Romance of Omaha, Chapter XXIII

For as far back as the White Man's history runs, the land that is now Nebraska has been inhabited by the Indians.

There are no records of any people antedating the Redmen who roamed the plains in 1541 when Coronado, Spanish adventurer, reported having found Indians in the "Kingdom of Quivera."

Historians of the Indians say that before 1500 most of the tribes found in Nebraska when the earliest settlers reached this region were located in the east and south.

Just why they migrated westward is not quite clear unless the pushing on of the white invader drove them farther inland.

Small Tribes

Indian tribes living in eastern Nebraska when the pioneers arrived were not very prepossessing either in appearance, habits or numbers. They did not muster more than 100 in each tribe and were far from measuring up to the popular conception of the noble Redman.

The Omahas, or Mahas as some writers called them, were a weak tribe that lived along the Missouri river. Smallpox swept through their villages and left them decimated.

One of their legends gave the tribe its name.

According to the tribal story, one of the warriors engaged in mortal combat with a brave from another tribe. They fell into a river while fighting.

The Omaha warrior, though mortally wounded, raised his arm above the water and shouted the word that gave the tribe its name, "Omaha," translated rather freely, means "Above all others on a stream."

Name of "Omaha"

The founders of Omaha, believing that this city could literally become "above all others on a stream," gave it the same name as the tribe that acquired its name from the cry of the dying warrior.

Several well-known tribes of Indians occupied parts of Nebraska during the period of its early settlement.

Best known among them were the Pawnees, Poncas, Omahas, Otoes, Sioux, Crows, Blackfeet, Brule, Cheyennes, Winnebagoes, Sac and Fox.

The Cheyennes, Arapahoes and Sioux roamed in the western part of the state, the Blackfeet and Brules were in the northwestern portion. At one time it was estimated that 180,000 Indians were to be found in this state. Now there are only a few hundred in the Omaha and Winnego reservation in Thurston county. The rest of the Nebraska Indians were moved to the Indian Territory, now part of Oklahoma.

Noted Chiefs

Red Cloud, chief of the Ogallala Sioux, Blackbird and Big Elk were the most noted of the early chiefs. Blackbird ruled with an iron hand.

He was said to have acquired a quantity of arsenic from some white trader. When he wanted to impress his followers with his power he would predict the death of some brave he disliked. Blackbird would find some way of putting arsenic in the brave's dinner and the latter would die in great agony, thereby adding greatly to the glory of his chief.

Red Cloud caused the whites much trouble for years in the early history of this country. He went on the warpath more than once, but later made peace and retired to the Pine Ridge agency.

Chief Fontenelle

The Indian chief best known to Omaha was the famous Logan Fontenelle, after whom the Fontenelle hotel and Fontenelle park and boulevard are named.

Logan Fontenelle was the son of a Frenchman from St. Louis, who came to Nebraska and settled at Bellevue. He married an Indian girl of the Omaha tribe.

His son, Logan, was born at old Fort Atkinnson, but was educated at St. Louis. Returning to this country he was made chief of the Omaha tribe.

Always friendly to the white men and anxious to keep the two races on the best of terms, Logan Fontenelle did much for his own people. Had he lived it is possible his tribe might have prospered far more than it did.

But when still a young man Logan met his death in a battle with the Sioux who were continually harassing and persecuting the Omahas.

Mourning among the white settlers was almost as great as among the Indians when news of Fontenelle's death was received. His body was recovered and buried by the side of his father at Bellevue.

Indian Treaties

The Pawnees were the first Indians to cede any part of the state of Nebraska to the federal government. In 1833 they gave up all title to a large section of the state south of the Platte river, beginning about 50 miles west of the Missouri river.

It was not until 1854, the year Omaha was founded, that the Omahas ceded their lands in northeastern Nebraska, including the present site of Omaha. Not until 1868 did the Blackfeet and Brules relinquish their claims to the northwest portion of the state.

The Redmen living in the eastern part of Nebraska were for the most part rather harmless. Aside from some few encounters and forays they gave the pioneers little trouble.

The Pawnees were more troublesome, but the real savages were the Cheyennes and the Sioux, especially the latter. They fought for years against the encroachments of the white race and as late as 1890 endeavored to stir all the Indian tribes to revolt and massacre.

Indian Paradise

Nebraska, because of its rolling prairies and its limitless hordes of buffalo, was the Indian's paradise. He could roam it unchecked and always find plenty of food at hand.

His worst foe, greater even than warlike tribes, was disease, especially smallpox.

Once having gained a foothold in an Indian tribe or village, smallpox swept through it like a plague, proving fatal at time to nine out of 10 persons.

The smallpox scourge undoubtedly was a great boon to the first white settlers. It weakened the Indians so that they could not swoop down in great numbers on the daring invaders.

There were, however, conflicts by the score. The great immigrant trails that wound over the plains of Nebraska were marked by the blood of hundreds of pioneers who fell victims to the Indians.

Indians Passing

The roving savages have passed away forever and with them went much of the romance of the western plains.

In their place have come farm and factory, city and village, schoolhouse and church. Where they once roamed corn wheat and oats grow lush.

The wildness of days of the buffalo has given way to the civilization of the days of the automobile and the limited train.

The Indian served his purpose in the scheme of the universe and gave way to the more progressive "paleface." Today he is learning the ways of the white man and farming where once he roamed free.

Chapter XXIV
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