Addison Erwin Sheldon.

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the present day, is witnessing its gradual effacement.

The best brief description of the Oregon Trail is that of
Father De Smet, who knew it well and tells of its appearance
when first seen by him and his party of Indians from the
Upper Missouri in 1851 :

"Our Indian companions, who had never seen but the
narrow hunting paths by which they transport themselves
and their lodges, were filled with admiration on seeing this
noble highway, which is as smooth as a barn floor swept by
the winds, and not a blade of grass can shoot up on it on
account of the continual passing. They conceived a high
idea of the countless white nations. They fancied that all
had gone over that road and that an immense void must
exist in the land of the rising sun. They styled the route the
'Great Medicine Road of the Whites.' "

In another place Father De Smet tells of the great govern-
ment wagon trains he met on the Oregon Trail in 1858:

"Each train consisted of twenty-six wagons, each wagon
drawn by six yoke of oxen. The trains made a line fifty
miles long. Each wagon is marked with a name as in the



case of ships, and these names served to furnish amusement
to the passers-by. Such names as The Constitution, The
President, The Great Republic, The King of Bavaria, Louis
Napoleon, Dan O'Connell, Old Kentuck, were daubed in
great letters on each side of the carriage. On the plains the
wagoner assumes the style of Captain, being placed in com-
mand of his wagon and twelve oxen. The master wagoner is
admiral of this little land fleet of 26 captains and 312 oxen.
At a distance the white awnings of the wagons have the effect
of a fleet of vessels with all canvas spread."

The second important trail across Nebraska is the one


which started from the banks of the Missouri River near
Bellevue and Florence, followed up the north side of the
Platte and North Platte to Fort Laramie, where it joined the
older Oregon Trail. This was the route across Nebraska of
the returning Astorians in 1813 and some of the early fur
traders. The Mormons made this a wagon road in 1847
when their great company which wintered at Florence and
Bellevue took this way to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
It was often called the Mormon Trail. Some of the immi-
grants to Oregon and California went over this route and
hence it is sometimes called the Oregon Trail or California
Trail. There was less travel on this trail than on the one



south of the Platte because there was more sand here. This
north side trail ran through the counties of Douglas, Sarpy,
Dodge, Colfax, Platte, Merrick, Hall, Buffalo, Dawson,
Lincoln, Garden, Morrill
and Scotts Bluff.

The third celebrated
trail across Nebraska
was from the Missouri
River to Denver and
was called the Denver
Trail. It had many
branches between the
Missouri River and Fort



Kearney. Near this
point they united and
followed up the south bank of the Platte to Denver. The
route from Omaha to Denver was up the north bank of the
Platte to Shinn 's ferry in Butler County where it crossed to
the south side and continued up the river to Fort Kearney.
There was also a road from Nebraska City up the south
bank of the Platte, which was joined by the Omaha road

after it crossed the river.
It was called the Fort
Kearney and Nebraska
City Road. A new and
more direct road was laid
out in 1862 from Ne-
braska City west
through the counties of
Otoe, Lancaster, Seward,
York, Hall and Kearney.
This was the shortest
and best road to Denver.

It was called the Nebraska City Cut-off. It became very
popular and during the years from 1862 to 1869 was trav-
eled by thousands of immigrants and freighters. Over the



Denver Trail went the Pike's Peak immigrants and the
supplies and machinery for opening the mines in Colorado.

After a few years the mail and stage coach and pony ex-
press followed the immigrant and freight wagons along the
Overland Trails. In 1850 the first monthly mail coaches
began running from the Missouri River to Salt Lake and
California. The hard winter of 1856-57 blocked this route
for several months. The California mail coach was then
placed on a southern route through Arizona but with the
breaking out of the Civil War it was brought north again and
in 1861 the first daily overland mail began running from the
Missouri River to California. This mail at first started from
St. Joseph. After a few months it ran from Atchison, join-
ing the Oregon Trail a few miles south of the Nebraska state
line and following it as far as the crossing of the South Platte
near Julesburg, where it diverged making a new road, called
the Central Route, through the mountains to Salt Lake City.
This was said to be the greatest stage line in the world.
From 1861 to 1866 daily coaches ran both ways except for a
few months during the Indian war in 1864. Over this line
also ran the pony express beginning April 3, 1860, and con-
tinuing for eighteen months until the completion of the tele-
graph line to San Francisco.

