Addison Erwin Sheldon.

History and stories of Nebraska online

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western Nebraska and
South Dakota. They
never lived far from
wood and water. They
had no horses and could
not easily cross the
great plains. They were
different from any of the Indian tribes found in Nebraska
by the first white people who came. Faces found upon
stone and clay images in their houses resemble some of
those found in Mexico and Central America, but we do not
know where these earliest people of Nebraska came from or
what became of them.

How We Know Their Story. Their houses have long
since disappeared. Several feet of soil cover the sites.
In many cases trees two or three hundred years old stand
above them. You could hardly tell to-day that houses
had ever been there or that the children had ever played
upon their earth floors and gathered about the fireplaces
in the center, eager for the evening meal and for the stories
of hunting and long journeys made on foot which the older
people told. But just as if your house should be destroyed

F. Gilder, Omaha, Nebraska.)


and the toys and tools within it should be buried beneath
several feet of soil for hundreds of years, until some future
man, digging with a spade, should find these things, which
you now use in your daily life, and from them know how
you lived and what you thought; so to-day from these
relics and from these gifts laid away in the mound-covered
graves upon the hills, we know the story of these earliest
people in Nebraska.


1. How do we know that earliest Nebraska was under Water, later the home

of camels, monkeys and elephants, later covered with ice?

2. What difference, if any, in the house sites of the prehistoric people and

of the first white settlers? Why?

3. What became of the little horses no larger than dogs which lived in Ne-

braska in early ages?

4. What was the belief of the prehistoric Nebraska people regarding another

life and how do we know?

5. How much land did a prehistoric family need to get its living? Why?

6. How far from a stream or lake could these people live? Why?

7. What schools had the children of these people and what did they study?

8. Is there anything in your locality which tells about earliest Nebraska

and, if so, what does it tell?


The First White Men. The Spanish. Columbus sailed
from Spain across the ocean and found a new world. After
him came the men and ships of many nations to claim

part of the new world. First, the
Spaniards came to Florida in 1513,
and then to Mexico in 1520. All
the vast country north they called
Florida, so that Nebraska was a
part of Florida upon their maps.
In 1541, the Spaniards, under Cor-
onado, crossed the plains from New
Mexico to the Kansas-Nebraska
country. In the same year Span-
iards under De Soto crossed the
Mississippi River into Arkansas
and marched northwest nearly
to Kansas. These Spaniards did
not remain, but afterwards Spain
claimed all the country because Spaniards were the first
white men to find it.

The French. The French came to this region more
than a hundred years after the Spaniards. From Quebec,
where they first settled in 1608, their missionaries and fur
traders pushed west and southwest to Lake Superior and
Lake Michigan. Here they first heard of a great river to
the west. Father Marquette, one of these missionary ex-
plorers, wrote a letter from his Mission on Lake Su-
perior in 1670, in which he says: "Six or seven days
below the Illinois Indians is another river on which
are some great nations who use wooden canoes. Of these


LISH FLAGS. (Drawing by
Miss Martha Turner.)


we cannot speak until next year, if God bestows the grace
upon us to lead us there."

Father Marquette and Louis Joliet, his companion,
paddled in a birch bark canoe from Lake Michigan up the
Fox River, carried their canoe two miles across the land to
the Wisconsin River, floated down the Wisconsin and on
June 17, 1673, first saw the Mississippi River near Prairie
du Chien in Wisconsin. They paddled their canoe down
the Mississippi for many days. The country was all new
and strange. In one place they saw a great monster painted
upon the rocks. The next day they came to the mouth of
the Missouri river and this is what they say:

The Pekitanoui or Missouri River. " As we were gently
sailing down the still clear water, we heard a noise of a
rapid into which we were about to fall. I have seen nothing
more frightful. A mass of large trees entire with branches,
a real floating island came from Pekitanoui, so impetuous
that we could not, without great danger, expose ourselves
to pass across. The agitation was so great that the water
was all muddy, and could not get clear. The Pekitanoui
is a considerable river coming from the northwest, which
empties into the Mississippi. Many towns are located on
this river and I hope by it to make the discovery of the
Vermillion or California Sea."

