Addison Erwin Sheldon.

History and stories of Nebraska online

. (page 8 of 20)
Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 8 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the starting point of all the Nebraska surveys.

From this iron monument the base line was surveyed due
west 108 miles. At this point another monument was put
up. The line surveyed due north from here is called the
sixth principal meridian of the United States surveys and is
the "naming line" of all the land in Nebraska, for all deeds
and patents to Nebraska land mention it. This line forms
the western boundary of Jefferson, Saline, Seward, Butler,
Colfax, Stanton and Wayne counties and extends through
Cedar County to the northern boundary of the state.

The orders for the survey of Nebraska called for a division
of the land into blocks six miles square called townships.
Each township was divided into blocks one mile square called
sections. All the townships in Nebraska are numbered, be-



ginning with number one at the base line and ending with
number thirty-five at the northern boundary. Each row of
townships stretching across the state from south to north
is called a range. The ranges are
counted from the sixth principal
meridian, the first range of townships
east being called range one east, the
first range west being called range
one west and so on. There are nine-
teen ranges east and fifty-nine ranges
west in Nebraska.

At distances forty-eight miles east
and west from the sixth principal
meridian guide meridians were laid
off. This was necessary because
the surface of the earth is curved in-
stead of flat. If you will take a ball
and lay off its surface into square
blocks of uniform size, as the survey-
ors laid off the surface of the earth,
you will see why these guide merid-
ians were needed. In a similar
way standard parallels were run at
each interval of twenty-four miles north from the base line.
The surveyors made the survey by running a line due north
from the base line twenty-four miles, then due east forty-
eight miles to the meridian. The block of land thus laid off
was subdivided into townships and sections by marking the
corners of each township and each section with stakes or
stones set in a mound of earth and four holes dug so as to
form a square figure with the mound in the center. In
pioneer times, the gray wolf or the coyote sitting upon one of
these mounds would howl through the long hours of the
night. On the section line half-way between the section
corners was placed what is called a " Quarter Stake."

Beginning thus in the southeast corner of the state, the

(Drawing by Miss Martha

K't Standard Parallel




K fan<tardParallel \~



N. 2


MSlwdatd ParaSt,

K 20!

^Sttuititfd Parallel








^ T _ t ..-.J - -



"^ - ; ''"f


*[" ' !

*! i r

A'. 121

i - i


? -! L - -4.-.. -.

lj__[_ 1 _

/ a m iv v




surveys were each year pushed a little farther west and
north, in the direction most likely to be taken by the settlers
as they came in, until all the state was surveyed. The last
survey thus made was the " Gates of Sheridan" reservation
in Sheridan County, which was finished in 1910, fifty-six years
after the first survey was made.

Each surveying party kept a book called a field notebook
in which was to be written down each day the distances
measured, a description of the surface of the country, all
prominent natural objects seen, the quality of the land, the
corners marked and how they were marked, in a word the
entire story of things done and seen each day. From these
field notes maps were made, showing all the streams, hills,
valleys, smooth and rough land, and copies of these maps were
kept at the land offices where the settlers went to file their
claims upon land. Some of the surveys were dishonestly
made, the corners not marked as required by law and the
field notes not truthfully kept, so that settlers in some cases
lost their homes or located on the wrong piece of land or were
unable to find the government corners.

Great dangers and hardships were braved by the pioneer
surveyors. The Indians everywhere understood when they
saw the surveying parties making mounds, driving stakes
and digging holes, that the white men were coming to take
their land. In many cases they pulled up their stakes, tore
down the mounds and drove off the surveyors. Great
storms swept down upon the surveyors living in tents, and
men and horses were frozen to death. Fever and ague was
common in the surveying camps. In surveying the islands
of the Platte River the men waded through water for weeks.
Upon the high plains of western Nebraska they were tortured
with thirst. Mosquitoes, gnats and green-headed flies
pursued them, eager for blood by day and by night. Some-
times the Indians set fire to the prairie and drove the survey-
ing parties in because their horses found no grass to eat.
The saddest day in all the surveys of Nebraska was August



20, 1869, when a band of Sioux Indians under Pawnee Killer
and Whistler attacked the Nelson Buck surveying party of
ten men in the Republican Valley and killed the entire

party. There was not a
single season from 1863 un-
til 1877 when the surveyors
did not have to fight the
Indians, and for many years
later all surveying parties
carried rifles along with
their instruments and often
saved their lives thereby.

