Indians in Nebraska Part 1
From: York County, Nebraska and its people
T. E. Sedgwick, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1921


The land was ours-this glorious land-
With all its wealth of wood and streams,
Our warriors strong of heart and hand,
Our daughters beautiful as dreams.
When wearied at the thirsty noon,
We knelt where the spring gushed up,
To take our Father's blessed boon-
Unlike the white man's poison cup."
-Whittier, "The Indian Tale."

Except for the prehistoric races that have been heretofore spoken of, and concerning whom no facts can be recorded here, the Indians were the first settlers of Nebraska. While their coming may have only antedated that of the first explorers by a few hundred years, their claim to precedence of residence cannot be doubted.

Before undertaking a chronological survey of the part the Indians played in formation of early Nebraska annals, we may first make a brief survey of the history of the various tribes found to be flourishing to any very marked degree in Nebraska. This will be interwoven into the first portion of the chronology to follow here.

1673 - June. Father Jacques Marquette, accompanied by that devout Christian worker and missionary, Louis Joliet, embarked upon his great exploring trip of the. "Father of the Waters." While he made a trip as far south as the Red River, the interesting feature to our narrative is Marquette's description of the hitherto unknown Missouri country, and thereby giving forth a first report on Nebraska Indians. In a most interesting chart of that expedition, now in the archives at Montreal, Marquette locates, in what is now Kansas and Nebraska, the following Indian villages:

The Ouemessouriet (Missouri).
The Kenza (Kansas).
The Ouschage (Osage).
The Paneassa (Pawnee),
and the Maha (Omaha).

That his information was surprisingly correct is seen from the fact that the French explorers found these very tribes in relatively the same position as indicated in the chart nearly two hundred years later.

1701. Governor D'Iberville of Louisiana reported the location of the Maha and Otoe tribes.

1719. Dustine, French explorer, visited the Pawnee nation.

1720. Massacre of a Spanish expedition under Pedro Villazur by Nebraska Indians, purported to have been aided by hostile French.

1721. Charlevoix reports of the Missouri tribe, but not upon Nebraska soil. He reports concerning the extent of the tribes of Indians inhabiting the Missouri River above the Missouri nation, "Higher up we find the Cansez (Kansas); then the Octotatas (Otoes), which some call Mactotatas; then the Ajouez (Iowas) and Panis (Pawnees), a very populous nation, divided into several cantons, which have names very different from each other." This would lead to the conclusion that during the first half of the seventeenth century, the country now forming the State of Nebraska was inhabited along its southern border by the Kansas Indians; that the Platte River, then called the Rivere des Panis, was the home of the Pawnees, who had also villages to the northward - at a point a considerable distance up the Missouri River. And to the westward, lived the Padoucahs - a tribe long since extinct.

(While there is uncertainty as to whether some of these explorers just named above really visited Nebraska, it is known to a certainty that Dustine visited Kansas as early as 1719, and Bourgmont was there in 1724.)

1724. De Bourgmont, French commander, is reputed to have made a military expedition as far as the Nebraska region and counseled with at least the Otoes and Padoueahs.

1739. When Mallet brothers reach and name Platte River, they journey up river as far as its forks before striking south.

1743. La Verendrye brothers, on trip on which they discover the Rocky Mountains, describe the Pawnee Indians.

1770. Otoe Indians reputed to have established their chief village on the Platte, about three miles from the present village of Yutan.

1789. Jean Baptiste Monier, of St. Louis, reported to have found the Ponca Indians at the mouth of the Niobrara River.

1794. Jean Baptiste Truteau, under the Commercial Company, visited the Maha and Ponca tribes.

This brings the record of the principal intercourses between the white men and Indians of Nebraska down to 1804, the year in which, on August 3d, the first council held with Indians in Nebraska by representatives of the United States was held, at Council Bluff, now Fort Calhoun.

1804. Lewis and Clark, in the year of 1804, report finding Pawnees, Missouris, and Otoes in possession of the Platte, the Poncas near the mouth of the Niobrara and the Omahas in the northeastern part of the state, centering around what is now Sioux City.

This gives us a roster of the principal tribes in Nebraska and their respective locations, and is probably a proper point at which to divert and divide the record of Indian history of the state into tribal divisions.


