Addison Erwin Sheldon.

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where the great fireplaces were may still be found, as also the
powder vault and the
road running down
Hook's Hollow to the
boat landing on the river.
Every spring when
the people make gardens
they plow up bullets and
buttons with the name
"Rifles" or the figure
"6" 'for the Sixth In-


iry, O m. IjOI ATKINSON. (From photograph collection

and silver coins are also of A. E. Sheldon.)

found. Most of them are Spanish coins with far away dates
upon them, telling of the time when Spain ruled the greater
part of America and her coins were in commerce everywhere.
Such is the story of the Council Bluff and Old Fort Atkin-
son, the scene of the first council with Nebraska Indians, the

site of the first fort,
and the first impor-
tant town in the
state. It was the
center of busy life
one hundred years
ago. To-day the
Missouri River is
three miles away
from the old landing

A FORT ATKINSON GRAVESTONE (From pho- beneath the bluff.
tograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.) mt . r i

The fort and its

soldiers are gone. The Indian trader and hunter come no
more. The Mexican no longer crosses the plains to make
peace with the Pawnee. The very name of the old fort is
forgotten. Yet here is one of the historic spots of early


Nebraska whose memories should be cherished and whose
story deserves to be told.


1. Why did not white settlers come into Nebraska and farm as soon as

the soldiers at Fort Atkinson found that fine crops could be grown on
its rich land?

2. Why should the Omaha Indians be in danger of starving in such a rich

land as Nebraska?

3. What does Fort Atkinson stand for in the "first things" of Nebraska?

4. What should be done with the site of old Fort Atkinson?


NO one living knows just when the first white men settled
at Bellevue. The story has many times been told how
Manuel Lisa climbed the sloping hills from the riverside
where his boat lay moored and as his eye swept that wonder-
ful panorama of forest, hill and river he exclaimed in French,
"Bellevue;" that he then staked out his fur trader's cabin
in the valley below and thus began the first white settlement
in our state. This was in the year 1810, so the story goes.
Manuel Lisa himself left no writing to prove it and we know
that Fort Lisa, his chief fur trading post, was twenty miles
farther up the Missouri River. The old fur traders died long
ago and the trees and hills about Bellevue which looked down
upon their boats in the river tell no tales of these early
"voyageurs." The Astorians who passed up the river in
1811 made no mention of the trading post of Bellevue and
the soldiers who built Fort Atkinson in 1819 on the Council
Bluff twenty-five miles above are equally silent in regard
to it.

The fur trading records first tell of Bellevue in 1823.
There was then a fur trading post and an Indian agency,
called the Council Bluffs Indian Agency, at Bellevue. The
Omahas, Otoes and Pawnees came there to trade. It was
easier for the fur traders and Indians to meet at Bellevue than
at any other post on the river. The smooth valley of the
Platte made a natural pathway ; the rock foundation of the
hills sloping to the riverside made a natural landing place for
boats ; wood and water were at hand ; and the beautiful view
down the valley where the Platte and Missouri mingle their
waters among forested islands added to the other attractions.
When the soldiers abandoned Fort Atkinson in 1827 and
marched away, Bellevue became the chief post and the oldest




town in fact as well as in story of the Nebraska country.
The first of these honors she retained through all the fur
trading years and the second remains hers to-day.

Bellevue was the stopping place of the early adventurers,
trappers, travelers, missionaries and soldiers who came to
this region. The early names in our annals cluster about
Bellevue. Peter A. Sarpy, Henry Fontenelle, Prince Maxi-
milian, George Catlin, John C. Fremont, Professor Hayden,
J. Sterling Morton, Brigham Young, each halted at this

BELLEVUE IN 1833. (From Thwailes's "Early Western Travels." Arthur H.
Clark Co., Cleveland, Ohio.)

hospitable lodge in the wilderness. The Indians of the
Platte valley brought hither their furs. Missionaries made
here their first attempt to civilize and Christianize Nebraska.
When steamboats began to make regular trips up the
Missouri, Bellevue was one of the principal landing places.
In 1846 the Presbyterian Church fixed on Bellevue as the
site of its principal mission to the western Indians and in



1848 the old mission building standing to-day was built.
Here came the first governor to the Nebraska territory in
1854 and here the first newspaper, the Nebraska Palladium,
was printed. All the signs then pointed to Bellevue as a
future great metropolis of the Platte valley.

