The Birth of a State - Nebraska - Part 1
From: York County, Nebraska and its people
T. E. Sedgwick, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1921



The history of Nebraska naturally begins with the history of the United States, or even to take the point still finer, with the history of the Continent. Wherever each individual student of history will agree that the history of the United States begins, there might we begin the history of Nebraska. But it is unnecessary to consume pages of the earlier history of our Nation. But there are a few events preceding the actual formation of Nebraska into a territory, or even preceding' the first encroachment of the white man upon the native possessor of this vast, fertile empire, The American Indian.


When Christopher Columbus dared to adventure where others feared to go, and by his single voyage revealed to the astonished gaze of Europe the existence of undreamed lands of wonder and beauty, he welded the first link in a chain of explorations and discoveries that paved the way for the great Middle West of America, and the garden spot we love to call Nebraska. So to trace the evolution of Nebraska, we will briefly dwell upon the more important of these events.

By striking from the enslaved and paralyzed mind of the Eastern Hemisphere, and banishing the chains of fear and ignorance, Columbus opened up to the descendants of European peoples the fertile plains of Nebraska just as much as any other part of the United States.

In 1493, the year following, the pope granted to the King and Queen of Spain "all countries inhabited by infidels." Of course, at that time the extent of the great continent discovered by Columbus was not known, but, in a vague way, the papal grant included Nebraska. Of course, other voyagers had traversed the Atlantic and in recent years, conflicting claims have been made, tending to bestow the honor of discovering this hemisphere upon other explorers than Columbus, but to all of these hardy, daring pioneers belong the honor of opening to the world the great country.

1493-1500. About 1496, Henry VII of England, granted to John Cabot and his sons a patent of possession and trade to "all lands they may discover and claim in the name of the English crown." Between then and the end of that century, the Cabots explored the Atlantic Coast and made discoveries upon which England claimed practically all of the central part of North America.

1500-1539. Further northward, the French, through the discoveries of Jacques Cartier, laid claim to the valley of the St. Lawrence River and the region about the Great Lakes, from which they pushed their explorations westward toward the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and southward into the valley of the Ohio.

None of these expeditions yet affected the Missouri River region, but they laid the foundations for the struggle that opens American history, wherein three great nations - England, France and Spain - were contesting for this new "garden plot of the world." The people of all western Europe had been enmeshed throughout the fifteenth century in the feudal ideas handed down to them from centuries preceding. During the early sixteenth century, they began to emerge from this enveloping worship of the few, and for the first time since the modern Europe had arisen from the fragments of the Roman Empire were its governments coming into the hands of able rulers. The common people of each country were beginning to think for themselves along the currents that evolved the influences and motives that from one to three hundred years later drove their descendants across the broad Atlantic and impelled them half way across the undeveloped Western Continent to the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri valleys.

In November, 1519, Hernando Cortez, with a strong force of Spanish soldiery, entered Mexico, captured Montezuma, the "Mexican Emperor," and after a two years' war succeeded in establishing Spanish supremacy. Cortez soon afterwards fell into disfavor with Spanish authorities, but he had planted the seeds of Spanish supremacy. This event is in a way far removed from Nebraska's direct history, but the stamp of Spain which he and his companions placed upon the western hemisphere made itself felt in the earlier history of Nebraska and her neighbor states.

The Spaniards maintained their government over the Mexican region by military governors until in 1580, when Antonio de Mendoza was appointed viceroy, with almost unlimited powers. He was known as the "good viceroy." Under Mendoza and his successors, many Indians were converted to the Catholic faith and exploration and settlement were pushed northward into Texas, New Mexico and California.

1541-2. Hernando De Soto and his expedition came into the interior of the United States. He had left Cuba, of which he was governor, on May 12, 1539, with about one thousand men, for the purpose of exploring the interior of Florida. Like all Spanish explorers, his chief object was to find rich mines of precious metals. He wandered on until he came to the Mississippi River in the spring of 1541. He died on his way to the Spanish settlements in Mexico, but his name has lived as the discoverer of the lower Mississippi, and upon the report made by those of his expedition who returned to Florida, Spain claimed "all the land bordering on the Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico."


