Richardson County - Genealogy Trails

 

 

 

John B. Didier

 

 

 

 

The distinction of being the oldest living pioneer of Richardson County, without question, belongs to John B. Didier, of Barada precinct, who may also have a claim as just, covering southeastern Nebraska.

 

He came to this locality, settling on his farm in section 3, in township 3, north of range 16, sixty-three years ago, or in 1854, when it was only a vast stretch of wild plains, inhabited only by Indians and wild animals.

 

There were a few others who came to this county as early, but they have long since died. He has lived to take part in the many wonderful changes here and talks interestingly of the early days and hardships incident thereto.

 

Mr. Didier is a native of France, where he was born on December 25th, 1827. He was a son of Prof. John B. Didier, a man of learning and for many years a professor in the schools of France.

 

The younger John B. Didier grew to manhood in his native land and there received a good education. He crossed the Atlantic in a sailing vessel in 1847 and located in the city of Cincinnati, where he was employed as a clerk in a large store for a time.

 

In 1849 he came to St. Louis, Missouri, carrying with him a letter of introduction to one of the leading merchants there at that time. He was given a position by this firm for whom he worked for a year, when he was sent among the Indians of Missouri, with whom he traded for a year.

 

In 1852 he was sent to take charge of a store owned by the firm on the North Platte, three miles south of Ft. Laramie, Wyoming, which store was established by P. Chouteaux, one of the most prominent merchants in St. Louis in the early days.

 

Later, on account of trouble with the Indians, the post was discontinued, but not until a battle took place between the United States soldiers and an immense band of Indians. The soldiers were nearly all exterminated as the odds were greatly against them, there being only forty-seven of the soldiers against some three hundred of the redskins.

 

All of Mr. Didier's assistants fled from the post at the first sign of trouble, he alone remaining, notwithstanding the danger. He considered his first duty was to guard the property of his employers and, returning, reported the loss of the store, for which the company was later reimbursed by the government in the sum of thirty-seven thousand dollars.

 

After settling up with the company he left St. Louis some two months later, coming to St. Joseph, Missouri, on a steamboat, and from there made his way overland to Richardson County, where he took one, hundred and twenty acres of land, which place still constitutes his home.

 

It was wild land, upon which no white man had ever trod and to be of service had to be cleared and broken up and in due time made into the well-improved, comfortable and productive home he now enjoys in his declining years.

 

He had no neighbors and endured all the privations incident to life on the then frontier, when neighbors were few and trading centers remote. His closest trading point was St. Joseph, Missouri, which he must reach by an overland journey and as he says, when he came to it there was but one place on the town site and that owned by a fellow Frenchman, Joseph Robidioux, where he could obtain supplies, the latter being the founder of what is now a metropolis.

 

Mr. Didier was six years in the county before he saw a steamboat on the Missouri and seventeen years before the railroad made its appearance in the south part of the county.

 

He has remained on his place continuously until the present time, witnessing all the changes, the erection of Nebraska as a territory, the first attempt at a county government, the scramble and bitter fight of fifteen years duration over the location of the county seat, which embittered many of the early settlers for years afterward, the use of oxen in the fields in this county, the cradle for harvesting the grain, the coming of the steamboat, the prairie schooner, the railroad, the building up of towns and now the automobile and aeroplane.

 

He left his native home twenty-three years before the war of 1870 and has lived to see it again engaged in a death grapple with its ancient enemy, Germany.

 

He has resided as long continuously on one farm as any man in the state and, in fact, was one of the first white settlers in Richardson County.

 

Mr. Didier was married in Brownville, Nebraska, in 1855 by Judge Whitney, to Marie Pineau. a half-breed Indian maiden, the daughter of Louis Pineau, a French-Canadian, who was a post trader at Ft.Laramie, where his death occurred.

 

The death of Mrs. Marie Didier occurred in 1908. She was the mother of eight children.

 

Mr. Didier is now in his ninetieth year, and is still hale and hearty, having lived an abstemious and upright life—one calculated to lead to longevity. He is widely known throughout the county and his record is that of a public-spirited, industrious and honorable citizen.

 

Politically, he is a Democrat, but he had never sought public office or leadership, being content to live quietly in the Barada hills he loved so well.

 

Besides being the oldest living pioneer of this county, John B. Didier can lay claim to being the last of those still among the living who witnessed the Indian fight at Ft. Laramie in territorial days.

 

The clash between the soldiers and the Indians occurred on August 19th, 1854, and was the result of a dispute which arose over a lame cow, which was the property of some Mormon immigrants, a large number of whom thronged the Oregon trail en route to Utah at that time.

 

The Indians, who were a part of the Brule, Ogallala and Miniconjon Sioux, numbering between a thousand and fifteen hundred, were encamped south of Ft. Laramie, between the trading posts of the American Fur Company which at that time was in charge of James Bordeaux and that of P. Chouteaux, Jr., & Company, which was in charge of John B. Didier.

 

In relating the story, Mr. Didier says the Indians, with whom he was on the best of terms, claimed that the animal in question had strayed from the immigrant train and had wandered into their camp, where it was killed by one of the young members of the tribe. The owner of the cow, a Mormon, upon learning what had happened, at once appeared at the post at Ft. Laramie and calling upon the commandant in charge, made claims for the loss of the cow.

 

On the following day, Brevet Second Lieutenant John Grattan appeared at the Chouteaux trading post with, as Mr. Didier says, a company of forty-two soldiers belonging to Company G of the Sixth Regiment of Infantry, having with them two howitzers and small arms, and were on their way to demand satisfaction from the Indians.

 

Mr. Didier, well knowing the disposition of the Indians, pleaded with the officer to desist from attack, pointing out how greatly the Indians outnumbered his little band. The undertaking seemed foolhardy to Mr. Didier, and he says he can explain it in no other way than that the officer and his men were drinking, or might have been under the influence of liquor. He inquired, asking Grattan, what he intended to do, and the latter replied that he "was going to give the Indians h—11." Mr. Didier says he knew it would be suicide for the soldiers and advised as much, but was powerless to interfere.

 

A demand was made upon the Indians to surrender up the members of the tribe responsible for the killing of the cow, which they as promptly refused to do.

 

Receiving this reply, the howitzers were brought into play as well as the small arms, resulting in the killing of one of the Indians. If the demonstration had been planned to cower the Indians, it failed most signally of that purpose, for they at once fell upon the small detachment in force and in a few moments the entire band was wiped out with one exception, and this one shortly after succumbed to his injuries.

 

Word of the extermination of the soldiers was quickly carried to the fort, and a lone messenger was at once dispatched to the trading posts, advising those in charge to repair to the fort for protection, as it was thought the Indians would kill and pillage the French traders.

 

Mr. Didier received the message, but like the other French traders, from long association, had no fear of violence from the Indians. He says they did appear at his post within a short time and helped themselves to whatever they cared to remove, but in no way molested his person.

 

Mr. Didier was an eye-witness to the fight from first to last and says it was as most unnecessary and should never have happened; that the soldiers bungled the affair badly, and that from his conversation with the Indian chiefs the affair could have easily been settled without resort to arms, if the soldiers would have accepted remuneration for the dead animal and not have demanded that the Indians guilty of the slaughter and theft be turned over to them.

 

 In this position he is borne out in a similar report made by the other French traders. It is not recorded that the Mormon ever got any return for the cow, which had been the cause of so much trouble and the loss of so many lives.

 

 

 

History of Richardson County, Nebraska

It’s People, Industries and Institutions - 1917

 

 

 

 

 

 

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