Then came disaster after disaster to Bellevue 's fond hopes

(From photo collection of A. E. Sheldon.)

and aspirations. The capital was located at Omaha. The
Pacific Railroad left a natural crossing at Bellevue and a
natural roadway up the valley of the Platte to find a more
difficult crossing and longer route through Omaha. Sarpy
county was created with Bellevue as the county seat, but
even this distinction was carried off by the new town of
Papillion in 1875.


Bellevue still stands by the riverside, the oldest town in
Nebraska. Her early ambitions have been blighted but a
wonderful compensation for their loss is hers. Hers is still
the most beautiful site upon the river. No noise of factories
or warehouses, no crowding of jealous poverty and sordid
wealth within her borders, no ugly skyscrapers blot out her
landscape. No clamor and rivalry of the market place dis-
turb her visions. She is still Old Bellevue, with all the glory
and romance and early dreams of old Nebraska gathered
within her borders. She is now and forever will remain the
center of interest for all those who love the story of Nebras-
ka 's early days, and the keeper of Nebraska 's earliest mem-
ories and traditions for all time.


1. What reasons can you give why Bellevue did not become the largest

city in Nebraska?

2. What reasons for believing that Bellevue was not founded in 1810?

3. In what sense is Bellevue Nebraska's oldest town?

4. What has determined the location of Nebraska towns and cities, judging

from those you know?

5. Of what use to the state are historic places and old towns?


GEORGE CATLIN was the first painter of Nebraska
scenery and Nebraska Indians. Before him Thomas
Seymour, one of the members of Major Long's expedition,
made a few sketches, but the real first honors belong to
Catlin. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1796, educated to
be a lawyer, but became a portrait painter instead. A dele-
gation of Indians from the far West came to Philadelphia
where he had his art studio. He resolved to become the
painter of Indians and Indian life. He forsook the studio,
came to St. Louis and took passage on the steamer Yellow-
stone on her first voyage to the upper waters of the Missouri
River. This was in the year 1832. He stayed that winter
with the Mandan Indians and came down the Missouri the
next year, visiting all the tribes and painting pictures at
every stopping place.

Along Nebraska shores Catlin painted pictures of Black-
bird Hill, of Bellevue, of the junction of the Platte and
Missouri rivers, of prairie fires, buffalo hunting, Indian
weapons, games, customs and portraits of prominent Indians.
There were no cameras in those days and Catlin 's oil paint-
ings make our first picture gallery.

Catlin saw the fertility as well as the beauty of Nebraska.
This description written by him of the country near Black-
bird Hill is true to-day as it was then:

" There is no more beautiful prairie country in the world
than that which is to be seen here. In looking back from
this bluff toward the west there is one of the most beautiful
scenes imaginable. The surface of the country is gracefully
and slightly undulating, like the swells of the ocean after a
heavy storm, and everywhere covered with a beautiful green
turf and with occasional patches and clusters of trees. The




soil in this region is also rich and capable of making one of
the most beautiful and productive countries in the world.
From this enchanting spot there is nothing to arrest the eye
from ranging over the waters of the Missouri for the distance
of twenty or thirty miles, where it quietly glides between^its
barriers formed of thousands of green and gracefully sloping

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

hills, with its rich alluvial meadows and woodlands and
its hundred islands covered with stately cottonwood."

Catlin was the first white man to visit and describe the
great Red Pipestone quarry on the border of South Dakota
and Minnesota from which come the smoking pipes used by
Indians far and near. In his honor this rock is called cat-
linite. As related elsewhere, Catlin carried away from Ne-
braska the skull from the burial mound of the Omaha chief


In 1840 Catlin visited Europe with a company of Ameri-
can Indians and gave entertainments in the principal coun-
tries. In 1857 he published his book on North American
Indians with over 400 illustrations made from his oil paint-
ings. He died in New Jersey in 1872, having visited forty-
eight Indian tribes and made over five hundred paintings
among them. These paintings are now in the National
Museum at Washington, forming what is known as "Catlin 's
North American Indian Gallery."