The river they called the Pekitanoui we now call the

The First Maps. From the Indians who lived at the
mouth of the Missouri they first heard of the Indians who
lived in Nebraska and learned their names. Thus the
first maps of the Mississippi River made by the French have
upon them the names of the Indian tribes living up the
Missouri or Pekitanoui River the Panis (Pawnees),
Octotatoes (Otoes) and Mahas (Omahas).

In 1699 French sea ships under commanders named Bien-
ville and d'Iberville found the mouth of the Mississippi River,
and began a settlement where afterward was built the city


of New Orleans. Under these discoveries and those made by
LaSalle in 1682 France claimed all the land whose waters ran
into the Mississippi River. This claim was based on a law
of nations which gave all the country, drained by any river,
to the nation first settling upon it. French fur traders came
up the Missouri and talked and traded with the Indian tribes.
On their return to the mouth of the Mississippi some of them
told such stories as these about the Nebraska country:

Country Finest in the World. "Among the Canadians
who have arrived, are two who went for two years on the
Missouri from village to village. They report that they
were near the mines of the Spaniards. They stopped at
a village of savages to whom the Spaniards only come to
trade for buffalo hides, of which they make harnesses for
their mules. They report that the Spaniards are at war
with three or four large nations, which obliges them to go
with breastplates and helmets as a protection against
arrows. This they do in order that the savages may take
them for spirits. These men said that this country is the
finest in the world and that on the Missouri live nations
who have horses."

Horses and Wild Cattle. "In ascending the Missouri
River, there is found an abundance of oxen and cows beyond
imagination. These beasts have hair and wool according
to the season. This river is fine and grand. It is believed
that great discoveries can be made there. Those who have
ascended the Missouri say that it is the real source of the
Mississippi. The country they have seen along this stream
surpasses in beauty and riches that of the rest of the colony.
It is situated in a pleasant climate which produces every-
thing in the greatest abundance without cultivation. The
air is salubrious, the seasons are regular and well tempered.
The land is covered with all kinds of wood. The immense
prairies are abounding in wild cattle, and all other kinds of
wild animals. Salt is in abundance although far from the


Thus it came that France and Spain each claimed
Nebraska. Spain claimed it because Spaniards first dis-
covered Florida and they considered Nebraska a part of
Florida. Besides this Coronado had visited the Nebraska
region one hundred and fifty years before any other white
man. France claimed it because she had first settled at the
mouth of the Mississippi River and the waters of the Ne-
braska region flowed into the Mississippi. Further than this
French fur traders were trading and living with the Nebras-
ka Indians, while the Spaniards had visited the country
once and left it.

France, Spain and Nebraska Indians. France and Spain
each tried to get the good will of the Nebraska Indians.
The nearest Spanish settlements were in the Rio Grande
valley in what is now New Mexico, while the nearest
French settlements were along the Mississippi in Illinois
and Missouri. It was far easier for the French to come up
the river in boats to Nebraska than it was for the Spanish
to reach it by the long journey across the plains. There
were wars between the Indians in the Nebraska and Kansas
country, with the French helping one side and the Spanish
the other. To aid in one of these wars, Spain sent an
expedition which is called the Spanish Caravan.

The English Claim to Nebraska. England also claimed
the Nebraska country. The King of England gave grants
of land to the first English settlers along the Atlantic coast.
Each grant was a number of miles wide to the north and to
the south and stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the
"South Sea," as the Pacific Ocean was then called. The
Nebraska region was thus thrown within the boundaries
of the grants given to Massachusetts and Connecticut.
But the settlers in these early English colonies were kept so
busy making homes and fighting Indians on the Atlantic
coast that they did not cross the Allegheny Mountains
and never saw the Mississippi and Missouri rivers nor the
beautiful prairies of Nebraska which the King of England



had given to them. But, although they never saw them,
they and their King still claimed them.

Thus in those far away early years each of three great
nations, Spain, France and England, strove to bring Ne-
braska under its flag. The Indian people who lived in
Nebraska hunted the buffalo, planted corn and knew very
little about all this. They had never seen the English.


