Addison Erwin Sheldon.

History and stories of Nebraska online

. (page 6 of 20)
Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 6 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of water from time to time and to spurt it on the sick man 's
head. It is to be hoped that he survived this treatment.



Then the Otoes went away for their summer hunt. When
they came back in the fall they brought skins and began to
trade them for whisky. Mr. Merrill wrote from a trading
post where whisky was sold as follows: "This is not the
house of God, nor the gate of heaven. It is rather the house
of Satan and the gate of hell. Two kegs of whisky were
carried from the house this morning by Indians. They will
trade their horses, their guns and even their blankets for this
poisonous drink."

It was against the law then, as now, to sell liquor to
Indians, but Nebraska was far out on the frontier and the
white traders could make greater profit by selling whisky
than in any other way.

In September, 1835, Mr. Merrill moved his family to the
Otoe Mission on the Platte River, about eight miles west of
Belle vue. Here the government built a log cabin and a
schoolhouse which enabled him to carry on his mission work
away from the evils of the trading post. It was a beautiful
site with an open prairie sloping to the Platte with rich
meadow for stock and gardening and a large body of timber
close by. Half of the Otoe tribe moved there and made their
village at the mission.

The Otoes were very poor these years and became poorer.
They hunted deer, elk and buffalo in the summer of 1836 and
brought home very little meat. Their appetite for whisky
was greater than before and the more bad luck they had the
more whisky they wanted. Many were sick with fever this
summer and Mr. Merrill gave them food and medicine, cared
for them and tried hard to have them give up liquor and look
after their crops and families. He urged them to keep away
from the places where whisky was sold and this stirred up the
traders against him, as the whisky trade was their best busi-
ness. For a single tin cup full of whisky the trader would
often get ten dollars' worth of furs.

When the people became sick and began to die the traders
told them that God was angry with the Otoes for having the


missionaries among them. Two pupils in Mr. Merrill's
school died in the fall and the traders said that they were
killed for learning to read. As the whisky habit grew in the
tribe the men became miserable and quarrelsome. The
United States had sent a farmer and a blacksmith to teach
the Indians how to farm and to make tools for them. These
men and their families lived near the Mission. Drunken
Otoes shot at the farmer and both he and the blacksmith
moved their families back to Bellevue, leaving Mr. and Mrs.
Merrill alone among the Indians at the village.

Two of Itan 's wives ran away with two Otoe young men.
Itan was in a very great rage and said that he would kill the
young men when they came back. News was brought that
these braves were in the village and Itan took his gun and
pistol to kill them. When he passed the mission house Mr.
and Mrs. Merrill went out and begged him not to begin a
bloody fight. He was wild for revenge and went on. The
two young men came out to meet Chief Itan singing their
war song. The chief fired his musket at one of the young
men and missed him. Then one of the chief's friends fired
at the same young man and he fell. He rose, however, and
shot the chief through the body. A brother of this young
man then shot Itan the second time. One of Itan 's friends
shot the brother. A third young man shot Itan again and
was at once shot himself. The three young men and Chief
Itan died that evening. Two of them were Mr. Merrill's
pupils. This happened on April 28, 1837. The whole Otoe
tribe was torn into factions by this tragedy. Some wanted
to kill the friends of the young men, others to avenge their
death. The bloody feud over the fight lasted for many years.

After Itan 's death Melhunca, the second chief in the tribe,
came to take breakfast with Mr. Merrill. He wanted pres-
ents and said that the traders told him it was bad for the
teacher to live near him and never give the Indians presents
or fine clothes, and sugar and coffee as the traders did. Mr.
and Mrs. Merrill tried to show him that they were poor and


had no means of making great profits, as the traders had
selling whisky. They urged him to keep away from liquor.
He soon became angry and said he was going at once to the
trading post to trade horses for whisky. On the next day
the school children who were given bread for lunch every
day they came to read began to complain loudly and said
that they would not read any more unless they were given
a full dinner every day.

In August, 1837, a band of fifty loway Indians came over
from the Weeping Water to trade with the Otoes. They
brought fifteen kegs of whisky. Mr. Merrill held a great
temperance meeting that day. The next day the whole Otoe
village was drinking whisky. One Otoe had his ears cut off
and another was stabbed and died. The loways left, taking
with them six Otoe ponies, paid for in whisky.

