Addison Erwin Sheldon.

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lost their pack mules with all their provisions. They had
nothing but river water and dead horse. Attempts were

made after dark to creep
through the Indian lines
and carry word to the
railroad a hundred miles
away. The first attempt
failed. The Indians were
too watchful. Another
attempt was made, two
scouts crept out in the
darkness and did not re-
turn. Those left on the
island could not know
whether their messengers were dead or not. They could
only hope and watch the line where the sky and prairie met.
For a whole week they lay in their sand pits, drank river

FIELD. 1910


water and ate horse meat. The hot sun glared from the
sky, the smell of the dead filled the air, the flies buzzed and
the Indians glided stealthily about the hills. A little charge
would have captured the island now, but the Indians had
suffered too much to try again. They preferred to starve
the scouts.

It was in the forenoon of September 25th, when a dark
moving patch appeared far off on the prairie. It grew larger
until the watchers saw that it was an ambulance and a
column of cavalry. They knew then that the battle and the
siege of Beecher Island were over. The Indians fled as the
soldiers came near, and soon the starving and wounded were
being cared for.

General Custer said that the Arickaree fight was the
greatest battle on the plains. At Wounded Knee, South
Dakota, lives a tall wise Sioux named Fire Lightning. He
was in the Arickaree fight and told me this story one summer
afternoon sitting in the shadow of his log house and looking
out upon his garden. He said the Indians lost nearly a
hundred men in the fight and showed by gestures with his
hands how fast the white men fired from their sand pits and
how Roman Nose fell from his horse.


1 . Did Lieutenant Forsyth act the part of a wise commander in following

such an Indian trail with his small force?

2. Was it courage or skill or accident which saved his soldiers from destruc-


3. Was Roman Nose's plan a good one? Why did it fail?

4. Which would you rather have done stayed on the island or crept out

to get help?


AFTER Lewis and Clark had found a way to the Pacific
Ocean, and the early emigrants to Oregon, California
and Utah had made the great overland wagon roads across
Nebraska and on to the western coast, the people began to
want a railroad to the Pacific. The first railroad in the
United States was built in 1829 at Baltimore. Soon after
that a few people began to talk about a railroad to the Pacific
Ocean. It was a far-off dream at first. Nowhere in the
world had a railroad ever been built for so great a distance
or over such high mountains. Then there were no white
people living along the way, but instead there were tribes
of wild Indians. So those who spoke of building a railroad
to the Pacific were called dreamers. Very few thought it
was possible to build such a road and still fewer believed that
they would ever live to see it built.

In 1850 Senator Benton, of Missouri, introduced a bill in
Congress to build a Pacific railroad. By it the United
States was to give a strip of land a mile wide from the
Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean and the railroad was to
be built in the center of the mile strip. More people began
to believe it was possible to build a railroad to the Pacific.
They began to dispute where it should be built. Some want-
ed it built in the south and some in the north and some in the
central part of the United States. The dispute was so
fierce it seemed that no road would be built because the
people would never agree upon its route.

War broke out between the South and the North in 1861.
There was more need than ever for a railroad to unite the
East with the West. Many surveys had been made to find
the best route across the mountains. The Nebraska way,
up the broad level valley of the Platte, was chosen as the best




approach to them. On the first day of July, 1862, President
Abraham Lincoln signed the bill which provided for building
the first railroad to the Pacific Ocean and the first railroad
in Nebraska. To help build the road the United States gave
each alternate section of land for twenty miles on each side of
the track, and besides this loaned the company $16,000 for
each mile across the prairie and $48,000 for each mile in the


mountains. The road was called the Union Pacific and the
first shovel of dirt for its track was thrown in Omaha on
December 2, 1863.