The pony express was a man on horseback carrying a
mail bag and riding as fast as the horse could run. As the
horse and man, covered with dust and foam, dashed into a
station another man on horseback snatched the bag and
raced to the next station. So the bag of letters and dis-
patches rushed day and night across the plains and moun-
tains from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The
quickest time ever made by the pony express was in March,
1861, when President Lincoln's inaugural address was car-
ried from St. Joseph to Sacramento, 1980 miles, in seven days
and seventeen hours.

The old overland trails fell out of use with the comple-
tion of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869. Short stretches



from one settlement to another were used as roads but
they were no longer the great highways of travel.
The sunflower and tumble weed
settled in their furrows and for many
years these trails could be traced
across Nebraska prairies by a wide
ribbon. With passing years the break-
ing plow ran its furrows across the
furrows of the wagon wheels and the
harrow and cultivator smoothed away
their wrinkles until over a large part
of our state the old overland trails
can be traced only by the records of
the early surveyors and the recollec-
tions of the few old-timers. In the
far western part of Nebraska, and
especially along the course of "Mie Ore-
gon Trail on the south side of the
North Platte, the old wagon tracks
still remain and the long ribbons of
sunflowers still trace the routes of the
old trails across our country.



(From photograph by

Roy Hindmarsh.)


1. How is the best route for a road in a new country found? Will it keep

near the streams or on the high land?

2. What differences in crossing from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean

in the days of the Oregon trail and now?

3. Do the lines of railroad follow the overland trails in Nebraska? Why?

4. Can you find any traces of the early roads in your county?


LONE TREE was a solitary cottonwood standing on the
north side of , the Platte river about three miles south-
west from where Central City now is. Its massive trunk,
ten or twelve feet in circumference at the base, rose like a
column fifty feet in the air and was crowned with spreading
branches which in summer cast a grateful shade. It was a
landmark which could be seen for twenty miles across the
level Platte valley, and the early traveler, viewing it afar off,
hastened to enjoy its protection and shade.

The Indians knew the tree and named it long before the
white men came. The legend is that their chiefs held coun-
cil within its shade. The first white traveler up the Platte
must have noticed it. The overland trail on the north side
of the Platte ran within a few yards of the tree. The great
emigrant trains made a camping ground near it and hundreds

of those who passed that
way carved their names
in its tough bark, climb-
ing higher each year to
find room for new names
and initials, until its rug-
ged trunk was covered
to the height of thirty
feet with these inscrip-
tions. Lone Tree ranch
was established in 1858

LONE TREE MONUMENT. (From photo- at a little distance from

graph by A. E. Sheldon.) the tree. Later the post

office there and the Union Pacific station three miles
away each bore its name. In 1865 a great storm laid
the old landmark low, its strength having been sapped by



the hundreds of sharp knives which carved its bark. Part
of its trunk was taken to Lone Tree station, now called
Central City. Here it stood on the depot platform until it
was nearly all carried away in fragments by tourists.

Thousands of travelers from the East and the West who
crossed the plains in the early days keep the old tree in their
memories, and the early pioneers in the Platte valley remem-
ber it as a rare old friend. Though the old tree decayed un-
til even its stump is gone, it still remains in the minds and
hearts of the people who were gladdened by it as it stood,
solitary and majestic, by the long, hard, lonely trail in those
far away days.

In the year 1911 the people of Merrick County, through
their county board, voted the money to place a stone monu-
ment made in the likeness of a cottonwood stump in the place
where the Lone Tree once stood. There it stands to-day
in perpetual witness to the worth of a tree.