1541. But it was from the far southland came the first adventurers who came near enough, if not actually upon Nebraskan soil, to bring the white man's story up to this vicinity. It fell to the lot of the romantic Spaniard to shed poetic glamour over the first pages of Nebraska history. It was the far famed expedition of Cavalier Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, which left Compostela, Mexico, on February 23, 1540, and reached "the 40th degree of latitude" according to tradition, in 1541. A wanderer, called "Stephen the Moor" who returned from a search in the Sierra Mountains and the plains of what is now western United States, with stories of the "seven cities of Cibola" started the quest in Coronado's heart. Coronado left with 300 Spanish soldiers and 800 natives. Three accounts of his famed expedition, one by himself, one by his lieutenant, Jaramillo, and the third by a private soldier named Castaneda, all agree that they reached the seven cities of the fables, but found only seven insignificant villages. Chagrined by the failure of his prospects, Coronado, instead of returning, pushed forward. The winter of 1540-1 was spent in fierce warfare with Indian tribes, and upon those vanquished, the story of Spanish cruelty burns into American Indian history, a sad chapter against the Christian conquerors. At this juncture an Indian warrior appeared before Coronado with a strange story about "the great kingdom of Quivera" many leagues to the northeast. It was pictured as a wonderful land, "with its river seven miles wide, in which fishes large as horses were found; its immense canoes; its trees hung with golden bells, and dishes of solid gold." This remarkable tale had its effect on the Spaniards, who took the bait, and were led some 700 miles away into the wild interior. In July the expedition, which had been simmered down to thirty picked men before it left the Texan country, reached a group of tepee villages near the border line between Kansas and Nebraska. Coronado, satisfied at last that he had been duped by his guide, hanged that unfortunate to a tree on the banks of a stream which may have been the Republican or the Blue, in Nebraska. Farther to the north, he was told, was another large stream, presumably the Platte. But no records are left to show that he approached this river any nearer. But thus far, it is known, that he turned eastward, marching until he reached the banks of a "large tributary of the Mississippi," no doubt the Missouri. And there he set up a cross with the inscription: "Thus far came Francisco de Coronado, General of an Expedition."

Much discussion has ensued as to whether Coronado ever really set foot upon Nebraska soil. Judge James W. Savage, whose interesting paper upon this subject is published in the Nebraska State Historical Society Report, of 1880, argues that Coronado could not have failed to reach the Platte or at least the Republican in Nebraska. Coronado's own record that he reached the 40th latitude may have placed him north of the Kansas line or may not have. It is the consensus of opinion among students of this question that the Quivera Indians were probably the Wichitas that the true site of "Quivera" is probably in the valley of the Kansas River in the vicinity of Fort Riley.

In any event, when Coronado turned his back to this portion of the United States, the darkness of barbarism settled down for more than another century.

1599. Don Juan de Onate led an expedition from New Mexico, which is reputed to have reached Quivera, in 1599. He described his arrival at the City of Quivera, "which is on the north bank of a wide and shallow river." If the conjecture that this is the Platte River is correct, a battle he described with the Escanzaques would have been upon Nebraska soil. But not much credence is placed in this romantic story, and no permanent effect was left upon Nebraska history, to say the least.

1662. This was the year of the mythical expedition of Don de Penalosa, called the "Duke of Penelosa." He is reputed to have come upon a war party of the Escanzaques, in that summer, "near a wide and rapid river." These Indians were reputed to live near the 40th latitude, and his story of a village, situated in the vicinity of the Platte River, with thousands of houses, circular in shape, some two to even four stories in height, is not credited seriously in Nebraska history.


Spain had made no direct effort to civilize the vast region she already laid claim to by right of discovery. But France and England, in the meantime, were becoming rivals for the affections and possession of these new fields of conquest. England was establishing herself along the Atlantic Coast and her adventurous progress did not touch this central western region yet. But France was gaining a foothold on Quebec and pushing her hold up the St. Lawrence River.