In 1838 Mr. Merrill went with the Otoes on their buffalo
hunt. By this time he had learned to speak their language
and had translated portions of the Bible and several hymns
into Otoe. The Otoe hymns had been printed in a book with
the name :

Wdtwhtl Wdwdklha Eva Wdhonetl
and was the first Nebraska book ever made.

In spite of all Mr. Merrill could do the Otoe men cared
more for whisky and less for good things every year. They
no longer loved their old time games and exercises. They
longed for the white man's fire-water and the visions that
danced before their brains when they drank it more than for
all the gospel messages and Christian hymns brought by the
missionary. All they could get was spent for liquor and
food was begged from the mission. The young men became
impudent and pretended to be Sioux in order to frighten the
missionary family.

It was six years since Mr. Merrill and his wife came to
give their lives in teaching and saving one tribe of Nebraska
Indians. A baby boy, Samuel Pearce, had been born to
them in 1835. He became a Baptist minister and is to-day



the second oldest living white person born in Nebraska, the
oldest being Major William Clark Kennerly, of St. Louis, Mo.,
who was born at Ft. Atkinson, Nov. 2, 1824. Mr. Merrill lives
at Squirrel Island, Maine. They had built a large log mis-
sion house with a great stone chimney which could be seen
for many miles. In this
they held school on week
days for the Otoe chil-
dren and here they held
their Sunday services.

A new and deadly
enemy to the mission
appeared. Mr. Merrill
became the victim of
consumption. Exposure,

overwork and grief has- OLD OTOE MISSION. (From photograph

tened its ravages. He

was deeply discouraged and wrote in his diary at this time :
" Formerly Mrs. Merrill felt perfectly safe day or night, but
it is not so now. The Otoes trample upon my property and
rights unreproved. They occupy my pasture with their cattle
and horses when it suits their convenience, often leaving the
fence thrown down. They steal my potatoes, pumpkins
and corn by night. As we are alone it would not be prudent
to resist these thefts. How long we shall be able to live
quietly in our own habitation is uncertain. Indeed we are
disturbed often now. My family fear these vagrant Otoes.
These Indians do not feel friendly toward white people.
They are ungrateful for favors received."

Mr. Merrill grew worse rapidly. He died on February
6, 1840, and was buried on the east bank of the Missouri
River opposite Bellevue. The Otoes called him "The-One-

On a Nebraska farm in Sarpy County sloping gently to
the Platte River is a grove of giant cottonwoods over eighty
years old. In their midst stands an old building with a great


stone chimney. This is the monument and witness to-day of
the life and labors of the first missionaries to Nebraska.


1. What two rivers did Moses Merrill ford in going from Bellevue to the

Otoe village?

2. Why did the Nebraska Indians build their lodges out of earth?

3. Why did the Indians wait until Mr. Merrill finished before they ate?

4. Could Indians sing before Mr. Merrill taught them the scale? Why?

5. Who was to blame for the ruin caused by whisky, the white man or the


6. What do you know of Itan's character from this story?

7. Explain the action of the Otoe school children in demanding a full dinner

and tell what you think of it.

8. Was Mr. Merrill's mission to the Otoes a success? Why?


ONE of the most honored names in Nebraska annals is
that of Father Pierre Jean De Smet, first Catholic mis-
sionary to the Indians of the Platte and upper Missouri
region. He was born in Belgium January 30, 1801, came
to St. Louis in 1823, and in 1838
reached Council Bluffs, Iowa, as
missionary to the Pottawatomie In-
dians who had just removed from
their old home in Illinois to the
borders of Nebraska.

For the next thirty years Father
De Smet was the most active mis-
sionary in the western world. He
explored the plains and mountains,
crossed the continent several times
to the Pacific Ocean, founded mis-
sions wherever he went and gained
the confidence of the Indians every-
where. He also made many visits to Europe to secure
funds for mission work.

Only a small part of Father De Smet's active life was
spent in the region which is now Nebraska, but he was
known and loved by all the tribes of Nebraska Indians and
probably had more influence over them than had any other
man at any time. Four times he crossed Nebraska over the
Oregon Trail, and seventeen times on steamboat, skiff or
canoe he followed the waters of the Missouri River past the
Nebraska shores.

