The Indian life is such an
important part of Nebraska history that we must give a brief sketch of the main
The Omaha, Oto and Missouri,
Pawnee, various tribes of the Dakota or Sioux; with the Cheyenne and Arapaho,
of a roving disposition, in the extreme southwest, were the original or
domestic Indians of Nebraska.
The Santee Sioux and the Winnebago were
brought here not long ago.
The Dakota or Sioux, were the
most numerous of all the tribes and groups mentioned, but they did not all live
The Pawnee were the largest
strictly Nebraska tribe.
The Oto and Missouri occupied the
southeast; the Omaha, the northeast; the Pawnee the central part; and the Sioux
So far as we know the Pawnee were the first of
our Indians to see white men. It is probable that a company of them, from the
southeastern part of what is now known as Nebraska, visited Coronado while he
was in Quivira.
The Pawnee house was an earthen
lodge and was dedicated with great religions ceremonies. They believed in a
great power called Father and the winds, thunder, lightning and rain were his
They cultivated the ground and
raised corn, beans and other vegetables, but hunting was one of their sources
of food, a Chief governing the hunt, who saw that each family had its share of
the animals killed.
Their home was in the Platte
Valley and they never made war on the United States, but the great trails
crossed their country and contact with the immigrants changed their customs and
life, as they suffered much from the depredations of the white man, who
destroyed their crops and stole their horses.
They were divided into tribes
based on village communities, each village having its name, it altars, its
sacred objects and priests.
A council of leading men of character
and ability governed them and each chief had a crier who called out orders and
other matters of interest.
They were reduced by sickness
and hostile tribes from ten thousand in 1836 to six hundred and forty-nine in
In 1876 they gave up their
reservation, which was all the land they had left in Nebraska, and received a
new reservation in the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
The Dakotas or Sioux were a very
warlike tribe and caused great trouble with emigrants.
There were many battles with the
Indians notable among them the Grattan massacre, Ash Hollow where General
Harney defeated a large body of Indians, and the Custer massacre, in 1876, which
practically ended Indian warfare.
Forts Kearney, McPherson and
Sedgwick, were established for the protection of the frontier.
In 1865 Julesburg, near Fort
Sedgwick, was burned by a large body of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians.
The Sioux were always at war with
the Omaha’s, who occupied the northeast part of the state and finally the Omaha’s
reduced by smallpox and war left their homes and gathered around Bellevue where
they had the protection of the white men.
Here they became connected with a French family by the name of
Fontanelle through the marriage of one of their maidens to Lucien Fontanelle,
who bore him four sons and a daughter. One of the sons, Logan, afterwards
became a chief of the Omaha tribe.
Lucien Fontenelle was descended
from the old nobility of France, and lived in New Orleans with an aunt, Madam
Mercier, and because of a severe reprimand ran away from home when he was
seventeen, going to St Louis and afterwards to Bellevue, Nebraska, where he
became active in the fur trade.
After several years Lucien
visited his family in New Orleans, but was so changed in appearance, looking
like the Indians with whom he lived that they refused to accept him until an
old Negro mammy recognized him by a mark on his body. He endeavored to induce his family to take
his children but they indignantly refused to have anything to do with them and
on his way back to Nebraska from this visit, he sickened and died, leaving his
children in the care of Father De Smet, who saw they were educated in Catholic
In 1854 the Omaha tribe ceded to
the United States all their land, except what has since been called the Omaha
Reservation, the same spot where Lewis and Clark found them in 1804, and to
which they were ordered to remove from Bellevue.
Logan Fontenelle, their chief,
protested. It would be suicidal to
attempt to take his people away from the protection of the white man and throw
them among the hostile Sioux around their reservation. The government insisted,
however, and soon after Logan Fontenelle while on a hunting expedition, with a
number of his followers, was killed on Beaver Creek by the arrows of a party of
Sioux who were in ambush.
His followers carried his body to the bluffs
above Bellevue and buried it near the graves of his father and mother.
The Omaha tribe lives on its
reservation, and a daughter of Logan Fontenelle, Mrs. Tyndall was recently a
guest at the beautiful hotel Fontenelle, built by the citizens of Omaha in
1915, and named in honor of the Chief who did so much for his people.
Over forty of his tribe came to a
banquet given at the hotel and showed evidence of civilization and prosperity,
many coming down in their automobiles,—a far cry from the old Indian travois or
poles tied to the sides of the ponies, and the wigwam where they sat in a
circle on the floor at meal time.
Once Upon A Time in Nebraska
Second Edition, Omaha,