1. Do you know any lone tree? Are you fond of it? Why?

2. What makes us like especially well the lone tree of this story?

3. Were those who cut names in its bark kind to this splendid tree? Why?


WHEN the white men first came to Nebraska to live, a
hundred years ago, they found Indians everywhere.
The Omaha Indians lived a little way from where the city of
Omaha is located. One of the white men named Lucien
Fontanelle, who came up the river from St. Louis to hunt and
trade with the Indians for furs, built a log cabin on the bank
of the Missouri River near the Omaha Indian village. He
hunted and traded many years. He visited with the Omaha
Indians very often and after a time he took an Omaha girl
for his wife. They lived for many years more in the log
cabin near the river bank. They had four children, who
grew up tall and strong and spoke two languages one the
Indian language which their mother knew and the other the

French language, for their
father was a Frenchman. They
played all the summer long
under the shade of the great
trees which grew on the bank
of the big river. Sometimes
they went with their mother 's
Indian people away across the
prairies to hunt buffalo. Such
sport as they had on these
hunts ! In the fall they always
came back to their home in
the log cabin by the big river.
One of the boys was named
Logan by his father. He grew

to be a very brave and handsome boy. He learned to
speak English besides French and Omaha. When one of
the old chiefs died, Logan, who was then a very young man,





was made chief in his place. He was the first Indian chief
in our state who could talk with the white men just as well
as a white man and with the Indians just as well as an Indian.

In 1854 when more white men began to come across the
big river and wanted to buy part of the Indian land, Logan
went to Washington with the other Indian chiefs, who were
not able to talk in the white man 's tongue, and helped them
to get as much for their land as they could.

The Omaha Indians and the white men were always at
peace, but there was war between the Sioux and the Omahas.

In the summer of 1855 the Omaha Indians left their vil-
lage by the big river to go out west to hunt buffalo. They
went along the Elkhorn River for two or three days and then
crossed the prairie toward the Platte. They were in what
is now Boone County when the Sioux Indians suddenly
came over the hills to fight. Then the Omaha women and
children ran back to the camp as fast as they could, while
Logan and several other Omaha Indians went out to fight
the Sioux. Logan had a fine, new double-barreled rifle of
which he was very proud. It would shoot a great deal farther
than any other gun in the Omaha tribe. The Sioux had not
seen a rifle that shot
twice without loading
and so were much sur-
prised when they found
. what Logan 's gun would
do. Perhaps this is
what cost Logan his life.
He rode boldly out to-
ward the Sioux and when
they charged him he did
not retreat but kept on
shooting. Five or six of
them mounted on their ponies made a rush at him. He
killed three but the others came on and shot and scalped him.

Then there was great sorrow in the camp of the Omahas.

VUE . (From photograph by A. E. Sheldon . )


They gave up their buffalo hunt and sewed the body of Lo-
gan in an elk skin and brought it on two ponies all the way
back to the Missouri River. On the top of a little hill be-
tween Omaha and Bellevue, from which one can look a long
way up and down the river, they dug a grave and buried him.
All the white men came to the funeral and were sad. All the
Indians cried and mourned for many days. His grave is
near the little tree which you can see in the picture.


1. Can you find any part of Logan Fontanelle's name on the map of Nebraska?

2. Do you think Logan Fontanelle was more white man than Indian? Why?

3. Should the grave of Logan Fontanelle have a monument?


IN the early days the Sioux Indians of the plains were firm
friends of the white people. The first traders among
them were welcomed as brothers. They left their goods
piled in the open air in Sioux villages and found them safe on
their return. The white men who made the first trails
across Nebraska often found food and shelter .with the Sioux.
The early emigrant trail wound for four hundred miles
through the heart of the Sioux country. Over it went white
men, singly and in companies, with ox-wagons, on foot, and 1
pushing wheelbarrows and no harm came to them from the

All this was changed in a single day. The Sioux became
the fierce and bloody foes of the white men. War with the
Sioux nation lasted thirty years. It cost thousands of lives
and millions of dollars. The cause of this bloody war was a
lame Mormon cow.

On the 17th of August, 1854, a party of Mormon emi-
grants on their way to Great Salt Lake were toiling along the
Oregon Trail in the valley of the North Platte. They were
in what was then Nebraska Territory, but is now about forty
miles beyond the Nebraska state line and eight miles east of
Fort Laramie, Wyoming. A great camp of thousands of
Indians stretched for miles along the overland trail. They
were the Brule, Oglala and Minneconjou bands the whole
Sioux nation on the plains and were gathered to receive
the goods which the United States had promised to pay them
for the road through their land.