The first men to enter upon a systematic exploration of the vast region of which Nebraska is a part were the Jesuits, or members of the Society of Jesus, a famous religious society founded by Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish knight of the sixteenth century.

1611. As early as 1611, the Jesuit missionaries from the French settlement in Canada were among the Indians who inhabited the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Like the Cortez Spanish explorations, this was too far away to affect Nebraska directly, but was paving the way for the oncoming attention.

1665. Claude Allouez, one of the most zealous of these Jesuit fathers, visited the Indians in the vicinity of Ashland Bay, on Lake Superior, and held a conference with a number of tribes. In 1668, Allouez and another missionary, Father Claude Dablon, founded the mission of St. Mary's, the oldest white settlement within the present state of Michigan. The next step forward was a council at St. Mary's in 1671, led by Nicholas Perrot. In that same year, Father Jacques Marquette, another Jesuit missionary, founded the mission at Point St. Ignace, for the benefit of the Huron Indians, a point regarded for years as the key to the then unexplored West.

On May 17, 1673, Marquette, with Louis Joliet, a young fur trader, set out on a perilous undertaking. After a month of steady pushing forward, paddling in canoes along the swift currents of unknown streams, and threading their way through dense forests, on June 17th they reached the mouth of the Wisconsin, near the present site of Dubuque, Iowa. They drifted on down the Mississippi, past the mouth of the Missouri, and on down to the mouth of the Ohio. They brought the emblazoned trail of travel a little closer to the unlocked bosoms of the Nebraska prairies.

1682. But it remained for another intrepid Frenchman to complete the work left unfinished by Marquette and Joliet, and take formal possession of Louisiana in the name of the King of France.

The history of Nebraska is most generally and properly reputed to really begin with the voyage of this heroic La Salle in 1682. Before that, this sequence of events has read more like a romance: from then on, it begins to clothe itself in the practical garments of reality and avowed purposes. Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, commissioned to continue the explorations of Marquette and Joliet, "find a port for the King's ships in the Gulf of Mexico, discover the western parts of New France, and find a way to penetrate Mexico," discharged at least a major portion of his assignment. Suffice it to say that on April 8, 1682, La Salle and his lieutenant, Henri Tonti, passed through two of the channels at the mouth of the Mississippi, leading to the Gulf of Mexico, and set up his wooden column, on which had been inscribed the following: "Louis the Great, King of France and of Navarre, King, April 9, 1682." Thus the great basin of the Mississippi came under the scepter of Louis XIV, and standing on that delta of the river, La Salle called into existence the great territory of Louisiana, and Nebraska became a dependency of France. The vast territory of the northwest plains, peopled then only by savage Indian tribes, the abode of buffalo and other wild animals, received its first semblance of organized, political government.

French explorations and expansion continued for almost a century following. In April, 1689, Nicholas Perrot took formal possession of the upper Mississippi Valley, and built a fort and trading post. Antoine Crozat, under a charter given in 1712, combatted for five years with Spanish authorities to make good France's claim to lower Louisiana. He was succeeded by the Mississippi Company, which was organized by John Law as a branch of the Bank of France. In 1720, Law's schemes of colonization failed, and are known to history as the "Mississippi Bubble." Pierre and Paul Mallet, of New Orleans, in 1738, with other Frenchmen, ascended the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and spent the winter near the mouth of the Niobrara.

