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.
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
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.,
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,
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
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.
marching for a number of days, the Indians were overtaken. They were fully 5,000
strong, and belonged to three nations:
Omahas were friendly, the Poncas doubtful and the Pawnees hostile.
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
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.
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
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