scouring, bareheaded over the prairies, Kit was one of the finest pictures of horseman I have ever seen. A short time enabled him to discover that the Indian war party of twenty-seven consisted of six elk, who had been gazing curiously at our caravan as it passed by, and were now scampering off at full speed. This was our first alarm, and its excitement broke agreeably on the monotony of the day. At our noon halt, the men were exercised at a target; and in the evening we pitched our tents at a Pawnee encampment of last July. They had apparently killed buffalo here, as many bones were lying about, and the frames where the hides had been stretched were yet standing.
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"Our march to-day had been twenty-one miles, and the astronomical observations gave us a chronometric longitude of 98°22´12", and latitude 40°26´50". We were moving forward at 7 in the morning, and in about five miles reached a fork of the Blue, where the road leaves that river and crosses over to the Platte. No water was to be found on the dividing ridge, and casks were filled and the animals here allowed a short repose. The road led across a high and level prairie ridge where were but few plants, and those principally thistle and a kind of dwarf artemisia. Antelope were seen frequently during the morning, which was very stormy. Squalls of rain, with thunder and lightning, were around us in every direction; and, while we were enveloped in one of them, a flash, which seemed to scorch our eyes as it passed, struck in the prairie within a few hundred feet sending up a column of dust.
"Crossing on the way several Pawnee roads to the Arkansas, we reached, in about twenty-one miles from our halt on the Blue, what is called the coast of the Nebraska or Platte River. This had seemed, in the distance, a range of high and broken hills; but, on a nearer approach, we found to be elevations of forty to sixty feet, into which the wind had worked the sand. They were covered with the usual fine grasses of the country, and bordered the eastern side of the ridge on a breadth of about two miles. Change of soil and country appeared here to have produced some change in the vegetation. Cacti were numerous, and all the plants of the region appeared to flourish among the warm hills. The amorpha in full bloom was remarkable for its large and luxuriant purple clusters. >From the foot of the coast, a distance of two miles across the level bottom brought us to our encampment on the shore or the river, about twentv miles below the head of Grand Island, which lay extended before us, covered with dense and heavy woods.
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"June 27.--The animals were somewhat fatigued by their march of yesterday, and after a short journey of eighteen miles along the river bottom, I encamped near the head of GrandIsland, in longitude by observation 98°5´24", latitude 40°39´32". The soil here was light but rich, though in some places rather sandy; and, with the exception of a scattered fringe along the bank, the timber; consisting principally of poplar, elm and hackberry is confined almost entirely to the islands.
"June 28.---We halted to noon at an open reach of the river, which occupies rather more than a fourth of the valley, here only about four miles broad. The camp had been disposed with the usual precaution, the horses grazing at a little distance, attended by the guard, and we were all sitting quietly at our dinner on the grass, when suddenly we heard the startling cry, 'du monde!' In an instant, every man's weapon was in his hand, the horses were driven in, hobbled and picketed, and horseman were galloping at full speed in the direction of the new-comers, screaming and yelling with the mildest excitement. 'Get ready, my lads!' said the leader of the approaching party to his men, when our wild-looking horsemen were discovered bearing down upon them 'nous allous attraper des corps de dagnette.' They proved to be a small party of fourteen, under the charge of a man named John Lee, and, with their baggage and provisions strapped to their backs, were making their way on foot to the frontier. A brief account of their fortunes will give some idea of navigation in the Nebraska [Platte]:
"Sixty days since, they had left the mouth of Laramie's Fork, some three hundred miles above, in barges laden with the furs of the American Fur Company. They started with the annual flood, and, drawing but nine inches of water, hoped to make a speedy and prosperous voyage to St. Louis, but, after a lapse of forty days, found themselves only 130 miles from their point of departure. They came down rapidly as far as Scott's Bluffs, where their difficulties began. Sometimes they came upon places where the water was spread over a great extent, and here they toiled from morning until night, endeavoring to drag their boat through the sands, making only two or three miles in so many days. Sometimes they would enter an arm of the river, where there appeared a fine channel, and, after descending prosperously eight or ten miles, would come suddenly upon dry sands, and be compelled to return, dragging their boat for days against the rapid current, and at others they came upon places where the water lay in holes, and, getting out to flood off their boat, would fall into water up to their necks, and the next moment tumble over against a sand-bar. Discouraged at length, and finding the Platte growing every day more shallow, they discharged the principal part of their cargoes 130 miles below Fort Laramie, which they secured as well as possible, and, leaving a few men to guard them, attempted to continue their voyage, laden with some light furs and their personal baggage. After fifteen or twenty days' more struggling in the sands, during which they made but 140 miles, they sunk their barges, made a cache of their remaining furs and property in trees on the bank, and, packing on his back what each man could carry, had commenced, the day before we encountered them, their journey on foot to St. Louis."