The beauty of early Nebraska Father De Smet was quick
to see and appreciate. No better picture of our own Platte
River has ever been given than this by him in 1840:


Chittenden & Richardson's
"Life, Letters & Travels of
Father De Smet." Francis
P. Harper, N. Y.)


"I was often struck with admiration at the sight of the
picturesque scenes which we enjoyed all the way up the
Platte. Think of the big ponds that you have seen in the
parks of European noblemen, dotted with little wooded
islands. The Platte offers you these by thousands and of all
shapes. I have seen groups of islands that one might easily
take, from a distance, for fleets under sail, garlanded with
verdure and festooned with flowers; and the rapid flow of the
river past them made them seem to be flying over the

The future of this region was clearly foreseen by this great
missionary. The vacant plains stirred within him mem-
ories of the crowded peoples of Europe when he wrote:

"In my visits to the Indian tribes I have several times
traversed the immense plains of the West. Every time I
have found myself amid a painful void. Europe 's thousands
of poor who cry for bread and wander without shelter or hope
often occur to my thoughts. 'Unhappy poor,' I often cry,
'why are ye not here? Your industry and toil would end
your sorrows. Here you might rear a smiling home and reap
in plenty the fruit of your toil.' The sound of the axe and
hammer will echo in this wilderness; broad farms with or-
chard and vineyard, alive with domestic animals and poultry,
will cover these desert plains to provide for thick-coming
cities which will rise as if by enchantment with dome and
tower, church and college, school and house, hospital and

Father De Smet was present and took an active part in
the first Fort Laramie council of 1851, which resulted in the
treaty of that year. He wrote the best account of this great
event in Indian history. Although called ''The Fort Lara-
mie Treaty" the council was held and the treaty made forty
miles east of Fort Laramie in what is now Scotts Bluff Coun-
ty, Nebraska. Here, on a vast plain where the waters of
Horse Creek unite with those of the Platte, the tribes of the
plains and the mountains met and for the first time made a


treaty with the United States, peace with each other and a
division of the land among the tribes. This council lasted
for eighteen days and was attended by over 10,000 Indians.
Here Father De Smet was greeted by thousands whose homes
he had visited; his advice was eagerly sought on the great
questions before them and the rite of baptism was adminis-
tered by him to 1586 Indians.

The Sioux were always near the heart of Father De Smet.
He admired their courage and independence. He sought to
abate their cruelty. In a great speech to them he told how
the Indians at the head of the Missouri had buried the
hatchet and forsaken the white man 's firewater. He asked
them to do the same. The head chief replied:

''Black-robe, I speak in the name of the chiefs and
braves. The words you bring from the Master of Life are
fair. We love them. We hear them to-day for the first

" Black-robe, you are only passing by our land. To-
morrow we will hear your voice no more. We shall be, as we
have been, like the Wishtonwish (prairie dogs) who have
their lodges in the ground and know nothing.

"Black-robe, come and set up your lodge with us. We
have bad hearts, but those who bring the good word have
never got as far as to us. Come and we will listen and our
young men will learn to have sense."

Father De Smet's greatest service to Nebraska and the
West occurred in 1868. For several years a bloody war had
raged along the Sioux border. A peace commission had been
sent from Washington to Fort Laramie with General Sher-
man at its head. Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and other hostile
chiefs had gone with several thousand followers into the wild
region northwest of the Black Hills. At the request of the
United States Father De Smet left his home at St. Louis and
journeyed by steamboat up the Missouri River to Fort Rice
near the mouth of Cannonball River in North Dakota. From
here he set out alone with an interpreter and escort of Indi-



(From Chittenden & Richardson's "Life,
Letters & Travels of Father De Smet."
Francis P. Harper, N. Y.)

ans for the camp of the hostiles. He found these near the
junction of the Powder and Yellowstone rivers. He was
received joyfully by them and here on June 21st he held a

great council with 5,000
hostile Sioux. Father De
Smet was given a seat in
the center near the two
head chiefs Four Horns
and Black Moon. His
large white banner of
peace was placed beside
him. His own account