The English in the meantime had not been idle. In 1620 the British Crown had ignored the Spanish papal grant and the explorations of De Soto, and issued to the Plymouth Company a charter including "all the lands between the fortieth and forty eighth parallels of north latitude from sea to sea." As the fortieth latitude is the southern boundary of Nebraska, this grant, by implication at least, included the present state of Nebraska. In 1868, the Massachusetts Bay Company received a charter to a strip about one hundred miles wide from "sea to sea," which if it could have been surveyed would have found the northern boundary almost coincident with Nebraska's northern boundary, and its southern boundary would have crossed the Missouri River about twenty miles above the present city of Omaha. Conflicting claims continued, until the French and Indian war materially changed the map of North America. But even after that, many people refused to submit to England's claim to territory lying outside of the boundaries of the territory she then claimed supremacy over, and came on westward and settled within the French and Spanish territory. The capture of these British posts of the Northwest was eventually the cause of the western boundary of the United States being fixed at the Mississippi River by the Treaty of 1783, which ended the Revolutionary war and established the Independence of the United States.


The viceroys who ruled over the vast territory of New France in central America, may be said indirectly to be the first governmental administrators over this part of the continent from which Nebraska eventually sprang. The dates of these administrations were:

Robert, Cavalier de La Salle


Marquis de Sanville




Laniothe Cadillar


De L'Epinay








Baron de Kelerec




At this point, France was compelled by force of military necessity to yield to Spain her title to Louisiana. So for almost forty years, the administration of this region passed into Spanish hands, until in 1803, when the territory passed under the flag of the United States. The Spanish governors of that period were:

Antonio de Ulloa


Alexander O'Reilly


Louis de Unzago


Bernardo de Galvez


Estevar Miro


Francisco Luis Hortu, Baron of Carondelet


Gayoso de Lemos


Sebastian de Casa, Calvo y O'Farrel


Jean Manual de Salcedo


Despite the fact that France had regained possession of Louisiana on October 1, 1800, Governor Salcedo remained until the United States took formal possession.


Immediately after American acquisition of this vast territory, men's minds began to turn to the Northwest and the great possibilities of this virtually unknown region. It was indeed a tremendous acquisition to the territory of the young republic. It more than doubled the previous land area of the United States. In round numbers it exceeded 883,000 square miles. In addition to the State of Louisiana, out of this territory there have been carved the states of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North and South Dakota, two thirds of Minnesota, one third of Colorado, and three fourths of Wyoming. When it came to the United States, its entire population did not exceed five thousand souls, nearly one half of whom were slaves. In 1810, the first federal census showed a population of twenty thousand of who one half were still negro slaves. Now it has a population, in 1920, of around fifteen million


1804. When Jefferson negotiated the purchase of this vast region, it was an almost unknown land except to Indians, traders, hunters and some French priests. Mention has already been made of some few visitors to this Nebraska region among the French missionaries and explorers. Pierre and August Chouteau, brothers engaged in the fur trade, are known to have passed beyond the forks of the Platte away back in 1762. No doubt other traders, whose visit did not reach the recorded pages of history, likewise temporarily sojourned in this Nebraska area prior to 1804. But that date marks the real beginning of opening this part of the western country up to eastern attention.

The Lewis and Clark expedition left St. Louis on the 14th of May, 1804, and spent two whole years exploring the great purchase. This party, consisting of nine young men from Kentucky, fourteen soldiers of the United States army who volunteered their services, two French watermen, an interpreter and hunter, and a black servant belonging to Captain Clark, and several other members set forth. They came in sight of the present Nebraska on the afternoon of July 11, 1804, and camped opposite the mouth of the big Nemaha.

This party recorded 556 miles of river front for Nebraska in 1804, and their journals furnish the first detailed report upon this region, and served materially in familiarizing the East with this vast region and its unlimited resources, and paved the way for commercial ventures that followed soon thereafter.

Lack of space will forbid going into detail concerning the brave work accomplished by Lieut. William Clark and Capt. Meriwether Lewis, and their immediate successors.

1805. This year brought the first known settlement upon Nebraska soil. Manuel Lisa, a wealthy Spaniard, with a party in search of trading grounds, reached the lands north of the Platte. The beauty of the spot caused him to exclaim "Bellevue," which name was given to the spot. A trading post was established at Bellevue, and we have now reached the point of first settlements.

