In 1823, the Indian agency which had previously been established at Fort Calhoun, where Lewis and Clark held a council with the Indians, was removed to Bellevue, and was known in Government reports as the "Council Bluffs Indian Agency at Bellevue."
Traders for hundreds of miles north and west brought their furs to this post, where the Indians came to make their purchases and sit in council with the "pale face."
An attempt was made to foster civilization among native tribes, especially with the Omahas, Otoes and Pawnees. For this purpose, three blacksmith shops were established, as also other auxiliaries of civilized life, but with the usual result -- failure.
In 1846, the Presbyterian Board of Missions resolved to establish a post in the West, and the Rev. Edward McKinney was selected to choose a suitable point. He arrived in the fall of the same year, and, after careful observation, finally settled at Bellevue, where he erected a log house as his residence and headquarters.
In the following spring, Walter Lowrie, Secretary of the Board visited Bellevue, and formally located the mission. The building was begun at once and completed in 1848. A school was also established, and children of Omahas, Otoes, half-breeds and Poncas were taught the rudiments of elementary science by D. E. Reed, who arrived the same fall, and with the missionary and his family constituted the mission force.
Previous to this date, a school had been established some distance up the Platte, on Council Creek, by Messrs. Dunbar and Ellis, but, owing to the Indian hostility, was abandoned, and the agents returned to Bellevue, which place is also noted as being the Council Bluffs of 1848, a name afterward appropriated to a city opposite Omaha.
During the same year (1847), the Mormons made Sarpy's a rallying point for their final departure to the "promised land," and a company under the leadership of Brigham Young crossed the river between St. Mary's and Bellevue on a ferry-boat owned by Gen. Sarpy.
In 1849, the gold excitement attracted thousands on their way to the far Pacific, bringing much trade and giving an impetus to the growth of Bellevue.
In the fall of the same year, the "Nebraska Post Office: was established, but two years later the name was changed to Council Bluffs, to correspond with the name of the agency.
In 1852, Maj. Barrown, Col. Stephen Decatur and others conceived the idea of laying out a town, but it was not until February 9, 1854, that a company was organized for that purpose, and the agreement signed by the following named persons:
Isaiah N. Bennett
William R. English
James M. Galeswood
George T. Turner
P. J. McMahon
A. W. Hollister
A. C. Ford
These were the original proprietors of the town, and were known as the "Old Town Company." But there were no settlements in the West at that date to support a town, and the city proved to be an elephant on the hands of the incorporators. Most of the land owned by the company passed into other hands, and the company itself dissolved by the process of natural decay.
In July, 1854, the Indian title expiring by treaty, the town and surrounding country were opened to pioneers, and, in October following the Government officers appointed by President Pierce arrived.
These included Francis Burt, Governor, and T. B. Cuming, Secretary, the former surviving but ten days after his arrival, leaving the Territorial Government to be conducted by Mr. Cuming, who offered to locate the capital at Bellevue on the donation of one hundred acres of land, but the Rev. Mr. Hamilton, who had taken charge of the Presbyterian mission, refused, and the first Territorial Legislature, which convened at Omaha January 16, 1855, sealed the destiny of Bellevue in that connection.
Many new-comers were added daily to the town, prominent among whom were:
S. A. Strickland, who began the erection of the Benton House
W. W. Wiley
C. D. Keller
S. D. Bangs
Col. R. Lovejoy
H. T. Clarke
M. S. Martyn
C. E. Smith
J. A. Thompson
J. S. Allen
L. B. Kinney and others, not forgetting Esquire Griffin, who was the first Justice of the Peace in Bellevue.
In 1855, there was an Indian scare. It having been reported that the savages had stolen thirty head of horses, everybody turned out to hunt the thieves, armed with such weapons as they could obtain. The Bellevue and Omaha delegations met at Saling's Grove, and while they were deliberating upon the best plan of pursuit, the Indians actually stole seventy head of cattle near the mouth of the Platte, and escaped by the camp of the whites. Further pursuit was at once abandoned.