1. In what respects was Catlin's work different from that of the other early


2. Wherein is his work of special interest and value?

3. What other artists have made pictures and statues of the American Indian?

4. Why has the Indian been so interesting to writers and artists?


PRINCE MAXIMILIAN was born in Germany in 1782.
His full title was Maximilian, Prince von Wied. He
was born with a fortune as well as a noble title and might
have wasted his life in idleness and luxury like many other
princes. But Prince Maximilian from childhood loved
study. More than anything else he loved the study of
nature. The new world across the ocean, with its unex-
plored wilderness, drew him to its wilds. He spent two
years in the forests of Brazil and wrote several volumes upon
that then unknown region.

In 1833, Prince Maximilian made his famous journey up
the Missouri River on the second voyage of the steamer Yel-
lowstone. With him were skilled artists and scientists from
Europe who gathered specimens and painted pictures of the
country through which they traveled. The next year
Prince Maximilian returned to Europe and four years later
published at Coblentz, Germany, a story of his travels in
North America in three volumes, one of which is an art
portfolio filled with sketches and pictures of western life.

Nebraska owes a great deal to Prince Maximilian. He
made our country and its people known in Europe. Of all
the writers on early Nebraska he seems the most charming.
He had the trained eye of the German scientist and the
imagination of a poet. Reading his stories and looking at
his pictures the Nebraska of 1833 rises before us. The
steamer Yellowstone comes again from St. Louis, beating its
way up the Missouri River against the swift yellow current
in late April and early May. The leaf buds break, the birds
salute the silences, the flowers bloom, all the way along the
Nebraska coast. He names each of them in both the Ger-
man and Latin tongues with loving attention and praise.



He saw and felt the spirit of the West. The eagle's nest
above the river, the ruined cabin in a dark valley, the angry
wind storm, the moonlight on the Missouri, the faces and
manners of the Indians and fur traders, the rich soil, the
flowing streams, the forests where the steamer stopped to cut
wood for its furnace, are all fresh and real in his stories and
in his pictures. Some of the things which he saw in Nebras-
ka are best given in his own words:

" In a dark valley of the forest we saw a long Indian cabin
which reached nearly across the vale and must have been
built for a large number of men. The location was wild and
beautiful. The bald-headed eagles nest everywhere in the
top of the high trees along the shore. One of them was shot
with a rifle. In places smoke rose out of the depths of the
forest, in others the wood and the ground were black from
fires. Sometimes the Indians start these fires in order to
destroy their trail when followed by enemies, at other times
they arise from campfires of fur traders on the river banks.


We saw wild geese with their downy young goslings.
The old birds would not desert their children even when our
people shot among them.

In a beautiful wild region we reached the mouth of the
great Nemaha River. The hunting huts of the Indians stood
in the forest, but nowhere was man to be seen. One travels
hundreds of miles on this river without seeing one human



In the evening the sun, as it sank below the treetops,
gave the region a glow of parting light. We enjoyed a view
of the violet, red and purple tinted hills while the wide mirror
of the Missouri and surrounding forests glowed as though on
fire. Quiet reigned in this remote scene of nature for the


wind had lulled and only the puffing and rushing of the
steamboat broke the sublime silence.

* * *

At night we lay by near Morgan's Island. The whip-
poor-wills, one of the birds we had not met before, here rilled
all the forests with their voices.

On the left bank where the wide prairie clasped a wood
in its embrace the little Nemaha River broke through. At
its mouth the Missouri is very shallow. A great wind blew
our steamer upon the sand. One of our smoke stacks was
blown down. Crows flew over us screaming and a sand-
piper with dark red legs ran about on the sandbar near the
ship. We saw the different kinds of grackle (blackbirds)
flying together, the beautiful yellow-headed ones, the red-
shouldered ones, and the bronze variety.

Toward night a great flight of more than 100 pelicans
went over us in a northerly direction. Their formation was
wedge shaped, at times a half circle. We could clearly see
the black wing feathers, the pouch of the throat and the long
slanting bills. Our hunters killed some wild turkeys in the
twilight. A beautiful flower (phlox) colors great fields with
blue and the blue-birds' quiet little song was heard.