There were very great hindrances to be overcome in
building the road. A great war was going on and it was hard
to get men. All the iron and most of the other material had
to be shipped long distances. The Indians on the plains
killed many of the workmen, drove off the horses and cattle
and burned the stations. It was July 13, 1865, before the


first rails were laid at Omaha. On March 13, 1866, the first
sixty miles as far as North Bend were completed. During
that year the first trains began running to Kearney. It took
nineteen hours to go from Omaha to Kearney, now Buda,
and the fare was nineteen dollars. By June, 1867, the track
had been laid as far as the west line of Nebraska, and on
May 10, 1869, the builders of the Union Pacific from
Nebraska met the builders of the Central Pacific from
California at Promontory Point on the shore of the Great
Salt Lake in Utah and drove a golden spike which completed
the railroad and made a continuous line from the Atlantic
to the Pacific Ocean.

Since that time seven other lines have been built across
the mountains to the western coast, but to Nebraska belongs
the honor of determining the route for the first Pacific rail-

Every night and every day great trains fly along the
Platte valley crowded with passengers for the mountains,
the Pacific coast and the world which lies beyond, passing
on their way the trains loaded with the teas, the silks and the
wonderful handiwork of Japan, India and China, the fruit of
California and Oregon, and the cattle, sheep and minerals
from the mountains. Never a pause in this wonderful pro-
cession as it hurries over the Nebraska plains, making them
the highway of the greatest commerce east and west which
the world has ever known.


1. What are dreamers good for?

2. Why was the first Pacific railroad built across Nebraska?

3. Of what good to Nebraska is it to have the world s commerce and world's

travelers passing over our railroads?


ON the morning of August 9, 1864, the overland stage
coach left Big Sandy station on the Little Blue River
in Jefferson County, Nebraska. There were seven men and
two women passengers. Robert Emery was the driver.

Two days before this the Sioux had attacked the travelers
and stations on the overland trail from the Platte to the
Little Blue. About forty white people were killed, scalped
and cut to pieces, ranches and wagon trains were burned
and all the stock run off.

Rumors of the Indian attack had reached Big Sandy, but
no one knew the truth, that butchered men and burned
wagons lined the road for two hundred miles. No signs of
Indians were seen by the stage driver until eleven o'clock.
The stage was not far from "the Narrows," a long ridge lead-
ing to the valley of the Little Blue with deep gullies on either

STAGE COACH. (Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

side, when the driver saw, about two hundred yards ahead,
a band of fifty Indians waiting for him. Quick as he saw
them he wheeled his four horses and stage coach right about
and started back, ten yards farther on and he could not
have done this.

It was a race for life. The Indians gave their yell and
dashed after them in pursuit. The driver laid the lash on



the horses' backs and the stage flew over the road. The
passengers sprang to their feet wild with fright. "Keep
your seats or we are lost!" commanded the driver and they
obeyed. Arrows flew thick. Some stuck in the stage
coach, some grazed the driver's cheek and one cut the
rosette from the bridle of a wheel horse.

The driver kept a cool head. There were two sharp
turns in the road. As he neared them he pulled up the
horses, made the turns carefully and then whipped ahead
again. The passengers held their breath in terror at these
turns as they watched the Indians gain on them, but the
splendid speed and mettle of the stage horses carried them

Three miles the race lasted. Far ahead a swaying line
in the road showed an ox train of twenty-five wagons coming
west. A mile away the master of the train saw the Indians
and stage coach. He quickly made a corral of his wagons
with an opening toward the west. Into this gap Emery
drove his stage while the rifles of the wagon train began to
bark at the Indians. The passengers were saved and could
hardly express their joy. They hugged and kissed the driver
and threw their arms about the necks of the noble horses
that had brought them through in safety.

A year later the stage driver lay dying with a fever. Just
before his death, Mrs. Randolph, one of the passengers in the
stage coach that day, placed upon his finger a beautiful gold
ring with these words engraved upon it :

E. Umphry, G. C. Randolph
and Hattie P. Randolph to


in remembrance of what we owe

to his cool conduct and good driving on

Tuesday, August 9, 1864.


And, looking at the ring, this stage coach hero of the
Little Blue gave up the lines at the end of his last drive.


1 . Have you ever seen a stage coach? Have you ridden in one?