1806. In this year, Gen. James Wilkinson, then commander in chief of the United States army and also governor of the territory of Louisiana, sent forth the expedition of Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, which resulted in the discovery of Pike's Peak, in Colorado. It has been somewhat a subject of controversy whether this party, in its travel along a route somewhat south of the Platte, really crossed north into Nebraska or stayed in northern Kansas. But it is generally thought that Lieutenant Pike in September, 1806, visited a Pawnee village in the Republican valley.


1810. The American Fur Company, that monster monopoly under the control of John Jacob Astor, took the first real steps to exploit this northwestern country for commercial purposes. In 1810, Astor organized the Pacific Fur Corporation, a partnership including himself, Wilson Price Hunt, Robert Stuart and others for the purpose of colonization and trade at the mouth of the Columbia River. The Astorian Expedition started out in September, 1810, and founded Astoria at the head of the Columbia River in the spring of the following year.

1811. Hunt's party of Astorians passed up the Nebraska "river coast" early in 1811.

1812. On the 28th of June, 1812, Robert Stuart started from Astoria with five of Hunt's original party for a return overland trip. In southeastern Idaho they were joined by four men, whom Hunt had left there the October preceding After a journey of terrible hardships they established winter quarters on the North Platte River, not far east of the place where it issues from the mountains. Driven out of their first stopping place by hostile Indians, they came over three hundred miles eastward along the Platte River, and in December, 1812, established winter camp in what is now the Scotts Bluff country.

1813. This party came down the Platte River in spring of 1813. It is chronicled that they came down this river to "Great Island," which is probably the first official mention of the future Grand Island. At least they proceeded to a point forty five miles from the mouth of the Platte, and there on April 16, 1813, embarked in a large canoe they secured from the Indians.


1819. The passage of Maj. Stephen H. Long and a party of twenty men from the Missouri River up the Platte to its head waters is the next event of importance in this period of Nebraska's history. The most interesting feature of Major Long's visit to Nebraska is, perhaps, his account of the hopelessness of central Nebraska for future development.

In regard to the Platte Valley, he recorded:
"In regard to this extensive section of country, I do not hesitate in giving the opinion that it is almost wholly unfit for cultivation and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence."

In his final estimate, Major Long summed up his ideas of the utility of this central Nebraska territory, as follows:-

"Although tracts of fertile land considerably extensive are occasionally to be met with, yet the scarcity of wood and water, almost uniformly prevalent, will prove an insurmountable obstacle in the way of settling the country. This objection rests not only against the section immediately under consideration, but applies with equal propriety to a much larger portion of the country.

"This region, however, viewed as a frontier, may prove of infinite importance to the United States, inasmuch as it is calculated to serve as a barrier to prevent too great an extension of our population westward, and secure us against the machinations or incursions of an enemy that might otherwise be disposed to annoy us in that part of our frontier."

In a somewhat similar view, another narrator of the same expedition, Doctor James, paid about as correct a tribute to Nebraska:

"We have little apprehension of giving too unfavorable an account of this portion of the country. Though the soil is in some places fertile, the want of timber, of navigable streams, and of water for the necessities of life, render it an unfit residence for any but a nomad population. The traveler who shall at any time have traversed its desolate sands will, we think, join us in the wish that this region may forever remain the unmolested haunt of the native hunter, the bison, and the jackal."

If Major Long and Doctor James could only see Nebraska in 1919-1920, don't you suppose, dear reader, they would at least request the privilege of "another guess"?


1820-1850. In the thirty years following Major Long's trip through Nebraska, the tide of exploration kept on the rise. Space does not permit of going into detail into these various expeditions, but there are a few of these courageous prospects whose memory deserves the tribute of at least a passing mention.

Thomas Nutall and John Bradbury spent a part of 1808 in the Nebraska territory botanizing.