The United States sur-
veys of Nebraska are ended.
All the field notebooks and
the township maps of the
surveys are turned over to
the State of Nebraska and
kept in a fireproof vault by
the state surveyor in the
Capitol building. The let-
ters written by the survey-
ors in the field, telling the
story of their trials and dan-
gers are there bound in vol-
umes for future Nebraskans to read. All the titles to all the
lands and lots in Nebraska rest finally upon the record of
these surveys. Land in Nebraska grows more valuable from
year to year and these records are called for so that surveyors
to-day may follow the field notes of these first surveyors, re-
trace their lines and locate the true corners where land is in
dispute. So long as men live and occupy the land, so long
will the surveys of Nebraska and the records of them be
first in importance to them.


AND OUTFIT. (From photograph

collection of A. E. Sheldon.)



1. What are the numbers of the land where you live and how do you know?

2. Find all the government corners in the section where you live and tell

how they are marked? Are the marks you find the ones put there by
the United States surveyors?

3. How do surveyors to-day retrace the work of the first United States sur-

veyors and settle disputes over land?


THE free homestead law has been called the most impor-
tant act for the welfare of the people ever passed in the
United States. Under this law any man or woman twenty-
one years old or the head of a family can have 160 acres of
land by living on it five years and paying about eighteen
dollars in fees. For the first eighty years of United States
history there were no free homesteads. The settlers were
obliged to buy their land. The price was low but they were
often very poor and in many cases lost their land after living
upon and improving it because they had no money to pay
for it.

In 1852 a party, called the Free Soil party, demanded free
homesteads for the people. In 1854 the first free homestead
bill was introduced in Congress by Congressman Galusha A.
Grow of Pennsylvania. The people of the West and poor
people everywhere were in favor of the bill. There was
strong opposition to it, however. The first homestead act
required the settler to pay twenty-five cents an acre for his
land and was passed in 1860. This bill was vetoed by Presi-
dent Buchanan. It was not until May 20, 1862, that the
free homestead act was finally passed and signed by Presi-
dent Abraham Lincoln. The law took effect on January 1,

The first free homestead in the United States was taken
by Daniel Freeman on Cub Creek in Gage County, Nebras-
ka, about five miles northwest of Beatrice. Daniel Freeman
was born in Ohio in 1826, and moved with his parents to
Illinois in 1835. He was intensely interested in the free
homestead bill from the time it was first introduced in Con-
gress. Year after year he watched its progress and hoped
for its passage and many times said that he wished to be the




first man to take a homestead. When the free homestead
bill was signed Daniel Freeman was a soldier in the Union
army. A few months later he was given a brief furlough and
came to Nebraska to look over the
beautiful country, then lying va-
cant, for a home. He found the
place that suited him and started
for the nearest United States land
office, which was then at Brown-
ville, Nebraska, arriving there De-
cember 31, 1862. The little town
was thronged with settlers who had
come there to take land. That night
there was a New Year's Eve party
at the hotel, which was attended by
all. The new homestead act was to
go into effect the next day but as
New Year's was a holiday the land
office would not be open until Jan-
uary 2d. Mr. Freeman was under
orders to join his regiment and expected to leave the next
day. He told his story and his great desire to be the first
homesteader in the United States. All the others agreed
that he should have the first chance and with him per-
suaded a clerk in the land office to open the office a few
minutes past midnight on January 1st for Daniel Freeman

Thus it came that Daniel Freeman made homestead entry
number one and afterwards received homestead patent num-
ber one for 160 acres on Cub Creek near Beatrice. Thus
Nebraska has the honor of having the first homestead in the
United States. Since that time over 1,000,000 homesteaders
have followed Daniel Freeman's example, receiving over
120,000,000 acres of land as a free gift from our government.
Of these homesteaders over 100,000 have lived in Nebraska.
Nothing has helped so much in the settlement of the West as



its free lands. One of the songs sung everywhere after the
passage of the homestead act had for its refrain these words:

"Come along, come along, make no delay,
Come from every nation, come from every way,
Our lands they are broad enough, have no alarm
For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."