NEBRASKA. (Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

They did not care for the Spaniards. They knew and
liked the French. Then came the great war between the
French and English colonies in America. It is known as
the French and Indian war, and control of the Mississippi
river together with land whose waters flowed into it, was
fought for in it. In this war Washington, then a young
man, fought with the English against the French. The
struggle lasted seven years. France was defeated and in
1763 gave up all the land she had claimed; that east of the
Mississippi to England; that west of the Mississippi,
including the Nebraska region, to Spain.

Nebraska a Spanish Province. Nebraska thus became
Spanish. There was a Spanish governor at New Orleans



and another at St. Louis. The Spanish flag now floated
over this whole region. But the people who came up the
Missouri River to Nebraska were still French, although they
had a Spanish governor. They spoke the French language,
they gave French names to towns and rivers, they married
Indian women and their children, half French and half
Indian, grew up to become leaders in the Nebraska tribes.

Napoleon Sells Nebraska to the United States. While
Spain was ruling over the Nebraska country, the people of
France rose against their king and nobles in the great
revolution of 1789. Napoleon Bonaparte soon became
the leader of that revolution and later became emperor of
France. He planned to regain the new world colonies
which France had lost, and bought back from Spain all the
land, including the Nebraska country, that France once
had held west of the Mississippi River. Napoleon began
to make a great French province here, in which thousands
of emigrants from France were to find homes. But war
was coming on between France and England. England
had the strongest navy in the world. Napoleon knew that
the English ships would sail to the mouth of the Mississippi
and that the French colonists could not resist them. In
order to save Louisiana from sur-
render to England, he resolved to
sell it at once to the United States.
This was done in 1803 and is
known in our history as "The
Louisiana Purchase."

Our Flag. Three flags of three
great nations, Spain, France and
England, sought to wave over
the beautiful prairies of Nebraska. AMERICAN FLAG

None of them prevailed. In their

stead the Stars and Stripes became our emblem. Under
its folds Nebraska has become one of the United States of
America. Instead of dark-haired Spaniards from Mexico,


or quick-eyed emigrants from sunny France, Americans
settled Nebraska. To her prairies have since come settlers
from all parts of Europe, speaking many tongues when they
came, but all in good time becoming Americans and Ne-
braskans with one common language and one common hope,
the hope of making their state "the best and most beauti-
ful land in all the world," as the early French and early
Spaniards reported it to be.


1. Which country had the better right to Nebraska, Spain or France? Why?

2. Was what the early French fur traders said of this region true?

3. What right had the King of England to Nebraska?

4. Did the Indians need an European flag over this country? Why?

5. What French or Spanish names dp you find on the map of Nebraska?

6. Why is our flag the Stars and Stripes?




The first white men who came to this region found
several tribes and nations of Indians living here and claim-
ing Nebraska as their home.

The Otoe. In the southeast lived the Otoe tribe, hunt-
ing as far east as the Mississippi River and claiming Nebraska
as far west as the Blue rivers.

The Omaha. On both sides of the Missouri River from
the mouth of the Platte as far north as Little Bow River,

in Cedar County, lived
the Omaha tribe. They
claimed Nebraska
westward as far as the
Elkhorn River and
Shell Creek. Their
great chief Blackbird
was the first Indian of
this region whose name
is known to white

The Ponca. Near
the mouth of the Nio-
brara River lived the
Ponca tribe, claiming the country westward along that
river and the streams flowing into it. These three tribes,
Otoe, Omaha and Ponca were closely related and spoke
languages much alike. Their traditions tell that they
came from the southeast up the Missouri and had been in
this region only a few hundred years. All three belonged
to the great Sioux family of Indians and were relatives of





the Sioux nation living northwest of them. The Otoe
and Omaha tribes numbered about 3,000 each and the
Ponca between 1,000 and 2,000.