Manuel Lisa was not only the founder of Old Nebraska, but his life in this territory was romantic. He led in the explorations of this territory, established trading posts, and opened trading relations with the Indians. He somewhat emulated the example of some Indians in having more than one wife. Every year from 1807 to 1819, inclusive, with perhaps one exception, he made trips into the Northwest. While he had a white wife in St. Louis he married an Omaha Indian girl, telling her people he had another wife down the river. This Indian wife, Mitain, was the mother of his daughter, Rosalie, and son Raymond. After the death of his wife in St. Louis, he married in 1818, Mary Hempstead Keeney, who survived him many years and was familiarly known as "Aunt Manuel." She was the first white woman to come into Nebraska, with the possible exception of Madam Lajoie in 1770. Lisa died in 1820, but "Aunt Manuel" lived nearly fifty years afterwards.

Milton Sublette in the spring of 1830 traveled over nearly the same trail Robert Stuart used in 1813.

Capt. Benjamin Louis Eulalia Bonneville took a party of about one hundred men with twenty four horse wagons over the Oregon trail in 1832. He took the first wagon train over that part of the trail known as the cut off between Independence, Kansas, and Grand Island, Nebraska.

Peter A. Sarpy became agent for the American Fur Company at Bellevue, and for about thirty years was the leading spirit of that region. He first came to Nebraska about 1823 as a clerk for this same company. He was intimately associated with the Indians of his period, and was accorded the title "White Chief" by the Omahas. He married according to Indian custom, Ni-co-mi (Voice of the Waters), a woman of the Iowa Indians, to whom he was greatly attached.

John C. Fremont, the "Pathfinder: was detailed in 1842 to "explore and report upon the country between the frontiers of Missouri and the south pass of the Rocky Mountains and on the line of the Kansas and great Platte rivers." He followed the Oregon trail to the mountains, and left behind him a very descriptive and valuable report of the Nebraska country at that time.

Col. Stephen W. Kearny made an expedition through the "Indian country" in 1845. He became an important figure in Nebraska's early history, and in his honor, with the spelling of the name slightly changed, has been named a county, Kearney, and one of the leading cities of the state, Kearney, as well as the historic forts, first near Nebraska City, and second, on the Platte, between present Kearney City and Lowell, Nebraska.

Father Peter J. De Smet was a Belgian, who came as missionary to the Indians of the Platte and upper Missouri in 1838. He was the first Catholic missionary in this country, and here he worked for thirty years. He died in 1873, and was buried in St. Louis.

George Catlin was the first painter of Nebraska scenery and Nebraska Indians. He made his first voyage into this region in 1832. He painted pictures of Blackbird Hill, of the junction of the Platte and Missouri rivers, of prairie fires, buffalo hunting, Indian weapons, games, customs and portraits of prominent Indians, and since in those days there were no camera or moving picture machines, Catlin's oil paintings made Nebraska's first picture gallery.

Prince Maximilian, of Germany, made a trip up the Missouri River in 1833, on the second voyage of the steamer Yellowstone. In his publication of a three volume work on his American travels, the Nebraska of that day received practically its first introduction to elite Europe.


1803. Taking up the governmental administration of this region, at the point when the Spanish Governor relinquished it to the United States in 1803. On April 30th of that year, Napoleon Bonaparte, acting for France, ceded to the United States this 1,182,752 acres of land, in the most important real estate transaction in American history, for $15,000,000, or about 4 cents an acre. The American "Stars and Stripes" were raised in New Orleans, and the purchase became formally American soil.

1804. In this year, and less than sixty days after the first council was held on Nebraska soil, between representatives of the United States and Indians, at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska became part of the territory of Indiana. It so remained from October 1, 1804, until July 4, 1805.

1805. On March 3, 1805, Congress changed the district of Louisiana to the Territory of Louisiana, and it remained a portion of that territory, with the capital at St. Louis, until in June, 1812.

1812. At this time, the territory of Louisiana became the Territory of Missouri. 1819. A bill was passed providing statehood for Missouri, and the territory of Arkansas was created out of the balance of the territory of Missouri.