"The council was
opened with songs and
dances, noisy, joyful and
very wild, in which the
warriors alone took part. Then Four Horns lighted his
calumet of peace ; he presented it first solemnly to the Great
Spirit, imploring his light and favor, and then offered it to
the four cardinal points, to the sun and the earth, as wit-
nesses to the action of the council. Then he himself passed
the calumet from mouth to mouth. I was the first to
receive it, with my interpreter, and every chief was placed
according to the rank that he held in the tribe. Each one
took a few puffs. When the ceremony of the calumet was
finished, the head chief addressed me, saying, ' Speak, Black-
robe, my ears are open to hear your words."

The white haired missionary was then sixty-seven years
old, with a face calm, mild and peaceful, which all loved to
look upon. He spoke to the fierce Indians as to children,
told them the terms of peace he brought them and pointed
out the danger and folly of fighting the white man. At the
close of his speech Chief Black Moon said:

"We understand the words the Black-robe has spoken.
They are good and full of truth. This land is ours. Here


our fathers were born and are buried. We wish, like them,
to live and to be buried here. We have been forced to hate
the whites. Let them treat us like brothers and the war will
cease. Let them stay at home. We will never go to trouble
them. Thou, Messenger of Peace, hast given us a glimpse
of a better future. Let us throw a veil over the past and let
it be forgotten. Some of our warriors will go with you to
Fort Rice to hear the words of the Great Father's commis-
sioners. If they are acceptable peace shall be made."

The other chiefs spoke in the same spirit and the second
great treaty of Fort Laramie, that of 1868, was concluded.

Father De Smet died May 23, 1873, at St. Louis. In his
death the West lost a great missionary and explorer, and the
Indians lost their best friend.


1. How far has Father De Smet's prophecy, regarding Europe's poor, become

true in Nebraska?

2. Explain why Father De Smet had so much influence over the Indians.

3. Did Chief Black Moon tell the truth in his speech?


ONE of the most noted names in the story of the West is
that of John C. Fremont. He was sometimes called
"The Pathfinder." Many years of his life were spent in
exploring the plains and the mountains. He first became
famous as leader of an exploring expedition which crossed
Nebraska in 1842. Starting June 10th from the mouth of

the Kansas River, he followed the
Oregon Trail to the forks of the
Platte. Here his party divided,
one party going by way of the North
Platte, the other by way of the
South Platte, both meeting at Fort
Laramie. From there Fremont fol-
lowed the Oregon Trail to the South
Pass and on August 15th climbed
to the top of what has since been
called Fremont 's Peak at the sum-
mit of the Rocky Mountains.
Coming down the Platte river in boats, Fremont 's party
was wrecked in the great canyon of the Platte near where Cas-
per, Wyoming, is located. Saving what they could they
followed the Platte valley and reached the trading post of
Peter A. Sarpy at Bellevue on October 1st.

The next year on May 29th Fremont left the mouth of the
Kansas River and took a more southerly route through north-
ern Kansas, and on June 25th crossed into Nebraska in what
is now Hitchcock County. After following the Republican
valley for some days, he crossed to the South Platte and
thence over the mountains to Salt Lake and California.

Fremont saw the great future of the West more clearly
than other explorers. He saw in Nebraska the rich soil, the




abundant grass and the beautiful wild flowers. To his eyes
this region looked like a garden, instead of a desert, as it had
been represented by many.

Nebraska probably owes its name to Fremont. In his
report to the secretary of war, he calls our great central river
by its Indian name Nebraska, or Flat Water, and the secre-
tary of war afterwards suggested Nebraska as a good name
for the new territory.

Fremont believed in the future Pacific Railroad and tried
to find an easy, natural route on which it might be built. He
became senator from the new state of California in 1850, and
candidate for President in 1856. He died July 13, 1890, hav-
ing lived to see the western wilderness which he had explored
filled with millions of people, great cities built on the plains
and in the mountains and several Pacific railroads where he
had dreamed of one.

One of the most thriving cities of Nebraska proudly bears
Fremont 's name. The great United States dam at the can-
yon of the Platte River where Fremont and his party were
wrecked in 1842 is called "The Pathfinder, " and great canals
from its mighty reservoir carry the waters from the Rocky
Mountains far out on the plains of western Nebraska, making
them blossom everywhere in memory of this great explorer
who had confidence in the development of the West.