Fremont reached the confluence of the North and South Forks on the 2d of July. From this point he and his party traveled up the South Fork forty miles, where he determined to divide his company, one portion to ascend the fork they were then on, the other to cross over to the North Fork. With five men, Fremont continued his journey up the South Fork, reaching, on July 5, a point near the western boundary of what is now Keith County, Neb., where the stream crosses the extreme southeast corner of the present county of Cheyenne. The other party, under the lead of Clement Lambert, crossed over to the North Fork and proceeded up thatstream to the American Fur Company's fort, at the mouth of Laramie's Fork (Fort Laramie). Here Fremont arrived on the 15th. He afterward went as far west as the Wind River Mountains, and returned by the Platte, reaching the month of this stream on the 1st of October. His second expedition was undertaken in May, 1843.
In 1847, what is now Nebraska was broadly traveled by the Mormons on their way to Salt Lake; and two years after set in the wonderful migratory movement to California, directly across what is now within the boundaries of the State. Bands of gold-seekers crossed the Missouri at Old Fort Kearney (now Nebraska City) at Plattsmouth, at Bellevue and at Council Bluffs. Another great stream flowed from the southeast, striking the Platte at (New) Fort Kearney, previously called Fort Childs, which had before that time been established on the south side of the Platte, opposite Grand Island. In 1850, a military road was established leading from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney, on the Platte. It may now be said with truth that the eastern, southern and central portions of what is now Nebraska had so frequently been traveled over that it could not longer he spoken of as an "Indian country." although as yet only a portion of its territory had been ceded to the United States. It was very clear now to the visions of all who had seen its rich prairies that it was only a question of time--and a brief time, too---when emigration would cross the Missouri in an irresistible wave and spread itself widely over the fertile plains beyond. So the General Government, in anticipation of this, made haste to purchase the residue of its territory of the Indians, and to restrict the latter to moderate metes and bounds.
The Otoe Indians (a tribe of the Pawnees--"Panismahas") are frequently mentioned in previous pages of this narrative. They were doubtless the Octotatas of Charlevoix, who placed them, in 1721, above the Kansas Indians, upon the Missouri. Lewis and Clark say they were once a powerful nation, and that their home was originally on the Missouri not far above the mouth of the Platte. Then they migrated up the last-mentioned stream, where these explorers found them in 1804. From this position (some thirty miles up the Platte) they came back to the Missouri and established villages where the city of Omaha is now situated; but they soon returned again to the Platte, near their old homes. Again abandoning their homes on the Platte, they once more established themselves on the Missouri, this time at a point a few miles south of the present location of Nebraska City. A treaty made with them by the United States in 1834 has already been spoken of in the foregoing pages, and the land they then ceded to the General Government described.
On the 15th day of March, 1854, the confederate tribes of Otoes and Missouris ceded to the United States "all their country west of the Missouri River, excepting a strip of land on the waters of the Big Blue River, ten miles in width and bounded as follows: "Commencing at a point in the middle of the main branch of the Big Blue River, in a west or southwest direction from Old Fort Kearney, at a place called by the Indians the 'Islands;' thence west to the western boundary of the country hereby ceded; thence in a northerly course with said western boundary ten miles thence east to a point due north of the starting-point and ten miles there from; thence to the place of beginning. Provided, That, in case the said initial point is not within the limits of the country hereby ceded, or that the western boundary is not distant twenty-five miles or more from the initial point, in either case, there shall be assigned by the United States to said Indians, for their future home, a tract of land not less than ten miles wide by twenty-five miles long, the southeast corner of which tract shall be the initial point above named. And such portion of such tract, if any, as shall prove to be outside the ceded country, shall be and the same is hereby granted and ceded to the confederate tribes of Otoe and Missouri Indians by the United States, who will have said tract properly set off by durable monuments as soon after the ratification of this instrument as the same can conveniently be done." The limits of this reservation to the Otoes and Missouris were changed by a treaty held December 9, 1854, and proclaimed April 19, 1855, a follows: The initial point of their reservation, in lieu of the one previously fixed upon, was put a distance of five miles due east of the last-mentioned point; thence west twenty-five miles; thence north ten miles: thence east to a point due north of the starting-point and ten miles there from; thence to the place of beginning. This tract included 16,000 acres in the south part of what is now Gage County, and the southeast corner of Jones County, Neb.; including also a strip adjoining on the south, in Marshall and Washington Counties, Kan. The tribes number less than five hundred persons. The western portion of the reservation has been appraised for sale.
The Pawnees, it will be remembered, ceded, in 1834, to the United States, all their lands south of the Platte River. A sufficient description of these Indians has already been given to notify the reader of their different tribes and of their country. On the 6th day of August, 1848, a treaty was held with the four confederate bands (then living or the south side of the Platte for fear of the Sioux but whose possessions were on the north side). By this treaty, they relinquished to the General Government all that tract of land described as follows: "Commencing on the south side of the Platte five miles west of Fort Childs (afterward Fort Kearney), thence due north to the crest of the bluffs north of said Platte River; thence east and along the crest of said bluffs to the termination of Grand Island, supposed to be about sixty miles distant; thence south to the southern shore of said Platte River; and thence west and along the southern shore of the said Platte River to the place of beginning. This was the last treaty made with the four confederate bands of the Pawnees until after the organization of Nebraska Territory. Under a treaty dated September 4, 1857, these Indians sold more of their lands, and were shortly afterward removed to their reservation in the valley of the Loup Fork River, which reservation contained 288,000 acres. The number of persons living in June, 1861, was 3,414. During the Indian troubles of 1864, the Pawnees furnished scouts to the Government; but this enraged the Sioux, who behaved with their accustomed treachery, and, after making peace with the Government, again turned on the Pawnees, killing them without mercy and stopping their improvement. The grasshoppers also came in to their destruction, and, June 10, 1873. Congress authorized the sale of 118,424 acres for their benefit. October 8, 1874, the Pawnees agreed to move to a reservation in Indian Territory, and they were taken there the following year. They have a perpetual annuity of $30,000, and an educational appropriation by Congress of $22,600.