Until 1857, there was little to attract attention or emigration. In that year, Col. Benton established a steam ferry, and the county of Sarpy was created.
The county originally formed the south part of Douglas; but, by some "political necessity," it is said, was erected into a separate county by the Territorial Legislature of this year.
Source: Andreas History of Nebraska
No one living knows just when the first white men settled at Bellevue. The story has many times been told how Manuel Lisa climbed the sloping hills from the riverside where his boat lay moored and as his eye swept that wonderful panorama of forest, hill and river he exclaimed in French, “Bellevue;” that he then staked out his fur trader’s cabin in the valley below and thus began the first white settlement in our state. This was in the year 1810, so the story goes. Manuel Lisa himself left no writing to prove it and we know that Fort Lisa, his chief fur trading post, was twenty miles farther up the Missouri River. The old fur traders died long ago and the trees and hills about Bellevue which looked down upon their boats in the river tell no tales of these early “voyageurs.” The Astorians who passed up the river in 1811 made no mention of the trading post of Bellevue and the soldiers who built Fort Atkinson in 1819 on the Council Bluff twenty-five miles above are equally silent in regard to it.
The fur trading records first tell of Bellevue in 1823. There was then a fur trading post and an Indian agency, called the Council Bluffs Indian Agency, at Bellevue. The Omahas, Otoes and Pawnees came there to trade. It was easier for the fur traders and Indians to meet at Bellevue than at any other post on the river. The smooth valley of the Platte made a natural pathway; the rock foundation of the hills sloping to the riverside made a natural landing place for boats; wood and water were at hand; and the beautiful view down the valley where the Platte and Missouri mingle their waters among forested islands added to the other attractions. When the soldiers abandoned Fort Atkinson in 1827 and marched away, Bellevue became the chief post and the oldest town in fact as well as in story of the Nebraska country. The first of these honors she retained through all the fur trading years and the second remains hers today.
Bellevue was the stopping place of the early adventurers, trappers, travelers, missionaries and soldiers who came to this region. The early names in our annals cluster about Bellevue. Peter A. Sarpy, Henry Fontenelle, Price Maximilian, George Catlin, John C. Fremont, Professor Hayden, J. Sterling Morton, Brigham Young, each halted at this hospitable lodge in the wilderness. The Indians of the Platte valley brought hither their furs. Missionaries made here their first attempt to civilize and Christianize Nebraska. When steamboats began to make regular trips up the Missouri, Bellevue was one of the principal landing places. In 1846 the Presbyterian Church fixed on Bellevue as the site of its principal mission to the western Indians and in 1848 the old mission building standing today was built. Here came the first governor to the Nebraska territory in 1854 and here the first newspaper, the Nebraska Palladium, was printed. All the signs then pointed to Bellevue as a future great metropolis of the Platte valley.
Then came disaster after disaster to Bellevue’s fond hopes and aspirations. The capital was located at Omaha. The Pacific Railroad left a natural crossing at Bellevue and a natural roadway up the valley of the Platte to find a more difficult crossing and longer route through Omaha. Sarpy county was created with Bellevue as the county seat, but even this distinction was carried off by the new town of Papillion in 1875.
Bellevue still stands by the riverside, the oldest town in Nebraska. Her early ambitions have been blighted but a wonderful compensation for their loss is hers. Hers is still the most beautiful site upon the river. No noise of factories or warehouses, no crowding of jealous poverty and sordid wealth within her borders, no ugly skyscrapers blot out her landscape. No clamor and rivalry of the market place disturb her visions. She is still Old Bellevue, with all the glory and romance and early dreams of old Nebraska gathered within her borders. She is now and forever will remain the center of interest for all those who love the story of Nebraska’s early days, and the keeper of Nebraska’s earliest memories and traditions for all time.
[Source: History and Stories of Nebraska, by Addison Erwin Sheldon, 1914]