History of Antelope County




     (14) THERE is not much evidence that Antelope County had been occupied as a permanent home by any of the Indian tribes for many years prior to its settlement by white people. When Lewis and Clarke passed up the Missouri River, along the eastern border of Nebraska, in July, 1804, on their trip of exploration to the Pacific coast, they found the neighboring tribes of Indians located in the following named places: the Otoes, with a remnant of the Missouris, were on the south bank of the Platte River, about eight miles above the mouth of the Elkhorn; the main band of Pawnees was located on the same side of the Platte, at a point probably nearly opposite the present town of Clarks. Another band of Pawnees was living on Wolf River, or Loup Fork, in the vicinity of the present town of Fullerton; the remnant of the Omaha tribe had their headquarters on Omaha Creek, in what is now Thurston County; the Poncas were located on Ponca Creek near its junction with the Missouri River, in Knox County. Lewis and Clarke do not mention any other bands of Indians as being found in central or northern Nebraska. Other authors, however, state that the Arapahos and Cheyennes roamed over the western part of the state, as did also some bands of the Dakota or Sioux tribe. The Pawnee Indians laid claim to a large tract of land lying in central Nebraska, and embracing with other lands the western three-fourths of Antelope County. This tract, excepting the portion now known as Nance County, was ceded to the United States by treaty September 24, 1857. The Omaha Indians claimed the (15) eastern one-fourth of Antelope County, and all the country east to the Missouri River. This tract, excepting the Omaha and Winnebago reservations, was ceded by the Omahas to the United States by a treaty dated March 16, 1854. The Santees and Winnebagoes that now occupy reservations in north-eastern Nebraska were moved thither by the United States government in 1864 and 1866, and were not here when Lewis and Clarke made their trip up the Missouri.

     There is no evidence to show that any of these tribes made a permanent home in any part of Antelope County. It is, however, probable that the Pawnees, Omahas, and Poncas, tribes that were generally on friendly terms with one another, used Antelope County and contiguous territory as a common hunting ground. There are also many evidences to show that some tribe of Indians used certain parts of the county as a summer residence or temporary headquarters. On section 34 in Oakdale township, on the east side of Cedar Creek, there were found, in the early days of the settlement of that neighborhood, many pieces or remnants of broken pottery, such as the Indians manufactured. Near the bank of the Cedar, on a high, dry table or bench of land, there were several excavations that had evidently been used to store their corn, or perhaps other things not needed for immediate use. Some of these excavations were four or five feet deep and somewhat larger than this in diameter when discovered in 1869 or 1870. They had caved in and filled up somewhat, but were still plain to be seen. They were evidently made by the Indians. Near this place, on section 3 in Cedar township, on a flat, rich meadow bottom, rows of small mounds four or five inches high were plainly visible, though overgrown with grass, and here, probably, corn had been planted and hilled up with a hoe or some other utensil. A mortar for cracking corn was found in the same vicinity. It was made from an oak log, ten or twelve inches in diameter, and about three and one-half or four feet high. The mortar part in one end would hold about four quarts. It was considerably damaged by prairie fire and had not been (16) used for several years. In the same neighborhood a farmer, while breaking prairie, turned up from a little pocket or cavity in the soil, where they had been buried or hidden, ten or twelve flint knives, such as were used in skinning game or cutting up meat. A flat, smooth stone was found, about twelve or fourteen inches long and about four inches wide by two inches thick, probably used in dressing skins.

     No extensive burial places have been discovered anywhere in this county, which would not probably be the case if a permanent home had been made here by any of the Indian tribes. It was the custom of the various tribes of Indians occupying eastern Nebraska to bury their dead, usually selecting for a burial place the top of some high hill. The various branches of the Dakota or Sioux tribe placed their dead in trees, or, if trees were not convenient for that purpose, on scaffolds erected by placing in the ground four poles, eight or ten feet long, on which a platform was built. It was the custom to wrap the corpse in a buffalo robe and fasten it among the branches of a tree or place it on a scaffold. Mr. William Campbell, who was one of the first settlers on Verdigris Creek, found the body of a Sioux Indian fastened among the branches of a tree not far from his homestead, in the spring of 1878. There were occasional graves of Pawnees, or others who bury their dead, found in different places throughout the county, but these were isolated, there being only one or two in a place. In 1869, when the first homesteads were taken in Cedar township, there was found the grave of a Pawnee warrior that had been made only a year or two, as the grass had not yet grown where the sod had been removed. It was on the summit of a hill on section 3 in Cedar township. It was left undisturbed by the settlers, but sometime during the summer of 1870 or 1871 some cattle that were running loose on the prairie partly tore off the covering of earth, leaving the body exposed. The grave was about three feet deep, and a cover was made by placing two forked sticks in the ground, one on either side, and laying a ridgepole across these. Other sticks were set up leaning (17) against the ridgepole, and the whole was covered with a buffalo robe, and on this, sods and earth. The body was placed in a sitting posture and wrapped in a buffalo robe. Some years afterwards the body was exhumed and the bones removed by a young doctor from Oakdale.