Origin. Some early writers have taken the position that the Pawnees were the descendants of the ancient Aztec nation, but the best authorities agree that the tribe belongs to the Caddoan family, and that the original habitat was probably on the Red River of Louisiana. In the Caddoan migration toward the northeast the Pawnee became separated from the main body and established themselves in the Valley of the Platte, where the Siouan tribes found them at an early date. Some of the tribes, though, moved on northward. Thus the Arikari moved by way of the Missouri, penetrating far into North Dakota. Sometime later the Skidi (Wolves) advanced northward and halted at the Platte, there to be overtaken by the Pawnees proper.

The Pawnees called themselves Skihiksihiks, or "men par excellence." The popular name, and the one most in vogue, is Wolf People. They were a warlike and powerful nation, claiming the whole region watered by the Platte from the Rocky Mountains to its mouth. They held in check the powerful Kiowas of the Black Hills and waged successful war against the Comanches of the Arkansas.

There were from an early day four grand divisions, or clans, of the Pawnees, having distinct government, though with language in common.

There were Shani (or Tswa), the Grand Pawnees, with villages on the south bank of the Platte, opposite the present Grand Island; the Kitkehaki (Tskithka Petower Kattahankies), or Republican Pawnees, on the Republican River in northern Kansas; the Pitahauerat (Tapage), or Noisy Pawnees, also on the Platte; and the Skidi or Loup (Wolf), Pawnees, on the Loup fork of the Platte Valley. Customs. Among many other customs that might be narrated:- They lived in well built log houses, covered with turf and earth, preferring these to the movable tepee, which was only used when the bands were on extended hunts. They depended very much on agriculture, the raising of corn and pumpkins - more so than upon the buffalo hunt. In this manner they probably never outgrew the sedentary and agricultural habits peculiar to all southern tribes.

It is narrated that from time to time they sacrificed prisoners to the sun to obtain good crops and success in warfare. "Anyone was at liberty to offer up a prisoner that they had captured in warfare. The victim was clothed in the gayest apparel and fed and feasted on the best that could be had, and when sufficiently fattened for their purpose, a suitable day was appointed for the sacrifice, so that the whole nation might attend. The unfortunate victim was then bound to a cross in the presence of the assembled multitude, after which a solemn dance and other ceremonies were performed, and at their conclusion the warrior whose prisoner he had been stepped forward and cleaved his head with a tomahawk, the other warriors filling his body with arrows. This barbarous custom, however, was finally stopped in 1820, through the influence of the missionaries."

1806. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike's exploring expedition, when on its way to the mountains in this year, encountered the Republican Pawnees in northern Kansas. This was a few years before they moved north to join their brothers already established on the Loup Forks. On September 29th, Lieutenant Pike and his aid Lieutenant Wilkinson held a grand council with the chiefs of that nation, a short account of which serves to give an idea of the northward limit of Spanish activity at that lath time, and the degree of intercourse attainable with these Indians. "The council was held at the Pawnee Republic Village (near the present site of Scandia, Kansas, in Republic County) and was attended by 400 warriors. When the parties assembled for their council, Lieutenant Pike found that the Pawnees had unfurled a Spanish flag at the door of the chief, one which had lately been presented by that government, through the hands of Lieutenant Malgoras. To the request of Lieutenant Pike that the flag should be delivered to him, and one of the United States hoisted in its place, they at first made no response; but, upon his repeating his demand, with the emphatic declaration that they must choose between Americans and Spaniards, and that it was impossible for the nation to have two fathers, they decided to put themselves, for the time at least, under American protection. An old man accordingly rose, went to the door, took down the Spanish flag, and laid it at the feet of Lieutenant Pike, and in its stead elevated the stars and stripes."

1812. Treaty of amity with Pawnees by the Government.

Major Long's Report. 1819. The expedition of Major Long sent out by the War Department. Leaving Engineer Cantonment "just below Council Bluffs, on June 10th, it struck out over Indian country."