2. In what respects is a stage coach journey better fun than a journey by


3. Was Robert Emery just the kind of a man to drive a stage coach? . Why?

4. What are such men as Robert Emery doing to-day?


ALL Nebraska was one great field of wild grass in the
early days. A few trees grew along the streams and in
the ravines. All the rest was grass. In the heat of summer
the short grass dried on its roots. When the frosts of early
fall came the tall, green grasses were killed. Then the au-
tumn winds blew and the grass everywhere was dead and
very dry.

Prairie fires burned in this great ocean of dry grass every
fall and spring. Indians or white hunters or campers started
them. Once started a fire spread on and on until a rain fell
or until it reached a river too wide for it to jump.

One of the great dangers to the early settlers was from
the prairie fire. To protect their homes and stacks from its
ravages they broke a narrow strip of sod around them, then,
at some distance inside of that, another narrow strip and
burned the grass between. This was called a " fireguard."
It was usually from four to eight rods wide. It would stop
any common fire and keep the settler's house and stables
and haystacks safe.

Early every fall the children on the farm helped their
father to burn fireguards around the place. This was done
on the first quiet evening after the grass was dry. It was
great fun for the children, who loved to take long wisps of
lighted grass and carry the fire along the inside of the fire-
guard with shouts and laughter, while the dark prairie was
lighted until their moving figures made shadows upon the

A little later the prairie fires appeared. Every night a
red glow against the sky was the sign of distant fires. The
days were smoky and the smell of burning grass was upon
the air. Sometimes there came a high wind driving the



flames faster than a horse could run. Blazing tumble weeds
and sunflower heads were caught up in the gale and whirled
hundreds of yards, starting new fires wherever they fell.

The front of such a fire was called a "headfire." It ran
with the wind across miles of prairie, with its long red tongues
licking at every object, jumping fireguards and even rivers
in its path. Behind it the prairie roared and crackled, for


the headfire had no time to burn the grass in its course. It
touched it with the torch and rushed on to find fresh fuel.
The level prairie looked like a lake of fire with a lurid cloud
of smoke rising above it. It was a grand sight, but terrible
to the settler whose farm lay in its path.

The only way to protect against a high headfire was to
start a backfire some distance ahead of it which would burn
away the grass and leave nothing to feed it. The backfire


was set at the edge of a fireguard facing the wind, or it was
set on the open prairie by carrying a line of fire along a few
feet at a time and whipping out the side of the fire away from
the wind. In either case the backfire burned slowly against
the wind until it met the headfire. In a furious gale a back-
fire was hard to control for it would get away from the men.

In October, 1871, great fires burned along the Nebraska
frontier. There had been no rain for weeks. The grass was
so dry that it seemed to explode when touched with flame.
A great wind from the west drove the fires from the unsettled
open prairie upon the settlements. Fireguards failed to stop
the flames. The Blue River was jumped by the fire in many
places. Thick smoke hung over the region. Hundreds of
homesteaders lost their houses and crops and some lost their
lives. In other years there were also great losses.

In spite of all these dangers every year new fields were
plowed and the settlements pushed farther west until the
fires could no longer range across the country. The days of
the great prairie fires which swept the whole state are past
forever. The children of to-day and of the future will never
see in Nebraska the miles on miles of blazing prairie with
headfires rushing fiercely down upon their homes like those
seen by their parents when they were children, and thus they
will miss one of the grandest and most thrilling sights so
familiar to the children of the pioneers.


1. Do you enjoy an outdoor fire? When do you enjoy it most and why?

2. How do you think a great prairie fire driven by a head wind was regarded

by the pioneer children? By their parents?

3. What effect had the great prairie fires of the early days upon Nebraska?

4. Should you rather live in a pioneer or a long settled country? Why?


TWO boys, Nathaniel and Robert, were helping their
father, George Martin, in the hayfield one day in Au-
gust, 1864. Their ranch was in the broad valley of the Platte
in Hall County, about eighteen miles southwest of Grand

Suddenly the hills along the valley were covered with
Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. It was the time of the great
Indian raid of 1864. The father and boys started for the
shelter of the log house and barns at the ranch. The two
boys were mounted on one pony while the father drove a
team hauling a load of hay. Before they could reach the
buildings the Indians, shooting a shower of arrows, circled
about the boys. One of the arrows struck Nathaniel in the
arm and buried itself in Robert 's back, pinning the two boys
together. Both fell from the pony. Two or three Indians
rode up. One drew his knife to take their scalps. Another
Indian said in English, "Let the boys alone," and they were
left there for dead.