1820. After Missouri reached formal statehood the great western territory was thrown into the "Indian Country." Woeful neglect of this region followed, until in 1834, the jurisdiction of the United States District Court of Missouri was extended over it, portions of it were annexed to Michigan and Arkansas territories. The slavery controversies, increased in bitterness by the controversies following the admission of Missouri, and the California problem, continued to interfere with development of governmental functions in this far away region of the western part of the Louisiana purchase.

Finally in the '40s and '50s, came the struggle to establish the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, outlined in another chapter of this work, upon the Territorial Government of Nebraska.


During the half century between the days of the military expedition of Lewis and Clark, and the arrival of Manuel Lisa in 1805, and the actual organization of Nebraska into a territorial government, circumstances conspired to send thousands of white men into, but mostly through, Nebraska. First, the chain of explorers and adventurers whose effect upon and participation in Nebraska's early history has already been detailed. Second, the soldiers who were sent in for various purposes by the Government. Third, the trappers and hunters, and the traders who came in. Fourth, the missionaries. Fifth, the emigrants who passed through the state, and lastly, the earlier settlers who stayed and made their homes in the unbroken wilderness.

Those who passed through the state, or stayed but a short time, comprised mainly the emigrants going farther west; the Mormons and the gold seekers. These last two divisions of visitors or short time residents will now be taken up briefly.

First, in point of numbers and time, among these various migratory bands, came the Mormons. This religious sect had been driven from its home at Nauvoo, Illinois, and was now, after much buffeting around, massing on the banks of the Missouri, preparatory to crossing the "Great Desert" to the Promised Land beyond the reach of law. They had crossed Iowa by various routes, squatting for a time here and there, and finally massing, in 1845 and 1846, about six miles north of Omaha, at what is now known as Florence, but was then termed by the Mormons as "Winter Quarters." Here it is estimated by students that about fifteen thousand people congregated. The devastation wrought upon their wild lands by such an army of non producers naturally aroused the wrath of the Indians, to whom those lands then really belonged. They felt that the Mormons were cutting too much timber. When this complaint began to bring about an exit of the Mormons, many took refuge on the east side of the river, in what is now Pottawattamie County, near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Soon an expedition of eighty wagons was sent out in search of a permanent home for the Latter Day Saints, and that action resulted in the selection of the Salt Lake Valley in 'Utah. But at what a cost! The trail from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City was indelibly marked out for later comers. Cast away garments, broken and burned vehicles, bleaching bones of cattle and horses fallen by the wayside, and graves of weary pilgrims scattered along the route of a thousand miles told the cost.

Many a disheartened wanderer shrank from facing these hardships and preferred to settle along the route of progress in the fertile valleys of Nebraska. In this way numerous small Mormon settlements sprang up along the Platte and its forks. Among these, some of the most interesting, were the Genoa settlement in Nance County, and the Shelton settlement, at old Wood River, clustered around the county line between Hall and Buffalo counties. At the Genoa settlement a large tract of land was enclosed and divided among a hundred or so families, comprising the original settlers, and they supposed foundations had been laid for solid prosperity. But, unfortunately for them, this land was part of the tract set aside for the Pawnee Indians, by the treaty of 1857. So they could not obtain title to these lands, and by reason of this fact, and the harassment of the Sioux and Pawnee, they had to move on.

The first Mormons had settled near Salt Lake City about 1847. The emigration continued from then for more than ten years. The fact that so many finally reached their destination was perhaps due to their careful organization when traveling in parties. Each man carried a rifle or musket and such discipline was maintained on the march that oftentimes the Indians passed up a squad of Mormons and attacked a much larger body of emigrants. The route blazed by the Mormons from Keokuk, Iowa, to the Missouri River gained the name of the "Mormon Trail," and Omaha became a favorite crossing point. For a decade or so, the trade with these excursionists formed a profitable part of the Omaha business interests. They stayed but a few years in the Wood River Valley between Grand Island and Fort Kearney, and they too passed westward.

[Forward to The Birth of a State - Nebraska - Part 2.]

Return to [ NE History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ] [ Nebraska Biographies ]

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy