Alfred Rasmus Sorenson.

Early history of Omaha; or, Walks and talks among the old settlers: a series of sketches in the shape of a connected narrative of the events and incidents of early times in Omaha, together with a brief mention of the most important events of later years online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryAlfred Rasmus SorensonEarly history of Omaha; or, Walks and talks among the old settlers: a series of sketches in the shape of a connected narrative of the events and incidents of early times in Omaha, together with a brief mention of the most important events of later years → online text (page 1 of 16)
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1^1 I







Walks and Talks Among the Old Settlers :















Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1876, by


In the office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.


I. Bird's-Eye View of Omaha Frontispiece.

II. The First Omaha Editor and his Sanctum 45

III. Postmaster Jones with his Hat for a Postoffice. 53

IV. The Monument that Mr. Jokes Desired 70

V. The First Executive Ball 74

VI. A VERY Striking Affair — A Nebraska Territorial

Legislative Scene 88

VII. The Old Territorial Capitol gi

VIII. An Obstinate Irishman Ducked in the River by

the Claim Club -.107

IX. Two Horse-Thieves Publicly Whipped — Thirty-Nine

Lashes Each 117

X. The Hanging of Braden and Daley by a Mob for

Mokse Stealing 119

XL Thk Execution of Cyrus H. Tator 131

XII. Catholic Cathedral and Bishop's Residence 176

XIII. Presbyterian Church 177

XIV. Baptist Church. , 17S

XV. Odd Fellows" IL\ll 17^

XVI. Thic la IK Edward Crkighton — Builder of the Pa-
cific Telk(,raph 184

XVH. Unio.v Pacific Bkidcje over ihe Missouri River. ...204

XVIIL Omaha High School Building 223

XLX. Grand Central Hotel 224

XX. Posi-Ofkice a.M) L'. S. Cusiom House 225



Chap. Pack.

I. The Bottom Facts 9

ri. The Mormons 15

III. The Pioneers 18

IV. The Indians 24

V. Omaha's Birth 31

V I. First Incidents 34

VII. The Arrow 42

VIII. Omau \'s Progress — Items from the Arrow 49

IX. Omaha Wins the Capital Prize 58

X. The First Executive Bai.i. 72

XI. The First Murder Trial 76

XII. First Attempt to Remove the Capital 79

XIII. The Second Capital Removal Scheme 82

XIV. The T>asi Round in the Capital Removal Fight 86
XV. Om.mia from 1856 TO i860 93

XVI. The Doings of the Claim Club 98

X Vll. PioNEEK Justice 114

XVIII. The First Legal Execution 128

XIX. Florence 139

XX. The Pawnee War 142

XXI. The Big Indian Scare of 1864 161

XXII. Omaha and Nebraska in the War 169

X XIII. First Churches and Socieiies 172


\ \ 1 \ . 1 hsTORY OK riiK Press i8o

X \ \ . liiK TicLKiiKArii 184

\\\ 1. JiiK Days of SrEAMitoATiNci and Sta<;in(; 192

\ \ \ II. TiiK Railroads 196

\.\\ III. Old Landmarks and Incidents Connected There-
with 207

NXl.X. Old Settlers 214

\XX. Conclusion — The Omaha ok To-day 221


In this centennial year, now drawing to a close, during which
nearly everybody seemed to be hunting up the records of the past,
so full of interest to us of the present and to those of the hereafter, it ap-
peared eminently proper to me that an early history of Omaha should
and ought to be written, and early in the year I concluded to under-
take the task. The idea, however, was not fully conceived until after
Gen. Estabrook had prepared and read his Centennial Historical Ad-
dress on the Fourth of July. That address was brief and general,
but good as far as it went. But it did not go very far, with all due
respect to Gen. Estabrook. Knowing that Omaha had [an early his-
tory full of exciting and interesting incidents — a history that perhaps
is unequalled in many respects by that of any other western city —
I determined then and there to at once carry out my idea of a his-
tory of this city, which the reader will find embodied in this little

I immediately commenced the work in a systematic manner, be-
ginning with hunting up the bottom facts, and building up on this
foimdation. During a five years' connection with the daily press of
this city I have had numerous opportunities to make and cultivate
the acquaintance of the " old settlers." I have improved '.hose op-
portunities, and have never neglected to make a memorandum on the
tablets of my memory of whatever of interest concerning the early
history of Omaha, that I may have heard during my talks and
walks with the " old settlers."

Those "old settlers," by the way, are a very entertaining set of
persons, possessed with a charming vein of humor which runs
through all their recitals of early times, and I have passed many a
pleasant hour in their society, on different occasions, while in search


of material witli which to construct a readable history of Omaha.
Thev can spin a yarn to their own satisfaction as well as to that of
their audience. All that is needed to set most of them going is to
draw them out, in a reportorial way. Some of them, indeed, may
be said to have a little egotisrn mixed with a good deal of pride —
characteristics that have been developed by the rapid and substantial
growth of the beautiful city which they assisted to found and build
up. Their pride is justly excusable on • this account. They have
seen and watched with a tender care the infant grow from childhood
to a healthy and vigorous manhood, as it were.

Omaha's history is well worth handing down to posterity, and I
believe it will prove of deep interest to the many thousands of
people now living here and in the immediate vicinity ; to those who
shall come after us ; and also to those who have removed hence to
distant points, but whose memories still cling round the spot with
a tender fondnes'..

Believing that there v/as a demand for such a history as this,
and knowing that such a work, carefully compiled and carefully
written, would meet with the hearty approval and substantial support
of the citizens of Omaha, I did not hesitate in the enterprise. I
have endeavored to present the facts — and facts only — in a readable
shape, and I know that the style in which they are clothed, is an
improvement, in some measure at, least, on the necessarily hurried,
rough, and perhaps reckless writing of the daily newspaper reporter.
I will say this much for myself; as to farther criticism, be it favor-
able or unfavorable, I leave the reader to make it.

Each chapter will be found complete in itself — a sort of sketch.
Yet the chapters or sketches are so arranged that they form what
may be properly termed a connected narrative of the early events
and incidents in Omaha's history. I have found the writing of this
history an entertaining employment of leism-e hours, and have hardly
missed the time so spent. Little by little it grew to a volume of re-
spectable dimensions. So it was with the city of Omaha, and so will
6he continue to increase in si/e, importance, wealth, culture and
general loveliness, and never shall any envious rival snatch from her
brow the laurel wreath and the title entwined therein, which she has
so justly won — "The Qiieen City of the Missouri Valley."


The early history of Omaha is to some extent the early history of
Nebraska, and this is true to some degree even in the history of
later years. Hence we often hear even now our city referred to, by
jealous rivals in our^ State, as the " State of Omaha," and the State
as its suburbs.

The greater portion of this volume has never before appeared in
print. Some of it, however, has been published before, but in differ-
ent shape My information has been obtained from the very best
and most reliable sources— from the " old settlers" themselves, from
the early legislative journals, and from the early newspapers. For
valuable assistance and information I am indebted to Hon. A. J.
Hanscom, Hon. A. J. Poppleton, Gen. Estabrook, A. D Jones, Esq.,
Byron Reed, Esq., Dr. Miller, John A. Creighton, John T. Bell,
Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Snowden, Mrs. W. D. Brown, Judge Porter, '
Martin Dunham, Thomas Riley, Maj. Armstrong and many other
prominent "old settlers."

I have drawn rather liberally on Dr. Miller, w^ose pen has at
different times been employed in recording in cresting reminiscences,
which, by the way, have been about the only early history of
Omaha that has been given to the public.

But to Byron Reed, Esq., more than to any other one person, am
I indebted for the accuracy and completeness of this history. He
has a wonderfully retentive memory, and can give names, dates, lo-
cations, and descriptions of persons, lands, events and incidents for
the last twenty years without reference to a paper, document, or
book. He is a walking encyclopedia of general information [from A
to Z. He has in his possession more valuable historical books,
papers and documents about Omaha and Nebraska than any other
man in the State. He has taken a deep interest in this work and
has imparted to me a vast amount of local information and has al-
lowed me free access to his newspaper files, legislative journals,
books and records. He has also read the proofs from beginning to
end, so it will be seen that his assistance has enabled me to pre-
sent a reliable history, which without his aid would necessarily have
been incomplete.

No expense has been spared to make this volume attractive. Its
typography will compare with that of any establishment in the East,


and spoiiks volumes of praise for the job office of the Omalia Daily Bkr.
Its illustrations, engraved by the Chicago Engraving Company, espe-
ciallv for this book, cost over $250, and are as fine as will be found
in anv ordinarv work. The original sketches vvere drawn by Charles
S. Huntington, of this city, according to the ideas given him by my-
self. The binding — which is an elegant dress in the latest style —
was done bv the Omaha Book Company. The entire cost of the
edition was $1,275. The expense, however, was entirely covered by
subscriptions before a single type was set, a canvass having been
made by myself, and I cheerfully acknowledge the fact that sufficient
names were secured not only to guarantee the above amount but
something besides. I have endeavored to give the public their
" money's worth," and I think no one can or will say that I have
not done so.

One thing that has presented itself to my mind, in the course of
mv researches, is the need of an historical society, embracing not
only Omaha but the whole State, and I here make the suggestion
that such a society be at once formed. There is plenty of material,
and there are enough persons who would take part in it to make it
a success. I beheve that attempts have been made in this direction
at different times. The defunct " Old Settlers' Association " was
such an organization and it is to be regretted that it was allowed to
die. Should an historical society be organized it would be a wise
plan not to make it in any way exclusive. The membership
should embrace everybody who can or will contribute in any way
to its usefulness, to its records, and to its support.

Omaha, November, 1876. ALr . b.





LEWIS AND Clark's expedition — their arrival at the fltlre





^^^' ^^^^ y^^'' 1804, which is a long ways back for a
Y^ western city to go for the bottom facts of its history,
Lewis and Clark, the well known government explorers,
started out on their long, memorable, and adventurous
expedition up the Missouri river and its tributaries, pene-
trating the vast extent of territory known as the great
.North West, and included in the term " Indian Territory."
It was an unexplored country, and was embraced in what is
known as the Louisiana purchase from the French, which was consum-
mated in 1803. The expedition consisted of about thirty-five men.
well armed and equipped and supplied with three boats for the un-

By reference to the journal of Lewis and Clark, published in 1S14,
wc find that they arrived at the mouth of the Platte in the latter
part of July, 1S04. where they laid up two or three days for repairs.


The following extract from their journal, sliowing their approach
and arrival at the spot where Omaha was afterwards located, will
be found of interest to the reader :

.. 1^., v j-._Having completed the ohject of our stay, we set sail
with a pleasant breeze from the North West. The two horses swam
over to the Southern [Western] shore, along which we went, pass-
ing bv an island, at three and a half miles, formed by a pond, fed
by springs ; three miles further is a large sand island in the middle
of the river; the land on the South [West] being high and covered
with timber; that on the North [East] a prairie. At ten and a
half miles from our encampment, we saw and examined a curious
collection of graves or mounds, on the South [West] side of the
river. Not far from a low piece of land and a pond, is a tract of
about two hundred acres in extent, which is covered with mounds
of difterent heights, shapes and sizes; some of sand, and some of
both earth and sand ; the largest being near the river. These mounds
indicate the position of the ancient village of the Ottoes, before
they retired to the protection of the Pawnees. After making fifteen
miles, we encamped on the South [East] on the bank of a high,
handsome prairie, with lofty cotton-wood in groves, near the river."
It will be noticed that the chroniclers used the word South, when
it should have been West, and North when it should have been East,
with reference to the river as it runs past Omaha. This is easily
accounted for by the fact that in those days the Missouri river was
generally supposed to run east and west, or nearly so.

The curious collection of graves or mounds, and the tract ot two
hundred acres covered with mounds of different heights, shapes and
sizes were undoubtedly included in that portion of the city bounded on
the south by Farnham street, west by Eleventh street, and on the
north and east by the river bottoms. At different periods in the history
of the city, while excavating cellars or grading streets in this vicinity,


Indian graves have been discovered, and bones and trinkets and relics
have been exhumed. Numerous mounds, which have long ago disap-
peared, were found here in early days. About three years ago while
lower Douglas street was being graded down, an Indian's skeleton
was unearthed on the premises then owned and occupied by ex-coun-
cilman John Campbell, at the south-east corner of Eleventh and
Douglas streets. It was only a few months ago, while the workmen
were engaged in excavating for the foundation of the Third Ward
school house, at the south-east corner of Dodge and Eleventh
streets, that they dug up two Indian skeletons, with a lot of relics,
among which were numerous scalp rings, to which the hair still clung.
Skeletons have also been found outside of the limit above described,
but the evidence is sufficient to convince us that this is the spot
mentioned by Lewis and Clark.

Here then we have the bottom fact in Omaha's history— the foun-
dation on which we shall proceed to construct our fabric. We shall
now follow Lewis and Clark up the river for a short distance in
order to snatch from Council Bluffs some of her glory — to show that
she stole her name.

From the journal of Lewis and Clark we learn that they pro-
ceeded up stream, and on Augvist 3rd, in the morning, they held a
council with fourteen Ottoe (now spelled Otoe) and Missouri Indians,
who had come to the spot at sunset of the day before, accompanied
by a Frenchman, who resided among them, and who acted as inter-
preter for the council, which had previously been arranged by runners
sent out for the purpose.

At the appointed hour the Indians with their six chiefs, assembled
under an awning, formed with the mainsail of one of the boats, in
the presence of the exploring party, who were paraded for the oc-
casion. The change in the government, from France to the United
States, was announced to them, and they were promised protection.

///SJ()/n- OF OMAHA.

The six chiefs replied, each in his turn, according to rank, ex-
prcssint; iov and satisfaction al the ciiange. They wished to be
recommended to the great father, the President, tiiat they might
obtain supplies and facilities for trading. They wanted arms for
defence, and asked mediation between themselves and the Mahas,*
with whom they were at war.

Lew^is and Clark promised to fuUill the requests of the Indians,
and wanted some of them to accompany the expedition to the next
nation, but they declined to do so for fear of being killed. Numer-
ous presents were distributed among the Indians, and on account of
the incidents just related the explorers were induced to give the
place the name of the Council Bluff, the situation of which, as they
record it, was exceedingly favorable for a fort or a trading post.

Here we take leave of Lewis and Clark. The place of their
council — the Council Blutf — was about sixteen or eighteen miles in a
straight line north of Omaha, and about (oriy miles by the river — the
site of old VX.. Calhoun, and now the location of the village of
that name. It has been conclusively settled that this point was the
historical Council Bluffs. Father de Smet, the well known Jesuit
missionary, who was considered good authority concerning any ques-
tion about the Missouri river country, over which he had often
traveled, and who lived where Council Bluffs is now located, opposite
Omaha, in 1S3S and 1S39. in a letter to A. D. Jones, dated St. Louis,
December 9, 1S67, said in answer to some historical interrogatories,
that Ft. Calhoun took the name of Ft. Atkinson, which was built
on the very spot where the council was held by L"ewis and Clark,
and was the highest and first military post above the mouth of the
Nebraska or Platte river, t

* The Omahas are called the Mahas throughout the entire journal of Lewis and Clark^
as well as in all other early records. The "O" is a prefix of comparatively recent date,
t Ft. Atkinson was built in 1821, and was evacuated in 1827 or '28.


In answer to the inquiry of Mr. Jones, as to where old Ft.
Croghan was located, Father de Smet replied : " After the evacuation
of Ft. Atkinson or Calhoun, either in 1S27 or '28, or thereabouts, the
troops came down and made winter quarters on Cow Island — Captain
Labarge states it was called Camp Croghan. The next spring the
flood disturbed the soldiers and they came down and established
Ft. Leavenworth. Col. Leavenworth was commandant at the break-
ing up of Ft. Atkinson."