Behind the train of Mormon wagons lagged a lame cow
driven by a man. When near the Brule Sioux camp some-
thing scared the cow. She left the road and ran directly
into the Sioux camp. The man ran after her, but stopped



after a few steps, fearing to follow her alone into a camp of so
many Indians. He turned back to the overland trail and
followed after the wagons, leaving the lame cow to visit the

In the Brule camp was a young Sioux from the Minnecon-
jou, or Shooters-in-the-Mist, band. These were wilder than
the other Sioux. The young Minneconjou killed the lame
cow and his friends helped to eat her.

The next day the Mormon emigrants stopped at Fort
Laramie and complained to the commander there that they
had lost their cow. On the morning of August 19th, Lieu-
tenant Grattan and twenty-nine men with two cannon were
sent from the fort to the Brule camp after the young Indian
who had killed the cow. Lieutenant Grattan was a young
man from Vermont, barely twenty-one years old, who had no
experience with Indians.

The great chief among the Sioux at that time was named
The Bear. He had a talk with the lieutenant and said he
would try to get the young Minneconjou to give himself up.
It was a great disgrace for a free Indian of the plains to be
taken to prison and the friends of the cow-killer would not
let him go. The Bear then tried to have Lieutenant Grattan
go back to the fort and let him bring in the young Minnecon-
jou later. The lieutenant ordered his soldiers to run the two
cannon to the top of a little mound, to point them on the
Brule camp and told The Bear that he would open fire if the
cow-killer was not given up at once. Pointing to the thou-
sands of Indians, men, women and children, who were spread
over the valley as far as eye could see, The Bear said, " These
are all my people. Young man you must be crazy," and
walked toward his lodge, while his warriors began to get their
guns and bows. A moment later the two cannon and a
volley of muskets were fired at the Sioux camp. The Bear
was killed. A storm of Sioux bullets and arrows cut down
Lieutenant Grattan and his men before they had time to
reload their guns.


The Sioux camp went wild. The death of The Bear, the
taste of white man 's blood set them crazy. Warriors mount-
ed their ponies and rode about the field. The squaws tore
down the tepees and packed them for flight. Some one
called out to the Indians to take their goods which were in a
storehouse near a trader 's post waiting for the United States
officer who was coming to distribute them. The Sioux burst
into the storehouse, tumbled the goods from the shelves,
piled them on their ponies. There were two traders near
by who were married to Indian women. Their friends
hurried them out of sight to keep them from being killed by
the furious warriors. Before sundown the Indians were rid-
ing over the northern ridges by thousands, carrying away
their plunder. They buried The Bear wrapped in richest
buffalo robes in a high pine tree near the Niobrara River.
From this burial the bands scattered over Nebraska, Wyo-
ming and Dakota, urging Indians everywhere to kill the
white men and to drive them from the country. Thus the
Sioux war began.


1. Ought the Indians to have given up the cow-killer?

2. What should Lieutenant Grattan have done?

3. Were the Indians or the white men to blame for bringing on the Sioux



THE South and North fell out over slavery in the new
land of the West. The people of the South wanted the
right to go west and take their slaves with them. The people
of the North wanted none but free people in the West. In
1820 the North and South agreed that Missouri might be a
slave state, but that there should be no slaves in what is
now Nebraska and Kansas. This was called the Missouri
Compromise. No one then lived in Nebraska but Indians
and a few traders, trappers and soldiers. When it was time
for Nebraska to be settled and to have a government there
was another fierce falling out between the South and the
North over slavery. This time a law was passed to the
effect that the new land should be slave or free as the
settlers voted.

In Nebraska the people never voted for slavery, but
people coming here from the South brought slaves with them.
In 1855 there were thirteen slaves in Nebraska and in 1860
there were ten. Most of these were held at Nebraska City.