The Pawnee. Just west of the country claimed by
the Otoe and Omaha tribes lived the Pawnee nation. Its
principal villages were in the valleys of the Platte, Loup

THE BUFFALO HUNT. (From Thwaites's "Early Western Travels." Arthur
H. Clark Co., Cleveland, Ohio.)

and Republican rivers. It numbered in the early years
about 10,000 people and spoke a language entirely different
from that of any other Nebraska tribe.

The Sioux. The Sioux nation roamed the whole coun-
try north and west of the regions claimed by the Otoe,
Omaha, Ponca and Pawnee tribes. In what is now Nebraska
it numbered from 10,000 to 20,000 people. It had no per-
manent villages, but followed the buffalo herds. About the
time the first white men came, the Sioux were driving the
Crows westward into the Rocky Mountains.



The Cheyenne and Arapahoe. Cheyenne and Arapa-
hoe tribes, numbering about 3,000 persons, claimed the
upper valleys of the North and South Plattes and hunted
the western plains in common with the Sioux. They
belonged to the great Algonquin family which lived in
Canada and New England, and which had been the first
Indians met by the Pilgrims when they landed at Plymouth
Rock in 1620. The Algonquin language is entirely different
from either the Pawnee or the Siouan language. How
this little company of Cheyennes and Arapahoes came to
be so far away from their relatives is not known. Probably
they followed the buffalo westward from their older home.
Indian Beliefs, Art and Music. These Indians believed
in good and bad spirits which brought good and bad luck.
They thought that certain charms and certain words drove
away the bad spirits and brought the good spirits. They
believed also in a Great Spirit, not always very clear to
their minds, who gave the Indians the earth, the rain, the
buffalo, and other good things. Their art was chiefly of
two kinds, music and painting. For music they had drums,

made of hollow logs cov-
ered with skins, rattles
made of gourds or
bladders filled with peb-
bles, and whistles or
flutes made from wood
or bone. Their songs
and dances were a large
part of their religion.
For painting they had
colored clay and soft
rock and pencils made
Their paintings were made upon skins or upon


of bone.

their own bodies.

Indian Languages and Homes. Thus seven different
tribes of Indians, Otoe, Omaha, Ponca, Pawnee, Sioux,



Cheyenne and Arapahoe, numbering about 40,000 people
and speaking three entirely distinct languages, lived in
what is now Nebraska, when the white men first came here.
The Sioux, the Cheyennes and the Arapahoes dwelt in skin
tents, or tepees, and hunted for a living. The Omahas,
Otoes, Poncas and Pawnees built large houses, called earth
lodges, out of sod and poles, but also used tepees. They


raised crops during certain seasons and hunted at other

Wars between Tribes. All these Indians, at first, were
friendly to the white men, especially to the French. There
was almost constant war between the Indians who had
houses and gardens and the wild hunting tribes farther
west. How these wars would have ended if the white men
had not come cannot be told, but the wild Indians were
gaining ground at that time.



1. Make a map showing where the Indian tribes lived in Nebraska when

the white men came.

2. How many languages were spoken in Nebraska when the white men came?

How many now?

3. What do you know of the religion of the Nebraska Indians?

4. Did the Indians live more by farming or by hunting? Why?

5. Why were these Indian tribes at war with each other?


The Name of Nebraska. Nebraska had no name for
many years. To the early fur traders it was either the
"Missouri country" or the "Platte country," stretching
westward to the headwaters of the Platte in the Rocky
Mountains. It was the land of the Omaha, Otoe, Ponca,
Pawnee and Sioux Indians, for these were the tribes along
the Missouri and Platte rivers whom the fur traders met
and with whom they traded. The most common way of
describing this region a hundred years ago was as "The
Council Bluffs," by which name the fur traders meant the
shores of the Missouri above the mouth of the Platte. A
little later, when the first emigrants to Oregon and pioneers
to the Rocky Mountains began to cross this country, it
was "The Great Buffalo Plains," for the animal most seen
and most sought for, by both Indians and white men, gave
its name to the country. It was also called "The Great
American Desert" and is so named on some of the early