Shots were fired from the ranch and the Indians rode
away, taking with them some of Mr. Martin 's stock. After
they had gone the boys were brought in, the arrow was cut
from their bodies and their mother cared for them. Both
of them lived to be grown men and the story of the two boys
who were pinned together by an Indian arrow is one of the
stories told many times on the frontier.


1. Why did the Indians not scalp these boys?

2. What difference between farm and ranch life in these early years and




Sioux nation was the strongest Indian nation in the
West. Its people roamed the country from the forests
and lakes of northern Minnesota across the plains of North
and South Dakota to the mountains of Wyoming and south-
ward over the plains of western Nebraska as far as the
Republican River. There were many tribes and bands of
the Sioux nation. Two of these tribes, the Brule and Oglala,
among the most warlike of the Sioux nation, claimed western
Nebraska as their hunting ground and home. They also
claimed western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming.
Each of these tribes numbered about seven or eight thou-
sand. In the summer they hunted buffalo in the valleys of
the Platte and the Republican rivers and in the winter they
found shelter, fuel and game in the region of the Black Hills
and Big Horn Mountains.

Two great chiefs, Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, of the
Oglala and Brule tribes, stand out above all others in the
history of the Sioux nation. Their names are forever famous
in the story of Nebraska. Their lives covered the critical
periods in the annals of their people, from early contact with
fur traders, through the great wars to the final settlement of
the Sioux nation in its present home.

Red Cloud was born at Blue Creek in what is now Garden
county, Nebraska, in May, 1821. Spotted Tail was born in
1823, in Wyoming. Red Cloud's family belonged to the
Bad Face band of the Oglala tribe. Spotted Tail was a
member of the Brule tribe. Both began life as common
warriors and became chiefs through superior qualities of
mind and body.

The history of the Oglala and Brule Sioux since they were
first known to white men may be divided into three periods.

" 146




The first period extends from the earliest exploration of their
country by the white men to their first treaty with the
United States at Fort Laramie in 1851, and covers the child-
hood and youth of Red Cloud and
of Spotted Tail. The second period
extends from the Fort Laramie
treaty of 1851, to the Fort Laramie
treaty of 1868, and covers the ma-
ture manhood of each of these two
great chiefs. The third period
reaches from the Fort Laramie treaty
of 1868, to the death of Red Cloud
December 10, 1909, and covers the
old age of each of these noted

During the first period the Oglalas and Brules were at
peace with the white people but were at war with nearly all
the Indian tribes around them. The Sioux were new-comers
in that beautiful region where the mountains and plains meet
and were driving out the earlier inhabitants, the Crows, the
Snakes, the Utes and the Pawnees. In these early wars with
their Indian neighbors Red Cloud and Spotted TaiJ became
leaders. At the age of sixteen Red Cloud went on his first
war party and came back victorious. During the next ten
years both young men made names for themselves not only
for daring, but for good luck, which counts for much more in
an Indian camp.

Two events of this period gave Red Cloud fame in the
camps of the Sioux. The first was in 1849, when he crossed
the Rocky Mountains, as Caesar and Napoleon crossed the
Alps, leading a war party into the heart of the Shoshoni
country and bringing back many scalps and ponies. The
other was in 1850, when an old quarrel broke out anew in the
Bad Face band and Red Cloud, who was a leader of the
younger men, shot and killed Bull Bear, then the most noted
chief in the band.