Across the Missouri River at Tabor, Iowa, was a settle-
ment of people called abolitionists, because they wished to
abolish slavery. The " Underground Railroad" was the
name given to the road taken by slaves from the South on
their way through the North to Canada, where they were free.
One branch of this road ran from Missouri through the cor-
ner of Nebraska by way of Falls City, Little Nemaha, Camp
Creek and Nebraska City to Tabor. The runaway slaves
traveled at night along this road and were fed and hidden
during the day by friends. At Falls City they were kept in
a barn. John Brown came through this corner of Nebraska
very often with slaves from Missouri whom he was helping
to set free. He is the man of whom we sing




"John Brown's body lies a-mould 'ring in the grave,
His soul is marching on!"

In November, 1858, Eliza, a slave girl owned by Mr. S. F.
Nuckolls at Nebraska City, ran away, and with her another
slave girl. Mr. Nuckolls (after whom Nuckolls County was

ACT ABOLISHING SLAVERY IN NEBRASKA. (Photo from original in Statehotise.)

named) was very angry and offered $200 reward. With the
aid of the United States marshal he began a search of the
houses at Tabor for his slaves. The girls were not there, but
one man whose house was being searched was struck on the
head by an officer and badly wounded. For this Mr.
Nuckolls had to pay $10,000 damages. Eliza escaped to


Chicago, where she was arrested the next year and was about
to be returned to her master when a mob rescued her and
she was hurried over to Canada. Mr. Nuckolls sued sixteen
Iowa people for helping Eliza to escape, but the war soon
came on and he did not win his suit.

The few slaves in Nebraska were hard to hold. On June
30, 1860, six slaves owned by Alexander Majors at Nebraska
City ran away and never came back. On December 5, 1860,
the sheriff of Otoe County sold at auction in the streets of
Nebraska City one negro man and one negro woman, known
as Hercules and Martha. This was the last of slavery in
Nebraska, for in January, 1861, the legislature passed an act
abolishing slavery in the territory.


1. If the land in Nebraska belonged equally to all the United States which

was right regarding its use, the South or the North?

2. Was it right for the northern people to help slaves to run away from their


3. Would Nebraska to-day be a slave state if the southern people had been

freely allowed to bring slaves here?


THE first settlers in Nebraska found no corners nor lines
marking the limits of their land. The early Indian
traders, like Manuel Lisa and Henry Fontanelle, built their
cabins and put in their crops wherever it pleased them, for
all land lay open to their use. The early territorial pioneer
of 1854 and 1855 staked out his own land, claiming what
suited him best, and put
up signs telling all who
came that way what he

The first Nebraska
surveyor was Rev. Isaac
McCoy, a Baptist mis-
sionary who, in 1837,
surveyed a line across
the southeast corner of
the state from the Little
Nemaha River to the
Great Nemaha River in
what is now Richardson
County. The land be-
tween this line and the
Missouri River was
called the Half Breed
Strip. It was to be the
home of those who were
part white and part In-
dian. In later years there were many disputes over the
location of this first Nebraska survey.

Surveyors were needed as soon as Nebraska became a
territory to divide the land into blocks marked with perma-



SURVEY 1854. (Drawing by Miss

Martha Turner.)


nent corners, so that each settler might know just where his
land lay and the whole country might be made easy to map
and easy to describe. The regular permanent survey of
Nebraska into square blocks of land for people's homes be-
gan in November, 1854. First a base line was measured
west from the Missouri River 108 miles, with corner posts
marking each mile. This line was ordered to be exactly on
the 40th degree of latitude north from the equator, the divid-
ing line between Nebraska and Kansas, but the first surveyor
did not know his business and the line was crooked, some-
times on one side of the 40th degree and sometimes on the
other. So the next year this base line had to be re-surveyed,
the first corners torn out and new ones put in. This new
survey was made by Mr. Charles A. Manners. With the help
of Captain Thomas J. Lee of the United States Army and the
best instruments obtainable, very careful observations were
made of the sun and the stars in order to find where the 40th
degree of latitude fell on the west bank of the Missouri River.
On this spot, on May 8, 1855, the surveyors put up a tall
iron monument with the word "Nebraska" on one side and
"Kansas" on the opposite side. This monument stands to-
day on a high bluff overlooking the Missouri valley and is

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Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 7 of 20)