An open-door log cabin,--frontier loveliness
Stretching toward the sunset's far divide.
Swiftly across the inky, hand-set page
The roller flies-molasses mixed with glue
Making a mirror of the place and age
Forever faithful and forever true.
Upon that mirror page today still glows
The fires that filled the prairie sky with flame,--
The Sioux and Pawnee war whoop to their foes,
The white-topped wagon halted on the Claim.
Yet more,--the rolling waves of grassy plain,
Unmarked by tree, unfurrowed by the plow,--
Th' Overland Trail, the ox-drawn freighting train,
And all of Then which still is cherished Now.
A thin small volume bound in black and green,
"Legends and Other Poems"--from an old Greek
Urn outpoured--whose images are seen
Walking across Nebraska as they speak.
The "Weeping Water" legend, in blank verse,
With many a strange Maha and Otoe chief
Stalking our prairies like an Attic bas-relief
And with orations quaint, if nothing worse.
"The Praise of New Lands"--:
"Thank God, new lands are vast as fair,
"Earth for her millions still has room,
"Her wealth of plains and mountain air,
"Her prairies where no want is known"
"Who shall sing the song of the River?
"Channel of Empire, Highway of God"--
"The Rawhide" legend:
"It was a Pawnee maiden,
"The dwellings of her tribe were near
The prairies, bright and lone,
Mild on her face the low sun beamed
"And fear, it was unknown"
Oh! Frontier Press! Oh! near-forgotten Book!
Oh! fountain--spring of Letters! Happy fate!
Flow on forever, like a prairie brook.
Toward the glorious future of our state.
ORSAMUS CHARLES DAKE
O. C. Dake is a native of Portage, Livingston County, New York where he was born January 19, 1832. He is the sixth generation from the primitive Welch stock, and a motley of many nationalities. His father being in good circumstances, young Dake had no youthful need unsupplied. He was kept studying until his majority. Since he assumed the duties of manhood he has led a busy life. He has been a student, followed in turn the vocation of teacher, county superintendent of schools, editor of a political paper in Illinois, clerk in the Interior Department at Washington, clergyman, and now professor of belle lettres in the State University of Nebraska. He is a graduate of Madison University, Hamilton, New York, of the class of 1849. He was married February 9, 1853, to Miss Amanda Catherine, daughter of Judge H. K. Eaton, of Edwardsville, Illinois. He has two children, a son and a daughter. He was ordained in June, 1862, as a minister in the Episcopal Church, the same year of his arrival in Nebraska. In 1863 he organized Brownell Hall, in Omaha, which he conducted for one
year, and which continues to this day as a worthy tribute of
his devotion to educational and church interests. In 1865 he went
to Fremont, where he organized a church and built a house of
worship. In February, 1871, he published "Nebraska Legends and
other Poems," and has a volume of prose nearly ready for the
press. It may not be out of place to give a brief notice of this,
the first volume of Nebraska poems. The leading article is
entitled the "Weeping Water," and is founded on the following
"The Omaha and Otoe Indians, being at war, chanced to meet on their common hunting ground south of the Platte river, in Nebraska. A fierce battle ensued, in which all the male warriors of both tribes being slain, the women and children came upon the battlefield and sat down and wept. From the fountain of their tears arose and ever flows the little stream known as Nehawka or Weeping Water."
The incident upon which the poem entitled "The Rawhide" is founded, is as follows:
"A certain man of a small company moving up the great plain of the Platte, in spirit of bravado, said he would shoot the first Indian he met; which he did, having shortly afterward found a Pawnee woman a little removed from her tribe. But a band of warriors pursuing, demanded from his companions the surrender of that man; which being refused the Pawnees made ready to slay the whole company of whites. Whereupon the offender being given into their hands, they flayed him alive. From this circumstance the little stream, on whose banks it occurred, takes the name of Rawhide."
We are credibly informed that the man, or boy rather, (for he was seventeen years of age) was one Oliver Smith, of Logan County, Illinois, and that the facts, as narrated above, are substantially true.
We have not space to quote all the good lines we find in this volume, but we give without comment, some taken at random:
"Toward heaven we tend, God give us grace,
To see, without great fear, His face."
"But for us the scramble is ended,
'Tis time to be sober and still;
We are nearing the mist-covered river--
Are down at the foot of the hill.
Our baskets have never been empty--
A trifle our slender store;
Yet only for you and the children
Have I ever wished for more."
Once more, we quote a single line, a sermon of itself, a condensed statement of the guiding influences which shadow forth the aim and end of life. It is--"The wise omnipotence of love."
The poem entitled "Magdalen," is, in our opinion, the most finished, the best study in the volume. The opening stanza is as follows:"A burning, weary waste of years,
Those who have not yet read this little
volume should purchase a copy and do so at once. It is really a
credit to the literature of Nebraska.
Professor Dake is of small stature but of a compact and perfect build; possessed of strong mental and muscular developments. His whole soul is wrapped in the love of literature, and his religious training and experiences give caste to all his Productions. As professor in the University of Nebraska, he unostentatiously fills the chair with which he is honored and in which he honors our state. He is devoting his whole soul to the interests of the institution and the advancement of those entrusted to the discipline of his better experience. Long may he live to be honored in our land.--From the illustrated book, "Nebraskans," by A. C. Edmunds (1872).
Professor Dake died in Lincoln October 18, 1875, leaving a wife, a son, and a daughter.
a great aid in developing style of expression. Perhaps his most lasting influence upon the students that came in contact with him grew out of the fact that his work as a professor inspired us with an ambition to become acquainted with the best that had been written. He, himself, had a keen appreciation of the master pieces of literature and he succeeded in no small degree, in communicating his enthusiasm to his students.