1. What did Fremont do for Nebraska?

2. Why did he see the future of this region more truly than other explorers?

3. Can you show that what we see in things reveals what we ourselves are?

4. Are you glad that our State was named Nebraska? Why?


EACH of the old overland trails which crosses Nebraska
from the Missouri River to the mountains has a story.
It is a story written deep in the lives of men and women, and
in the record of the westward march of the American people.
The story of these overland trails was also written in broad
deep furrows across our prairies. Along these trails journeyed
thousands of men, women and children with ox teams, carts,
wheelbarrows, and on foot, to settle the great country be-
yond. Over them marched the soldiers who built forts to
protect the settlers. Then the long freighting trains loaded
with food, tools and clothing passed that way. So there
came to be great beaten thoroughfares one or two hundred
feet wide, deeply cut in the earth by the wheels of wagons
and the feet of pilgrims.

The Oregon Trail was the first and most famous of these
in Nebraska. It started from the Missouri River at Independ-
ence, Missouri, ran across the northeast corner of Kansas
and entered Nebraska near the point where Gage and Jeffer-
son counties meet on the Nebraska-Kansas line. It followed
the course of the Little Blue River across Jefferson, Thayer,
Nuckolls, Clay and Adams counties, then across the divide
to the Platte near the head of Grand Island in Hall County,
then along the south side of the Platte through Kearney,
Phelps, Gosper, and Dawson, to a point in Keith county
about seven miles east of Big Springs, where it crossed the
South Platte and continued up the south side of the North
Platte through Keith, Garden, Morrill and Scotts Bluff
counties, where it passed out of Nebraska into Wyoming.

The beginnings of the Oregon Trail in Nebraska were
made in 1813 by the little band of returning Astorians as
they, leading their one poor horse, tramped their weary way




down the Platte valley to the Otoe village where they took
canoes for their journey down the river. These first Oregon
Trailers left no track deep enough to be followed. They
simply made known the way. After them fur traders on
horseback and afoot followed nearly the same route. On
April 10, 1830, Milton Sublette with ten wagons and one
milch cow left St. Louis, and arrived at the Wind River
Mountains on July 16th. They returned to St. Louis the
same summer, bringing back ten wagons loaded with furs and
the faithful cow which furnished milk all the way. Theirs
were the first wagon wheels on the Oregon Trail across Ne-
braska. The track they made from the mouth of the Kansas
river up the valley of the Little Blue and up the south side of
the Platte and North Platte was followed by others, and thus
became the historic trail. Their famous cow, and the old
horse which seventeen years before carried the burdens for
the Astorians are entitled to a high place among the pioneers
of the West.

In 1832, Captain Bonneville, whose story is told by Wash-
ington Irving, followed over Subletted trail from the Mis-
souri River to the mountains. In the same year Nathaniel

J. Wyeth following the
same trail pushed
through the South Pass
in the mountains and
on to Oregon, thus mak-
ing an open road from
the Missouri River to
the Pacific Ocean. With
slight changes, this road
remained the Oregon
Trail through the years of overland travel. Every spring in
May the long emigrant wagon trains left the Missouri River
and arrived on the Pacific coast in November. It was a won-
derful trip. Every day the train moved fifteen or twenty
miles. Every night it camped. Every day there were new



scenes and events. New friends were found among the
travelers. Children were born on the way. There were
weddings and funerals. It was a great traveling city mov-
ing two thousand miles, from the river to the ocean.

There are five periods in the story of the Oregon Trail.
The first was the period of finding the way and breaking the
trail and extends from the return of the Astorians in 1813 to
the Wyeth wagons in 1832. The second period was that of
the early Oregon migration and extends from 1832 to the
discovery of gold in California in 1849. The third period
was that of the rush for gold and extends from 1849 to 1860.
During this period the Oregon Trail became the greatest
traveled highway in the world, wider and more beaten than
a city street and hundreds of thousands passed over it. The
fourth period is that of the decline of the Oregon Trail and
extends from 1860 to 1869. The fifth period, from 1869 to

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 6 of 20)