     In the fall of 1869, while three of the homesteaders on Cedar Creek were engaged in putting up hay, a small band of Pawnees called upon them and stayed for dinner. One of these Indians could speak a little English. He said they had been chasing a band of Sioux that had stolen a number of Pawnee ponies and were making off with them to the northwest. That somewhere in the upper part of the Elkhorn valley they came in sight of the Sioux Indians with the horses, but that the Sioux at once set fire to the prairie and escaped under cover of the smoke. These Pawnees were now returning to their village on the Loup River. Their moccasins were nearly worn out, and they had no provisions left excepting a little parched corn. They seemed very tired and all but one of them lay down and immediately went to sleep. The one who could talk a little English sat by the camp-fire and watched the whites cook the dinner, and at the same time gave the information about following the Sioux Indians. He said that the grave which was in plain sight on a hill about half a mile distant, was that of a Pawnee warrior who was killed in a fight with the Sioux not long ago. He pointed out the place where the fight occurred, which was in a bend of Cedar Creek on the east half of the southeast quarter, section 3, Cedar township, on the farm now owned by Jeff. C. Chapman.

     Antelope County, in common with all Nebraska, had been the home of the buffalo for ages before the coming of the white people. Lewis and Clarke, in the summer of 1804, state that the Otoes, Pawnees, and Omahas were nearly all absent from their villages on a buffalo hunt. The first buffalo found by Lewis and Clarke were on the Iowa side just above the present site of Sioux City. From there on they were seen in large numbers in what is now (18) Dixon, Cedar, Knox, and Boyd counties, Nebraska. When this county was first occupied by white settlers the buffalo had entirely disappeared from this section of Nebraska, excepting an occasional stray band that was traveling across the country. In November, 1871, A. J. Leach, while hunting on Cedar River, in Greeley County, saw where a band of thirty or forty buffalo had been feeding a few days previously, but did not see any of the animals. Their beds were plainly visible where they had been lying down in the grass. About 1872, R. W. Smith of Ord township ran across four buffalo while out hunting in the vicinity of the present site of Clearwater. He succeeded in shooting one, the others escaping in the sand hills to the southeast. A few days later John Bennett saw three buffalo in the southwestern part of Antelope County and, not being prepared to hunt them himself, notified E. R. Palmer of the Cedar Creek settlement, who went out and killed two of them in Logan township, about two miles southwest of Elgin. Sometime in the seventies, D. E. Beckwith, while on a hunt in southern Holt County, being camped on Willow Lake, was awakened early one morning by the splashing of water in the lake. Looking out of the door of the tent he saw two buffalo wading out some distance in the lake. They took the alarm, however, and escaped to the sand hills. These are the only instances, so far as known, where buffalo were found in or near Antelope County since its settlement first began.

     Evidences were abundant, however, that buffalo had been plentiful within a very few years. The skulls, horns, and bones of buffalo were found scattered about over the prairie in great abundance, and in some places the bones and skulls were very numerous on a tract a quarter of a mile or so across, where the Indians had surrounded and slaughtered them in large numbers. The skeletons of buffalo were often found in the streams where they had come to drink and had been mired down, or perhaps been trampled to death by others. Their bones were also sometimes found several feet under ground, in grading roads along the banks of streams.

     (19) Buffalo trails were very numerous, especially where the country was hilly, bordering the streams. These trails were made by the buffalo in going each day to water from their feeding grounds. They led straight to the watering-place, and, where the country is hilly or rough, always took the easiest grades. When the country was first settled these trails were mostly, but not wholly, overgrown with grass, but were still plainly visible.

     Buffalo wallows were numerous in places along the Elkhorn valley and in the valleys of some of the creeks. The wallows were made by the buffalo in the summer time, by stamping and pawing the earth until the sod was removed, forming thus a little hollow a few feet in diameter. In wet weather these hollows, having been packed hard and solid by tramping, would hold water for several days after a rain. In these places the buffalo would lie down and wallow, carrying away with them a quantity of mud, thus continually making the wallow deeper. These wallows, where numerous, interfered with the cultivation of the land. Some of these are still to be seen on the north side of the river, below Neligh.


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