As early as the first quarter of the eighteenth century, the "Mahas," now known as Omahas, had their homes upon the north side of the Missouri, at and near the mouth of the Sioux River. They subsequently crossed over to the Niobrara, in what is now Nebraska. Being pursued with a relentless fury by the Sioux, they moved down the Missouri; so that it may he said, in general terms, the country west and south of that river and adjoining it, but above the mouth of the Platte, was Omaha territory, as claimed by that tribe. A treaty was made with this tribe by the United States March 16, 1854, the first article of which reads as follows: "The Omaha Indiana cede to the United States all their lands west of the Missouri River, and south of a line drawn due west from a point in the center of the main channel of said Missouri River due east of where the Ayoway River disembogues out of the bluffs, to the western boundary of the Omaha country, and forever relinquish all right and title to the country south of said line: Provided, however, That if the country north of said due west line, which is reserved by the Omahas for their future home, should not, on exploration, prove to be a satisfactory and suitable location for said Indians, the President may, with the consent of said Indians, set apart and assign to them, within or outside of the ceded country, a residence suited for and acceptable to them. And for the purpose of determining, at once and definitely, it is agreed that a delegation of said Indians, in company with their agent, shall, immediately after the ratification of this instrument, proceed to examine the country hereby reserved, and if it please the delegation, and the Indians in council express themselves satisfied, then it shall be deemed and taken for their future home; but if otherwise on the fact being reported to the President, he is authorized to cause a new location, of suitable extent, to be made for the future home of said Indians, and which shall not be more in extent than 300,000 acres; and then and in that case, all of the country belonging to the said Indians north of said due west line shall be and is hereby ceded to the United States by the said Indians, they to receive the same rate per acre for it, less the number of acres assigned in lien of it for a home, as now paid for the land south of said line." The treaty was proclaimed June 21, 1854, and the following year they were removed to their present reservation of 345,000 acres in the northeastern portion of the State, between the Missouri and Elkhorn Rivers. In 1879, they numbered 1,050.
By a treaty between the Iowa Indians and Missouri band of Sacs and Foxes, proclaimed February 15, 1837, these Indians were assigned to a home upon a small strip of land on the south side of the Missouri River, lying between the Kickapoo northern boundary line and the Grand Nemaha River, and extending from the Missouri back and westwardly with the Kickapoo line and the Grand Nemaha, making 400 sections, to be divided between the Iowas and Sacs and Foxes--the lower half to the latter, the upper half to the former. By a treaty made May 17, 1854, the Iowas were restricted to the following territory, which was to be the future home of those Indians: "Beginning at the mouth of the Great Nemaha River, where it empties into the Missouri; thence down the Missouri River to the mouth of Noland's Creek; thence due south one mile; thence due west to the South Fork of the Nemaha; thence down said fork with its meanders to the Great Nemaha River; and thence with the meanders of said river to the place of beginning." The boundaries of the lands belonging to the Missouri band of the Sacs and Foxes were changed by a treaty, they getting a portion of the Iowa Reservation just mentioned.
The Santee Sioux numbered, in 1879, about eight hundred, and are located in Knox County, on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Niobrara, on a reservation of 115,200 acres. They are mostly amenable to educational influences.
The Winnebagoes, a remnant of a once numerous and powerful tribe, live on a reservation of 128,000 acres, at the Blackbird Hills, on the Missouri River, in the northeastern part of the State, adjoining the Omaha Reservation. They number about one thousand six hundred. They came from Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the war of 1812, they took sides with the British. After a number of treaties, in 1863 they removed to Crook Creek, in Dakota, above Fort Randall. The locality was unsuited to them, and from disease, famine and hostile tribes they suffered greatly. They came to the Omaha Reservation and appealed for protection. In May, 1866, they removed to Winnebago, and in 1869 were assigned to the care of Friends. Their late history is one of constant disaster. although they are quite favorably disposed to accept civilizing overtures.
In the subsequent chapters, devoted to local history, will be found descriptions of the present condition of the reservations.
Although traders entered this region as early as 1805, the record of their advent is intentionally omitted from this chapter, which is designed to be a statement of political government, exploration and discovery essentially. Such data relative to traders and mission work as can be found are incorporated in a subsequent portion of this volume, in order to preserve the more systematic plan of consecutive narrative.