Daniel Freeman served his country in the Union army
until the close of the Civil War, in 1865. Then he brought

THE FIRST HOMESTEAD. (From photograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.)

his bride and settled on his Nebraska homestead. This has
remained ever since the family home. Here their seven
children grew to manhood and womanhood and here Mrs.
Freeman lives with children and grandchildren.

Mr. Freeman died December 30, 1908. This first home-
stead is a beautiful farm in the valley where the prairie and
timber land join. The old log cabin with sod roof, which was
the first home of the Freeman family, has long since disap-
peared. There is a brick house and orchard, and an old
freighting road, from Missouri River to the mountains runs
for nearly a mile through the place, with rows of giant cotton-
woods planted by Mr. Freeman on either side. On the hill
at one corner of the farm, overlooking the valley and the


freighting road, is the grave of Daniel Freeman. It is pro-
posed that the United States shall purchase this first home-
stead from the Freeman family and make it a public park to
commemorate what is regarded as the most important law
passed by the United States and the place where that law was
first applied.


1. Why is the free homestead law called the best law for the people in the

United States?

2. What was the reason Daniel Freeman got the first homestead?

3. What is it worth to Nebraska to have the first homestead within its



THE Pawnee nation lived in Nebraska for many years
before the first white men came. Their traditions say
that a long time ago they came from the Southwest, perhaps
from the borders of Mexico. Through hundreds of years
they were slowly moving northward. When the first white
men found them, over two hundred years ago, what is now
the Nebraska country was their home. The Pawnee nation
was divided into four tribes, each of which had an Indian
name and a white man 's name : Chau-i, Grand ; Kitke-hahk-i,
Republican; Pita-hau-erat, Noisy; Ski-di, Wolf. These
tribes were divided into bands, each of which lived in a
group of houses and kept together on the march and in the

The Pawnees were the most advanced in culture of any of
the Nebraska Indians. In farming, in handiwork, in medi-
cine, in music and religion they had made remarkable prog-
ress and were imitated
by the other Indians.
They built large circular
houses, called earth
lodges, with walls of dirt
and a roof supported by
trunks of large trees set
upright inside of the
walls, the whole covered
with poles, grass and sod.

PAWNEE EARTH LODGE. (From photograph n tne east s ^e was a

by A . E. Sheldon.) covered entrance and on

the west were the sacred bundle and buffalo skull. There was
a hole in the center of the roof to let out the smoke. The
people slept around the edge of the circle made by the walls





and gathered about the lodge fire in the center to eat and
talk. Such houses were warm in the coldest weather. The
sod houses of the early white settlers were like them in struc-
ture, but not in shape. In some
places Pawnees built sod walls
around their village to protect it
from enemies.

In the rich, moist valleys near
the rivers, the Pawnee women
raised crops of corn, beans, pump-
kins, squashes and melons. They
gathered roots from the prairie and
wild fruit from the bushes and dried
them for winter use. Twice. a year
the tribe went on buffalo hunts, leaving their villages de-
serted except for the men and women too old to go on the
hunt. Thus they made part of their living by the chase and
part by farming, very much as did our forefathers, the Ger-
mans, in the time of Julius Caesar.

Before the white men came the Pawnees made their own
tools and weapons out of wood, flint and stone, chipping the
flint into sharp points for their arrow and spear heads and
making hammers and axes out of stones. For hoes they tied,
with strings of rawhide, the sharp shoulder blades of buffa-
loes to sticks. They also made many kinds of pottery and
thousands of pieces are found on the sites of their old towns in
our state.