Similar treaties of amity to the one just mentioned as having been ratified with the Pawnees on January 5, 1812, had been made with the Maim (Omahas) on December 26, 1815, and with the Otoes on December 26, 1817, and Major Long was instructed to make investigation and see that these treaties were lived up to by white man and red man alike. So he visited the Pawnee villages on his course westward. It would be impossible to take space to go into every detail of the life and customs of each of the tribes to be treated in this chapter, but an account of this visit will be worth our time and space. At sunset, June 10th, Major Long's expedition went into camp at a small creek about eleven miles distant from the village of the Grand Pawnees. His account reads:-

"On the following morning, having arranged the party according to rank, and given the necessary instructions for the preservation of order, we proceeded forward, and in a short time came in sight of the first of the Pawnee villages. The trail on which we had traveled since leaving the Missouri had the appearance of being more and more frequented as we approached the Pawnee towns; and here, instead of a single footway, it consisted of more than twenty parallel paths, of similar size and appearance; at a few miles distance from the village, we met a party of eight or ten squaws, with hoes and other implements of agriculture, on their way to the corn plantations. They were accompanied by one young Indian, but in what capacity - whether as assistant, protector or taskmaster, we were not informed. After a ride of about three hours we arrived before the village and dispatched a messenger to inform the chief of our approach.

"Answer was returned that he was engaged with his chiefs and warriors at a medicine feast, and could not, therefore, come out and meet us. We were soon surrounded by a crowd of women and children, who gazed at us with some expressions of astonishment; but as no one appeared to welcome us to the village, arrangements were made for sending on the horses and baggage to a suitable place for encampment while Major Long, with several gentlemen who wished to accompany him, entered the village. The party after groping about for some time and traversing a considerable part of the village, arrived at the lodge of the principal chief. Here we were again informed that Tarrerecawaho, with all the principal men of the village, was engaged in a medicine feast. Notwithstanding his absence, some mats were spread for us upon the ground in the back part of the lodge. Upon them we sat down, and, after waiting some time, were presented with a large wooden dish of hominy or boiled corn. In this was a single spoon or the horn of a buffalo, large enough to hold a pint, which, being used alternately by each of the party, soon emptied the dish of its contents.

"After this strange reception and feast the expedition visited in turn the villages of the Republican and Loup (Wolf) Pawnees, lying a few miles apart, an hour's ride above the village of the Pawnee Grand."

Major Long, in his report, further commented on the thrift of these villages. For miles up and down the river large droves of horses were grazing; fields of maize and patches of tomatoes, pumpkins and squashes were seen in many places and added much to the apparent wealth of the community. That was before, and in sharp contrast to, the misfortunes that are soon to be chronicled as having overtaken this nation.

1831. It was about this time that calamities began to overtake the Pawnee nation, which had formerly numbered some 25,000 souls, and in its prime been the terror alike of trapper and trader and bands from other tribes who by chance ventured too far into the hunting grounds of these fierce fighting foes. In 1831, a terrible epidemic of smallpox carried off several thousand of their number, leaving the nation in a pitiable condition. Their agent, John Dougherty, in making his report to the Government, says:-

"Their misery defies all description. I am fully persuaded that one half the whole number will be carried off by this frightful distemper. They told me that not one under thirty years of age escaped, it having been that length of time since it visited them before. They were dying so fast, and taken down at once in such large numbers that they had ceased to bury their dead, whose bodies were to be seen in every direction lying in the river, lodged on the sand bars, in the weeds around the villages and in their corn caches."

1832. The removal of the Delawares to lands between the Platte and Kansas rivers led to a war with the Pawnees, and in this year the former tribe burned the great Pawnee village on the Republican River.

1834. Furthermore by treaty of October 9, 1834, the Pawnees sold their lands south and agreed to stay north of the Platte River and west of the Loup River, thereby considerably restricting their territory.

1834-1835. All of the. Pawnee's plague stricken southern villages were abandoned and the miserable remnant of this once proud tribe reassembled on the Loup and westward along the Platte.

1835-1849. In this period, first the Sioux, their old enemies swept down upon the Pawnees, and began a war of extermination along the Cedar and North Loup rivers. The Pawnees found every man's hand against them and even the Government remained indifferent to their fate at the hands of the Sioux. Then, to make matters worse, the Cheyennes and the Arapahoes infested their old Kansas hunting grounds, as if eager to strike the final blow.