* *

Our hunters brought on board a raccoon, a rattlesnake
and black snake, and found a wild goose nest with three eggs.
Near by we saw trails of Indians, great wolf tracks in the
sand, and on the trees the places where the stags had rubbed
their growing antlers.

A hunter broke off a poison vine. His hands and face are
badly swollen to-day.


We reached the mouth of Weeping Water creek. In the
bushes above us the birds sang a little soft song or twittering.
The fox-colored thrush (brown thrasher) trilled in the tops
of the cottonwoods where he loves to sit. Here were many
plants such as columbine, maiden-hair fern, red mulberry,
blue-eyed grass, puccoon and purple vetch.

At two o'clock in the afternoon of May 3rd "we reached
Mr. Fontenelle's house at Bellevue. The land is here very
fruitful and a poorly cultivated acre yields one hundred
bushels of Indian corn. It would return much more if care-
fully worked. Cattle also succeed here splendidly, give
much milk but require salt from time to time. Mr. Fonte-
nelle thought he would have five thousand head of swine in
a few years if the Indians did not steal too many from him.

We lay by for the night a few miles above Bellevue (prob-
ably near where Omaha now is). Ducks and shore birds
covered the banks about us. Stillness reigned in the wide
wilderness. Only the whip-poor-will's voice was heard
while the moon mirrored itself in the river where some of our
young people were bathing. In the morning our ship, like
a smoke-vomiting monster, frightened all living creatures.
Geese and ducks flew in all directions.

We landed at Mr. Cabanne's trading post (ten miles
above Omaha) and to our joy we saw a crowd of Otoe and
Omaha Indians. Many of them were marked with small-
pox, some had only one eye or a film over the other eye.
Their faces were striped with red. Their hair was hanging
disorderly down to the neck. A small brook with steep
banks flows down to the river from a pleasant little side val-
ley in which are the corn plantations. Mr. Cabanne had


planted here fifteen acres of maize which produces yearly
two thousand bushels of this grain, for the yield is very great.

1833. (From Thwaites's "Early Western
Travels." Arthur H. Clark Co., Cleve-
land, Ohio.)

Sitting upon the balcony of Mr. Cabanne 's house we en-
joyed a wonderful evening. The proud Missouri glistened
with splendor in the glory of the full moon. Quiet reigned

about us, only the frogs
croaked and the whip-
poor-wills called contin-
ually in the forest near
by. Twenty Omahas
appeared before us. The
chief dancer, a large tall
man, wore on his head
a high feather helmet,
made of the long tail and
wing feathers of owls and
eagles. In his hand he
carried a bow and ar-
rows. The upper half of his body was naked except for
a white skin which hung over his right shoulder and was
decorated with tufts of feathers. He was painted with
white spots and stripes and looked wild and warlike.
Another younger man with him bore in his hand a war club
with white stripes and a skunk skin at the handle. They
formed a line while in front of them a drum was beaten with
rapid stroke. Several men beat time with war clubs and all
of them sang "Hei, hei, hei," or else "Heh, heh, heh," be-
tween times shouting loud yells. The dance was like this:
springing with both feet, a short leap into the air, with the
body bent forward while the drum was struck a sharp blow
and their weapons were lifted and shaken. In this manner
they jumped about with great force for over an hour, the
sweat flowing from their bodies. A clear moonlight lit up
the wide still wilderness; the savage tumult of the Indian


bands and the call of the night birds made this a scene to be

long remembered."


Prince Maximilian died at New Wied, Germany, Febru-
ary 3, 1867, less than a month before this part of the wilder-
ness he so well described became a state. He left a great
museum to his home city. To the world he left the record of
a busy life well spent and to Nebraska the best stories and
the best pictures of her early days. His name deserves to be
better known in our state where now live nearly one hundred
thousand Germans, rejoicing in the speech and traditions of
their fatherland and rejoicing no less in their homes and
freedom found in the West whose great fortune Prince
Maximilian foretold.


1. Make a list of the birds which Prince Maximilian found here. Make a

list of the flowers. On each list place a check (X) after those which
you know.

2. Just why was it that Prince Maximilian saw so much here which other

explorers did not notice?