Fifty years were needed for the making and naming of

A Wild Region Called the Indian Country. From
October 1, 1804, to July 4, 1805, it was part of the territory
of Indiana and its capital the town of Vincennes. From
July 4, 1805, until December 7, 1812, it was part of the
territory of Louisiana with its capital at St. Louis. It then
became a part of the territory of Missouri until the year
1821, when Missouri was made a state and Nebraska was
cut off and left outside the control of any state or territorial
government. In this wild region, under no government, a
great deal of trouble was made by fur traders who sold



whisky to the Indians, cheated them, and killed their game.
Quarrels and wars became frequent. To end these troubles,
all the land west of the Missouri River then belonging to
the United States and outside of the states of Missouri and
Louisiana and the territory of Arkansas was, on June 30,
1834, called "The Indian Country," and placed under
strict laws. All white men were forbidden to hunt, trap,
or settle in the Indian country without special permission
from the government. It was made a crime to take liquor
there. The Indian Superintendent at St. Louis was made
the governor over the Indian country.

Nebraska and Oregon. In these early days the United
States claimed all of the Oregon country westward across
the Rocky Mountains from Nebraska to the Pacific Ocean.
England claimed it, too, as did also Spain and Russia. The
English Hudson's Bay Company, in order to get the Indian
fur trade, had built forts in the Rocky Mountains and upon
the Pacific coast. These English forts and fur traders
tried to keep out American settlers. This made danger of
war between England and the United States. The United
States had only a very few pioneer settlers in Oregon. Be-
tween these and the Mississippi valley lay the Rocky Moun-
tains and the great Indian country where no white people
lived. To protect and help the Americans who wanted
to make Oregon their home, a plan was made at Washing-
ton to open the Indian country west of the Missouri and to
bring in settlers who should raise crops to feed the soldiers
and the emigrants on their way to Oregon. To prepare
the way, Lieutenant John C. Fremont was sent in 1842
by the United States to explore the plains and the Rocky
Mountains. Now, for the first time, the name "Nebraska"
appears. Fremont's account speaks of the "Nebraska
River." The secretary of war, William Wilkins, in his
report of November 30, 1844, says, "The Platte or Nebras-
ka River being the central stream would very properly
furnish a name to the territory. Troops and supplies from



the projected Nebraska territory would be able to contend
for Oregon with any force coming from the sea." ' ' Nebrath-
ka," meaning "flat water," was the Otoe Indian name for
the Platte.

The First Nebraska Bill. The first bill to make a land
called Nebraska was introduced in Congress on December
17, 1844. This first Nebraska in-
cluded the states of Kansas,
Nebraska, South Dakota, North
Dakota and parts of Colorado,
Wyoming and Montana. For the
next ten years there was a great
struggle in Congress over the mak-
ing of Nebraska Territory. Stephen
A. Douglas, of Illinois, was the
champion of the Nebraska idea.
Many obstacles were in the way.

Obstacles to Nebraska Terri-
tory: Indians, Railroad Question,
Slavery. The Indian question was
one. Indian tribes east of the Miss-
issippi were being moved west in
order to make room for the white

people. To open Nebraska territory for white settlement
would crowd the Indians south. The southern people did
not wish so many Indians on their frontier.

There was the Pacific railroad question. The South
wished a railroad to be built to the Pacific Ocean through
the southern country, while the North wished it to be built
by way of the Platte valley in the Nebraska country. Both
wished to get the Indians out of the way. The making of
Nebraska would aid the northern project, therefore the
South opposed it.

There was the slavery question. In the year 1820, a
fierce dispute had risen between the North and the South
over whether Missouri should be admitted as a slave state



or a free state. It was at last agreed that Missouri might
come in as a slave state, but that the rest of the country
west and north of Missouri should be forever free. This
was called the ' ' Missouri Compromise." Under it Nebraska
would have come in free. Now the South feared making
more free states. That was another reason why it opposed
the making of Nebraska.

The Nebraska-Kansas Bill. This first Nebraska bill
failed to pass. In 1848, Senator Douglas introduced a
second bill. This also failed. In 1853 a third bill was
defeated. In 1854 a fourth Nebraska bill came up in

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