1849. The gold seekers on the way to California brought the cholera to the Pawnee camps. Again several thousand died, and the handful of survivors, reduced to beggary, besought the Government for protection, which was granted.

1857. By the treaty of September 4, 1857, the Pawnees ceded all of their original territory except a strip 30 miles long by 15 wide upon the lower Loup River. This was the old Nance County Reservation, whence they were finally removed to their final abode in Oklahoma.

1862-1865. During the Indian skirmishes that took place in those years, and during the Civil War period, the Pawnees furnished scouts to the Government and proved a valuable aid to the Government against the crafty Sioux, and reaped thereby a small measure of revenge for the time being, but the Sioux, after the war closed, reaped the final revenge upon the Pawnees.

1865-1872. In this period, the Pawnees were never safe if they ventured off their reservation. Red Cloud's crafty bands might sweep down upon them to kill and plunder.

1872. As if to cap the climax of their troubles, in this year they met the grasshopper invasion and their crops were destroyed. This meant starvation, but Congressional appropriation through land sales kept them alive until 1874.

1874. The Pawnees set their faces southward, forever to leave the Loup and the Platte.

The story of the rapid decay of this proud tribe is read in these figures of their numbers:-

1835, according to missionaries Dunbar and Allis, 10,000. In 1840, disease and war had reduced them to 7,500. In 1849, cholera had reduced them to 5,000. Later official reports gave 4,686 in 1856; 3,416 in 1861; 2,376 in 1874; 1,440 in 1879; 824 in 1889; and 629 in 1901.


Before closing the narration of the experiences of the Pawnee tribes, there are two further incidents in their history which can be included in the Pawnee division of this Chapter, or elsewhere, but we will briefly treat them before passing on.

The "Pawnee War" occurred in the summer of 1859. At that time the Pawnees were occupying two villages on the south side of the Platte, about twelve miles south of Fontanelle, a village in the western edge of Washington County. This "war" was precipitated, by the robbing of a settler, Uriah Thomas, of his pocket book containing $136 and valuable land papers, drinking up his whiskey, and taking off his fine oxen, leaving him locked up in the cabin. A few days later people from West Point, about thirty miles northwest, and Dewitt, on further up, came in and reported the Pawnee bands to be marauding and committing various depredations upon the settlers, burning their dwellings, destroying their furniture, driving off their stock. After some scouting about the country, a small band of Indians was located about a mile from Fontanelle. In attempting to capture them, two or three Indians were killed as they fled from their intended place of ambush, and soon the whole country was ablaze with excitement. It was generally believed that a retaliating war of extermination would be inaugurated by the Pawnees, and the few militia companies then organized were ordered out by Governor Black to hold themselves ready at a moment's notice. While the settlers along the Elkhorn assembled at Fontanelle in readiness, the crops suffered seriously from neglect, and as the reported band of 10,000 ferociously arrayed savages failed to appear, a band of 200 men prepared to go out and find the savages and render them a lesson that would long live in their memories. Governor Black accompanied the expedition, as nominal commander, though the real command fell upon Col. (later Governor) John M. Thayer. In a few days' march a band of some 5,000 Pawnees, Omaha and Ponces were overtaken. Instead of putting up stiff fight, when they discovered the paleface expedition in close proximity, the Indians attempted to escape. Later, some 2,000 were brought together for a parley. They were given a choice between surrendering the braves who had committed the depredations around West Point, pay the expenses of the expedition out of certain moneys due to them from the Government, or - fight. They chose the former, surrendered seven young braves, and signed the necessary agreement. In returning they passed the home of one of the imprisoned braves, whose squaw sprang out and handed him a knife with which he stabbed himself. While the whites were ministering to the supposed dying man, the squaw seized the knife, cut the cords binding the other prisoners and made possible their escape. Pursuing guards reported they had either killed or wounded all six of the escaped prisoners and the expedition resumed its return journey. Finally, the Government paid the Indians all that was due them and the expedition paid its own expenses, and thus ended the "Pawnee War."


On the fifth day of August, 1873, occurred the battle between the Sioux and Pawnee Indians, in what has since come to be known as Massacre Canyon, a ravine about four miles north of the subsequent site of Trenton, Hitchcock County. This episode was about the finishing touch of the Pasvne's military career. About 250 Pawnee men, 100 women and 50 children were on a buffalo hunt, which had lasted since July 3d, and had been sufficiently successful that they were about to return to their reservation with the meat and skins of some 800 buffaloes.

