State of Nebraska - Genealogy Trails








      At the time of the now famous expedition of Lewis and Clarke, which was organized in 1803, but which did not start on its tour of exploration until May, 1804, the Indian nations living in what is now Nebraska, were the Missouris, Otoes, Omahas, and the Pawnees.

      There were several other tribes, however, within the present limits of the State. Since the organization of the Territory in 1854, no tribes have made their headquarters, or have had any villages within what is now Washington County.

      There were a few Omahas remaining in the county until 1855, when they moved on to their present reservation in "Blackbird" County.<

      The last Indian who died in the county was an Omaha chief by the name of Big Elk, who died and was buried in 1854, near Fort Calhoun.

      The early history of the county is not devoid of interesting events, in connection with the Red Men who performed a very conspicuous part.

      The first important event of the kind that we will mention, was the celebrated council held at Fort Calhoun, near the present southern boundary of the county, between Captains Lewis and Clarke on the one side, and a deputation of six chiefs from the Missouris and Otoes on the other. This council was held August 3, 1804, and established friendly relations between the expedition and the Indian nations represented there.

      That this council was actually held on the present site of Fort Calhoun, is now generally conceded, though the early settlers of Council Bluffs, Iowa, endeavored to show that it was held where their city now stands.

      In 1819 the Government established Fort Atkinson, afterward Fort Calhoun, on this same spot of ground.

      The fort was abandoned as a military post in 1827. The following is submitted in evidence that Fort Calhoun occupies the place of meeting between Lewis and Clarke and the Indian chiefs.

      It is an extract from a letter written by Father De Smet, bearing date December 9, 1867, in reply to a letter of inquiry by N. Ramsey, Secretary of the Historical Society, of St. Louis. Father De Smet writes:

      "During the years 1838 and 1839, I resided opposite what is now called the city of Omaha. In 1839 I stood on the bluff on which the old fort was built in 1819; some rubbish and remains of the fort were then visible, and some remaining roots of asparagus were still growing in the old garden.

      Fort Atkinson was located where now stands the town of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska Territory, about sixteen miles in a straight line above the city of Omaha, and forty miles by river. Mr. Cabanne's trading post was six miles by land below Fort Atkinson, and ten miles by land above where now stands Omaha City. I met Captains Joseph and John La Barge, and proposed the question of the former site of Fort Atkinson, in order to test the accuracy of my memory, and they confirmed it in every particular."

      The next event of importance in the history of the county with which the Indians were connected, was the "Pawnee War."

      This war occurred in the summer of 1859. At this time the Pawnee Indians occupied two villages on the south side of the Platte, about twelve miles south of Fontenelle, a small village in the western part of the county, about fifteen miles directly west of Blair, the present county seat.

      This "war" was caused by the robbing of Uriah Thomas, who was living alone in a little log hut at some distance from any other house, and about twelve miles north of Fontenelle.

      They took from him his pocket-book containing $136, a package of valuable papers, including land warrants, drank up all his whiskey, and drove off a fine yoke of oxen, leaving him locked up in his cabin. After a short time Mr. Thomas managed to liberate himself and give the alarm.

      In a few days afterward the people living at West Point, thirty miles to the northwest of Fontenelle, and DeWitt, six miles further up the Elkhorn, came down to Fontenelle in a body, and reported that the Pawnees in passing through their section of country, divided themselves into marauding bands, committed numerous depredations upon the settlers, burning their dwellings, destroying their furniture, driving off their stock, etc., in true Indian style.

      A body of armed men were soon in pursuit, and reached West Point about the middle of the afternoon. Having found no Indians, and just to return to Fontenelle, a scout reported a small body of Indians crossing the river about a mile away.

      Arrangements were immediately made to capture them. The plan, however failed, and as theIndians ran toward the river, they were fired upon.   Two or three killed and one wounded and captured.

      News of the killing of the Indians spread like wildfire throughout the Territory, and the entire country was ablaze with excitement. It was generally believed that a war of extermination would at once be inaugurated by the Pawnees against the outlying settlements.

      The few militia companies then organized were ordered by Governor Black to prepare themselves to move at a moment's notice.

      The settlers along the Elkhorn flocked to Fontenelle, which village assumed the appearance of a military camp.  The growing crops suffered much damage from neglect, ammunition and arms were collected, blunderbusses and sabers were furbished up, and everything made ready for an anticipated attack by the savages, 10,000 of whom were reported to be on the war path, arrayed in the most ferocious kinds of war paint and feathers.

      The savages failed to appear, and as a force of about 200 men had now gathered in and about Fontenelle, it was determined to cross the Elkhorn, attack the Indians wherever they might be found, and administer to them a lesson they would never forget..

      Governor Black accompanied the expedition and was its commander-in-chief

      In direct command was Col. Thayer

      William Kline was Captain of the company from Fontenelle
      James A. Bell, First Lieutenant
      William Flack, Second Lieutenant

      Captain Hazen commanded the Fremont company

      J. J. Turton, that from North Bend

      Peter Reed that from Richland

      Captain Bob Howard commanded the Omaha gun squad

      Lieutenant Robinson, fifty United States dragoons

      The late Gen. Samuel B. Curtis accompanied the expedition, but took no active part in its management.

      After marching for a number of days, the Indians were overtaken. They were fully 5,000 strong, and belonged to three nations:


      The Omahas were friendly, the Poncas doubtful and the Pawnees hostile.

      However, upon discovering the proximity of the expedition, fear seemed suddenly to take possession of the Indians (except the Omahas), and they made the most strenuous efforts to escape.

      After a time they were brought together, about 2,000 of them, and a parley ensued. They were given their choice of:

      Giving up the braves who had been engaged in the burning and depredations about West Point

      Pay the expenses of the expedition out of certain moneys due them from the Government


      They chose the former, surrendered seven young braves, and signed an agreement authorizing the keeping back from certain moneys due them from the Government, an amount sufficient to defray the expenses of the expedition.

      Having arrived at an amicable agreememt, white men and Indians separated. the soldiers to return home with his prisoners  - the tribes to roam at will over the territory.

      It so happened that the course of the returning expedition was past the camp of the Indians, some of whom came out to see it pass. Among them was a squaw, whose brave was one of the prisoners who was tied behind a wagon, being led away to captivity and punishment. This squaw rushed among them and gave her brave a knife, with which he stabbed himself in the chest, falling heavily to the ground.

      While the guards were attending to the wants of the supposed dying man, she again seized the knife and cut the rope which bound the prisoners, all of whom, except the wounded brave, sprang away like a flash, followed by all the guards, save one, firing upon the fugitives as they ran. The guards who had pursued the escaped prisoners soon returned, and reported that they had either killed or wounded the six that had escaped.

      The expedition resumed its march, taking with them the self-wounded brave, who had failed in an attempt to escape, and soon reached Columbus, where they were formally disbanded.

      The Government paid to the Indians all that was due them, and the expedition had its own expenses to pay.

      Thus ending the "Pawnee War."








        Source:  Andreas History of Washington County