At this time a new and strange experience came into the
lives of the Brule and Oglala Sioux, overshadowing all their
future and filling the minds of their wisest chiefs with anxious
concern. This was the great migration over the Oregon
Trail to Oregon, California, and Utah. At first there were
only occasional trains of a few wagons each. After the dis-
covery of gold in California the trail became crowded with
thousands of wagons, and with men, women and children.
These emigrants shot the buffalo and other game without
asking leave of the Indians. It was evident that if the
white men kept coming, the game after a time would be
gone and the Sioux, who lived entirely by hunting, would

To prevent trouble the first council with the Oglalas,
Brules, and other plains tribes was held on Horse Creek near
Fort Laramie in 1851. A treaty was made by which the
United States confirmed to each tribe the land occupied by
it. All the tribes agreed to the division of the land made by
this treaty, so that for the first time in the history of the
plains Indians all the great hunting ground between the Mis-
souri River and the Rocky Mountains was divided among
them. All the Indians agreed that "The Great Road"
along the Platte and across the mountains should be free and
open for the white people, and the United States agreed to
pay to the Indians fifty thousand dollars in goods each year
for fifty years for the use of this road through their country.
The Indians agreed not to rob or attack the white people
upon this road, and the United States agreed to keep the
white people from going elsewhere in the Indian country
without permission of the Indians. When the treaty was
sent to Washington the United States Senate changed the
payments of the fifty thousand dollars from fifty years to
ten years. The Indians never agreed to the change. The
white people continued to use the great road and the United
States sent out each year the fifty thousand dollars in goods
to pay the Indians for the use of it. Neither Red Cloud nor


Spotted Tail signed this first treaty with the Oglalas and
Brules. They had not yet become chiefs.

The first goods to pay for the use of the Oregon Trail
under this treaty arrived near Fort Laramie in the summer
of 1854. All the plains Sioux assembled to receive their
portion. Before the agent came from St. Louis to distribute
the goods, peace between the white people and the Sioux was
broken by the affair of the Mormon cow and the killing of
Lieutenant Grattan and party, the story of which is told
elsewhere in this book. Red Cloud and Spotted Tail were
in the great Sioux camp at that time and shared in the
general feeling of indignation among the Oglalas and Brules
at the killing of their great chief, The Bear, by Lieutenant
Grattan. In later years Red Cloud often referred to this in-
cident, saying that the white men made The Bear chief of all
the Sioux and then killed him, hence it was not safe for any
one to hold that office.

General Harney punished the Brule Sioux severely at the
battle of Ash Hollow or Blue Creek in what is now Garden
County, September 3, 1855, for the killing of Lieutenant
Grattan and his party. Quiet was restored on the frontier.
Emigrant travel went on over the Oregon Trail and the
goods to pay for its use were sent each year to Fort Laramie
and there given out to the Indians. The Sioux continued
the wars against their Indian enemies, especially the Paw-
nees on the east and the Crows on the west. Red Cloud and
Spotted Tail both grew in reputation as leaders.

Gold was found near Pike's Peak in 1859. Soon thou-
sands of gold hunters filled the foothills of the Rocky Moun-
tains, driving out the game. All the Indians were restless at
the invasion of their hunting grounds. In 1862 came the
great Sioux uprising in Minnesota. The Oglala and Brule
Sioux were hundreds of miles away, but their hearts were with
their kinsmen in the north. They knew that a great war
was going on between the white men of the North and the
white men of the South. They were urged by messengers to


go on the warpath and drive all the white men out of their
country before they became too strong to be driven out.
Councils of all the plains Indians were held in 1862 and 1863.
The greatest of these was held May 1, 1863, on the old
council ground at the mouth of Horse creek near the Ne-
braska-Wyoming line. There were plenty of Indians who
favored a general massacre of the whites, but the plan was
postponed for another year.

In August, 1864, the Sioux and Cheyenne war broke out
all along the frontier of Nebraska and Kansas. All of the
plains tribes were in sympathy with the war, but not all were
active in it. While this war was going on a new gold field
was found in Montana. The most direct route to the new
gold mines was over the Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie and
from Fort Laramie north through the Powder River country
to the mines. A commission came from Washington to Fort
Laramie in the summer of 1866, to make a bargain with the

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Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 10 of 20)