The moment of the attack was early in the morning, when most of the men were hunting straggling buffaloes, and the women were making preparations for the day's journey. The Sioux, comprised of some 600 of the Ogallala and Brule bands, surprised the Pawnees, who briefly resisted but soon fled to avoid being surrounded and completely annihilated. They abandoned all of their possessions, including their winter's supply of meat and other provisions, robes and saddles. Some 69, 20 men, 39 women and 10 children were killed, and 11 women and children captured. The Government had some knowledge of the proximity of the Sioux, and Major Russell of the army, with 60 privates and 20 scouts, was camped within a few miles of the scene of the massacre and was then on his way to intercept the Sioux. When the Sioux discovered the soldiers, they fled to the northwest.


In general, the record of the Pawnees in their relations with the whites was much better than most of the other Nebraska tribes. While occasional depredations, and such incidents as precipitated the "Pawnee War" of 1859 stain this record, it cannot be questioned that the Pawnees rendered as valuable service to the whites and the Government as any Nebraska tribe ever did.

As brief a manner as any to explain this to the reader will be to give a short account of the work of Major Frank North and his Pawnee Scouts. In 1856 when Frank North was a young boy, he came to Nebraska and mingled with the Indians along the Missouri in the region of Omaha, and learned their mode of warfare, their language, which he came to speak as fluently as his mother tongue, and thereby won their confidence. In 1861 he became a clerk and interpreter at the Pawnee reservation, and by 1863 had developed into a daring scout. During the work of building the Union Pacific the fierce Arapahoes, Cheyennes and Sioux persisted in attacking the laborers. A few excerpts from an account by his niece, Mrs. Sarah Clapp, in Nebraska Pioneer Reminiscences, will serve not only to explain his work, but the attributes of the Pawnee scouts.

"It was useless to call on the regular troops for help as the Government needed their help to check the armies of Lee and Johnston. A clipping from the Washington Sunday Herald on this subject states that 'a happy thought occurred to Mr. Oakes Ames,' the main spirit of the work (of building the Union Pacific). He sent a trusty agent to hunt up Frank North, who was then twenty four years old. `What can be done to protect our working parties, Mr. North?' said Mr. Ames.

I have an idea,' Mr. North answered. 'If the authorities at Washington will allow me to organize a battalion of Pawnees and mount and equip them, I will undertake to picket your entire line and keep off other Indians. The Pawnees are the natural enemies of all the tribes that are giving you so much trouble, and a little encouragement and drill will make them the best irregular horse you could desire.'

"The plan was new but looked feasible. Accordingly, Mr. Ames went to Washington, and, after some effort, succeeded in getting permission to organize a battalion of four hundred Pawnee warriors, who should be armed as were the U. S. Cavalry and drilled in such simple tactics as the service required, and my uncle was commissioned as a major of volunteers and ordered to command them. The newspaper clipping also says: 'It would be difficult to estimate the service of

Major North in money value.' General Crook once said, in speaking of him, `Millions of Government property and hundreds of lives were saved by him on the Union Pacific railroad, and on the Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana frontiers. . . .

"During the many skirmishes and battles fought by the Pawnees under Major North, he never lost a man; moreover, on several occasions he passed through such air breadth escapes that the Pawnees thought him invulnerable. In one instance, while pursuing the retreating enemy, he discovered that his command had fallen back and he was separated from them by over a mile. The enemy, discovering his plight, turned on him. He dismounted, being fully armed, and by using his horse as a breastwork, he managed to reach his troops again, though his faithful horse was killed. This and many like experiences caused the Pawnees to believe that their revered leader led a charmed life. He never deceived them, and they loved to call him 'Little Pawnee Le-Sharo' (Pawnee Chief), so he was known as the White Chief of the Pawnees."

So, just as the settler was compelled to use back firing to fight prairie fires, the Government and settlers were enabled to "fight the fire of other tribes with the fire of the Pawnee's valor" in the eleventh hour of this tribe's Nebraska career.

[Forward to part 2]

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