The rulers of the Pawnees were chiefs. Sometimes a man
came to be chief because his father was chief, and sometimes
the son of a common man who proved to be wise, brave and
fortunate in war and in hunting became chief. A chief who
did not have these qualities soon lost his power. There was
a head chief of the tribe, a council composed of other chiefs,
and besides these an assembly of the whole people, as there
were among the early Germans, to decide what should be
done in important matters.


The Pawnees were a very religious people. They be-
lieved in spirits, ghosts, fairies, and enchanted animals and
in magical places where strange things were done. Above
all these they believed in Tirawa, the father, who lived in the
sky, who made all the people and who sent the corn, the
buffalo, the rain, the sunshine and all other good things.
If the people did as he wished they had good fortune and
were happy. To gain the good will of the spirits there were
dances, ceremonies, songs and sacrifices. There were special
ceremonies and songs to secure the favor of Tirawa for every
important event in the life of the Pawnees, the first thunder
in the spring, the planting of corn, the start on a buffalo
hunt, the return of a war party. Sacred bundles were kept
in the lodges which held magical feathers and bones and
other mysterious things. These were brought out for the
great ceremonies.

Singers made many songs for their special occasions.
Story-tellers told many stories of the deeds of their young
men and of ghosts and spirits and animals. In all these
things the Pawnees were very skilful and their songs and
stories were famous among Indians everywhere. These
were handed down from the old to the young until there were
very many of them. Other tribes have borrowed and copied
a great deal from the Pawnee stories and songs.

Medicine men had great power and influence among the
Pawnees. Wonderful tales are told of the things done by
them, such as raising in a few hours a full grown stalk of corn
from a dry kernel, shaking a live fawn from a deerskin, mak-
ing plums and cherries grow out of twigs, striking people dead
with tomahawks and restoring them to life in a few minutes.
White people who saw some of these wonderful feats were
unable to explain them. Among the Indians themselves the
mystery and magic of the Pawnee medicine men made them
both courted and feared.

The Skidi tribe of the Pawnee nation was the largest and
most warlike. It kept up the old customs longer than any


other tribe, among them the custom of offering human sacri-
fice to the morning star. Prisoners taken in war were offered
in these sacrifices in order to gain the favor of the god and
bring good luck to the tribe. The last sacrifice of this kind
known took place sixty or seventy years ago. There are old
Pawnees who say that they saw it. The Pawnees often kept
prisoners as slaves and other tribes held captured Pawnees
as their slaves. There was also a custom among the Pawnees
by which young men and boys who had as yet made no name
for themselves by their deeds, lived as servants in the families
of chiefs. Here they were fed and lodged and in their turn
did all kinds of errands, such as caring for the horses and
carrying messages. Older men who had not made a success
in life lived in the same way, receiving support and protec-
tion from the chief in payment for their services. In all this
the Pawnee custom was very much like that of the feudal
system in Europe when the common people served the lords
and knights.

The Pawnee nation as a whole was never at war with the
white people. At times some of the young Pawnees had
trouble with the settlers over stock. The so-called Pawnee
war of 1859 was to punish a few such thieves. Pawnee men,
women and children were frequent visitors in the homes of
early Nebraska settlers and a Pawnee camp near a ranch
served as a protection against hostile Sioux and Cheyenne.

All the other Indian tribes of the plains were at war with
the Pawnees. Sometimes peace would be made for a short
time, but through the years the larger tribes of the plains,
the Comanches, the Cheyennes, the Utes, the Arapahoes
and especially the Sioux, were the constant and bitter enemies
of the Pawnees. Always at war with these great tribes about
them, it is little wonder that the Pawnees became fewer in

One hundred years ago the Pawnee people were estimated
to number 10,000. The Republican, or Kitkehahki tribe
had villages on the Republican River near Hardy, and near


Red Cloud. The other three tribes lived in the valleys of the
Platte and Loups. Graves and lodge circles extend for many
miles near Linwood, in Butler County, Osceola in Polk
County and Leshara in Saunders County, marking the sites
of Pawnee villages south of the Platte. In the North Platte
region the valleys of the Loups and of Shell Creek in Colfax,
Platte, Merrick, Nance and Howard counties are thickly
dotted with remains of Pawnee villages.