Mr. Jones also asked Father de Smet if he knew who built or
occupied the fortifications, the remains of which were (in 1868) on
the east bank of Omaha. Father de Smet says: "The remains
alluded to must be the site of the old trading post of Mr. Heart.
When it was in existence the Missouri River ran up to the trading
post. In 1832 the river left it, and since that time it goes by the
name of ' Heart's Cut-off,' having [leaving] a larj;e lake above
Council Bluff city."

Right here, in the above paragraph, we are made aware of the
interesting fact that the ever-shifting Missouri river ran close up to the
bluffs on the west side ; whereas, now the channel has changed its lo-
cation fully half a mile to the eastward — at least that far from the
foot of Douglas and Farnham streets, leaving between it and the
bluffs a vast tract of sandy bottoms, now occupied by lumber yards,
railroad tracks, the Union Pacific Shops and the Smelting Works.

These fortifications were near the junction of Capitol avenue and
Ninth street, and Dodge and Tenth streets. The well defined out-
lines of a fort, or some other kind of defensive works, were plainly
visible until obliterated by the government corral built there during
the war. This fort, as has been well maintained by A. D. Jones in
opposition to different opinions, was built by the Otoes for protection
against hostile tribes. Some have held that these now extinct forti-
fications were none other than old Ft. Croghan, indicated upon the

,^ in a TORT OF OMAHA.

early maps, hut Mr. Jones, who is the best authority in our opinion,
and he is sustained by numerous other old settlers beside himself, is
certain that Ft. Croghan was upon the east side of the river between
Council BlulYs and Trader's Point, the latter point, the original place
being no longer visible to the naked bye, having been washed away
by the Missouri.

Another inquiry which was propounded by Mr. Jones, who, while
secretary of the Omaha Old Settlers' Association in 1867-68, evidently
faithfully performed .lis duty and was frequently engaged in hunt-
ing up the records of the past, was : " Do you know of either soldiers
or Indians ever having resided on the Omaha plateau.?" Father de
Smet's answer was : " I do not know. A noted trader, by the name
of T. B. Roye, had a trading post from 1825 till 1828, established
on the Omaha plateau, and may be the first white man, who built
the first cabin, on the beautiful plateau, where now stands the
flourishing city of Omaha."








IGIIT here we wish to bring in a brief chapter of
Mormon history. The Mormons, driven to this
western country, came to Iowa, and finally, after
looking around for a short time, they all, with the
J^ exception of some stragglers, crossed the Missouri
river durmg the years 1S45 and 1846, and located a
settlement of over 15,000 people, six miles north of
Omaha, calling the place Winter Quarters, by which
name it went until seven or eight years afterwards, when it was
changed to Florence, which it has ever since been called.

The Indians in their neighborhood complained to their agent
that the Mormons were cutting too much timber, and they were
accordingly ordered off the land, which belonged to the redskins.
A large number of them then rccrossed the river to the Iowa side,
and temporarily settled in the ravines among the blufTs. An expedi-
tion, consisting of eighty wagons, witli four men to each wagon, was
sent westward to hunt up a permanent location. They stopped not
at any point, for any great length of time, till they arrived at Salt
Lake. The expeditionists were here charmed with the beauties of
the spot, and were pleased with its remoteness from their religious

1 6 /f/STOItr OF OMAHA.

por>fvutors. lla\iiii; iiuuic ;i scttloinent there, tliey sent back for
the reinaiiuior ol" tlio NToiinons. the most of wliom proceeded on
their pila;riinau;c \o ilic New Jerusalem — Salt Lake — between the
years iS^^ and iS6o. Nearly all their trains were started from
Florence. A few of the Mormons still reside at Florence, Omaha and
Council Jilurt's, but none of them practice polygamy.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryAlfred Rasmus SorensonEarly history of Omaha; or, Walks and talks among the old settlers: a series of sketches in the shape of a connected narrative of the events and incidents of early times in Omaha, together with a brief mention of the most important events of later years → online text (page 1 of 16)