3. John Burroughs says that we cannot see a bird on the bush unless we

have a bird in our heart. What does he mean?

4. Did Prince Maximilian love nature? What tells?

5. Which sees life most truly, the scientist or the poet?

6. What tells that Prince Maximilian was both scientist and poet?

7. Are you glad that this German prince came to Nebraska? Why? Should

you like to have him as a neighbor?


IN the early fur trading days, about the year 1830, a party
of trappers came down the North Platte River in canoes.
A little way above where Laramie River joins the Platte their
canoes were upset in the rapids and their supply of powder
and food was lost. One of their number named Scott was
taken sick and could not travel. At the same time his com-
rades found the fresh trail of another party of trappers.

SCOTT'S BLUFF. (From photo collection of A. E. Sheldon).

They left Scott alone at the mouth of the Laramie River,
promising to return for him as soon as they had secured
supplies from the other trappers.

Instead of returning they reported that he had died on the
Laramie River and continued their journey down the North
Platte. The next year trappers on their way to the moun-
tains found the skeleton of Scott near a spring by the great
bluff which now bears his name. Sick and starving he had



dragged himself before dying forty miles down the river from
the point where his comrades had deserted him.

His name survives in the great headland which rises eight
hundred feet above the river, the most prominent landmark
in the North Platte valley, while the names of his treacherous
companions are lost.


1. Why did Scott's companions desert him?

2. How was their story proven untrue?

3. Which would you rather have been, Scott or one of his companions?


AFTER the explorer and the fur trader the missionary
came to Nebraska. Rev. Moses Merrill and his wife,
Eliza Wilcox, were the first to come. They were sent out in
1833 to the Otoe Indians by the Baptist Missionary Union.
At that time the Otoe tribe lived along the Platte as far west
as the mouth of the Elkhorn. Their largest village was in
Saunders County about ten miles north of the place where
Ashland now is. They hunted south and west along Salt
Creek, Weeping Water and the Nemaha.

Mr. Merrill and his wife drove an ox team from Missouri
to Belle vue. Here was an Indian trading post where the
Otoe, Omaha and Pawnee Indians came to trade furs and
skins for white man 's goods.

At first very few Indians attended the missionary meet-
ings and those who came begged for corn, potatoes and
whisky. Mr. Merrill began to study the Otoe language in
order that he might talk to the Indians without an interpre-
ter and translate the Bible and hymns into their tongue. In
this way he spent the first winter.

The next spring Mr. Merrill rode on horseback, fording
two rivers, to the Otoe village on the south bank of the
Platte near Ashland. He was received by Itan, the great
chief of the Otoes, in one of his lodges which was made by
setting large trunks of trees in the ground, laying poles on
them and covering the whole with grass and dirt. This
lodge of Itan was circular in form and measured a hundred
and twenty feet in circumference.

Itan gave Mr. Merrill a feast of boiled buffalo meat served
in a wooden bowl. It was to be eaten with the fingers, the
guest eating first. All the rest waited until he had finished.
Itan was a great chief. He had five wives and four houses




for them to live in. The town of Yutan in Saunders County
is named for him. It is only three miles from where his lodge

On Sunday, the next day, Mr. Merrill was invited out to
eat four times before noon. He went, and after eating, read
to the Indians part of his translation of the Bible. He
showed the children some pictures
and began to teach them to sing
the scale. The children were
deeply interested and tried hard
to sound the notes as the white
man did. At the end of a week
two of the children could sing the
scale correctly and knew twenty-
two letters of the alphabet.

One day Mr. Merrill learned
that fifty Otoes had gone to the
white trading post with fifty bea-
ver skins, worth five hundred dol-
lars, to trade for whisky. Chief
Itan spoke in strong words to the
missionary against the curse of the
white man's strong water. On
the very next day he and another
Otoe chief were drunk and talked
very loud against whisky, saying
that it was bad, the Indians did
not make it, the white man was
to blame. Mr. Merrill kept on trying to teach them better,
reading verses from the Bible and praying for them.

One Indian was sick and the Otoe medicine men came to
cure him. The sick man was stretched out naked in his
lodge. The medicine men beat their drums, shook their rat-
tles and danced around him, each stopping to take a mouthful

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Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 5 of 20)