By a treaty with the United States in 1833 the Pawnee
nation ceded all its country south of the Platte and agreed
to move up on the Loups. A part went, but in 1846 the
Sioux burned one of their villages there and the Pawnees
came down the Platte, making their homes near Bellevue and

In 1849, the cholera swept away nearly 1200 Pawnees and
every year their enemies, the Sioux, made raids upon them,
so that their women hardly dared to hoe in the fields of corn.

In 1857, the Pawnee nation ceded to the United States
all its country north of the Platte except a reservation, now
Nance County, on the Loup, and in 1859 the entire nation,
then numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 people, moved

For the next fourteen years the once proud Pawnees led
a life of misfortune and disaster. The Sioux raided their
villages. The white men coveted their beautiful tract of
land and urged the government to remove them. Grass-
hoppers and drought ruined their crops. Buffalo became
scarce and could be found only by long journeys to the Re-
publican River, in the country of their enemies, the Sioux.
Finally in 1873, a party of Pawnees hunting buffalo were
surprised by the Sioux near Culbertson in Hitchcock County
and eighty-six were killed.

Many of the Pawnees now desired to move to the Indian
Territory and live near the Wichita tribe, who are near rel-
atives. In 1873 a party of 300 went south and wintered.
In 1874, 1,500 men, women and children left Nebraska and


reached the Indian Territory in February, 1875. In Novem-
ber, 1875, those left in Nebraska joined them, making a total
of 2,200, all that remained of the Pawnee nation.

For a number of years after this the Pawnees died very
rapidly. They had left a land of clear flowing rivers, bright
skies and cool dry climate. They went to a land where the
climate was hot and damp, biting insects of all kinds abound-
ed, and the water in the streams flowed red as blood from the
red soil through which it passed. For a time it seemed that
the whole nation would quickly disappear.

The Pawnee reservation is now a part of Oklahoma and
the remainder of the nation living there number 653. They
never cease telling stories of the old times and the old home
in Nebraska. To their children Nebraska is a wonderland,
full of magical places, the scenes of heroic battles and strange
events in their history, some of which are related in the pages
of this book.


1. How long and how accurately are stories of old times kept by people who

do not know how t) write and read?

2. Why were the sod houses of the early settlers different in shape from the

Indian earth lodge?

3. Do white men in Nebraska select their chiefs in the same way as the

Pawnees did?

4. How did the medicine men learn their art?

5. Which Pawnee customs and beliefs were different from those of white

men? Which were like the white men's customs?

6. Why do you think the other tribes fought the Pawnees?

7. Do you wish the Pawnees had stayed in Nebraska?


IN the North Platte valley near the town of Bridgeport in
Morrill County stands Court House Rock, rising three
hundred and forty feet above the level of the valley, grand
and massive in form. It is a landmark noted in all the West,
which may be seen at a distance of fifty miles. Upon its

summit is a small table-
land. Upon three sides
its walls are vertical,
with no crevice or point
where hand or foot may
cling. There is one dif-
ficult path on the re-
maining side up which
a man can climb with
toil and danger to the


Many years ago a small party of Skidi Pawnees camping
near Court House Rock were surprised by the Sioux. They
climbed the rock for safety while the Sioux camped at the
foot where they waited for the Pawnees to starve or to come
down and fight.

The Pawnees suffered terribly from lack of food and
water. Their leader was overcome with grief, for he saw the
death of all his brave men near at hand. At night he went
away from the others and looking up to the stars from the
top of the rock, he prayed to Tirawa for help. As he prayed
a voice spoke to him and said, "Look for a place where you
may get down from this rock and save both your men and
yourself." All night he kept on praying and in the morning
he looked along the edge of the rock for a crevice where one
might get down. Near the edge of the cliff he found a point



of rock rising above the steep wall below. With his sharp
knife he cut a deep groove around the base of this point where

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryAddison Erwin SheldonHistory and stories of Nebraska → online text (page 8 of 20)