July. 20th, Friday, 1804--
A cool morning passed a large Willow Island (1) on the S. S. and the mouth of Creek about 25 yds. wide on the L. S. called by the french l'Eue que (L'Eau Qui) pleure, or the Water which cry's (weeping water), this creek falls into the river above a Clift of brown Clay opposit the Willow Island, I went out above the mouth of this Creek and walked the greater part of the day thro: Plains interspersed with small Groves of Timber on the branches, and some scattering trees about the heads of the runs, I killed a very large yellow Wolf, The Soil of those Praries appears rich but much Parched with the frequent fires.
Lewis and Clark journals (original) page 85.
Friday 20th. We embarked early; passed high yellow banks on the south side and a creek, called the Water-which-cries, or the Weeping stream, opposite a willow island, and encamped on a prairie on the south side.
Gass's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, page 14.
There is an Indian tradition that somewhere near the source of the river now known as the Weeping Water, there once dwelt a powerful but peaceful tribe governed by sound laws, ruled over by a chief as mild tempered as he was valorous, whose warriors were as straight as their own arrows, as strong and feet as the horses which they rode, whose maidens were lithe and lovely, their beauty far exceeding that possessed by any of the surrounding tribes. And it is further said that the fairest of these maidens was the chief's daughter--so fair that she captivated the heart and brain of the ruler of a still more powerful tribe upon the west, who asked her father for her, was refused, and finally succeeded in abducting the maiden while she was bathing with her companions in the deep, still lake adjacent to the village.
Pursuit was made, the lodges being left in charge of the women and the infirm. The chase was a long and hard one, and the result most disastrous, every man of the pursuers being killed in the fight. that followed.
For three long days and nights those who had been left at the village waited, then started out in search of their fathers, husbands, and lovers, to find them dead upon the plains; and, finding them, to weep so long that their falling tears formed a stream that still exists--Nehawka--the Weeping Water.
From Andreas' History of Nebraska, Chicago, 1882, p. 509.
ORSAMUS CHARLES DAKE
POTT A. AMERY,
(Cover of book also appears in photograph with title page, however - it was too dark to reproduce here.)
BEGINNINGS OF NEBRASKA LITERATURE
Any collection of real literature upon
Nebraska would certainly begin as far back as the Coronado
expedition in 1541. Brief passages in the reports of Coronado and
his lieutenants upon the beauty, the wild life, the landscapes and
resources of this region must always rank as real literature,
quite apart from their historical or scientific information. There
is much truth in the same statement when made of the long list of
noted and of unknown explorers and discoverers in the Nebraska
region,--including such names as Lewis and Clark, Major Long,
Lieutenant Fremont, George Catlin, Prince Maximilian, Missionaries
Moses Merrill, John B. Dunbar, Samuel Allis, Father DeSmet and a
thousand other travelers on the overland trails, whose minds were
moved by the stirring scenes they saw while traveling across these
But the beginnings of Nebraska literature as designed in this issue of the Nebraska History Magazine relate to the creation of a literature by people living in Nebraska. The earliest of this literature is found in the files of the territorial press preserved in the archives of the Nebraska Historical Society. The very first newspapers published in Nebraska exhibit the quality of real literature,--warm imagination, a clear and attractive English style, the gift of prophecy, the power to inspire. Through many columns of this earliest press,--The Bellevue Palladium, the Huntsman's Echo, the Nebraska City News, the Brownville Advertiser, the Omaha Arrow, runs this splendid current of newspaper literature, full and strong--its major theme the boundless West, the adventures of life there, wild animals and Indians, the meaning of human life in these great spaces. Easily a book having all the elements of a great literature in style, content, and power to move the human mind, might be gleaned from these earliest newspaper columns.
The beginnings of Nebraska literature first took the form of books written upon Nebraska themes at the hands of Professor 0. C. Dake, first teacher of literature in the Nebraska State University. Any future reckoning of the literature of this commonwealth must find in Professor Dake's work a point of departure for the years which follow. What he wrote may not be highly valued as a literary creation by future critics. But the place of first to produce Nebraska books having definite literary aims must always be assigned to him. His first book "Nebraska Legends and Other Poems" bears the date line 1871, the year in which he began his service as teacher of literature in the State University.
The first poem in the book is entitled "Weeping Water." It purports to give, in a highly idealized form, the story of a feud between the Omaha and Otoe Indian tribes, leading to the complete destruction of the warriors in a band of each of these nations. It is perfectly clear to anyone familiar with literature who reads this poem, that the writer brought to his theme a mind filled with Greek and Latin poetry and that he never freed himself from their overwhelming influence in the attempt to portray the life of the wild west. Moreover, the figures of speech employed in the poem "Weeping Water" are derived from the Iliad. The setting of the dialogues, the tone of the conversation between the characters, is of the same kind. Consciously or unconsciously the writer is transcribing his own memory of college day instruction in the literature of southern Europe. Such equipment could not produce the real spirit of the western life.
Before we could have a poetry of the plains we must have children born and grown up with the life of the plains woven into their earliest impressions. So these Nebraska' Legends, in verse, are interesting as first attempts to express Nebraska life. They are not true interpretations.
The legend of Weeping Water has serious
question of authenticity. There are various accounts in prose
purporting to give the origin of this legend. These stories do not
agree, either as to the tribes or the circumstances. The Pawnee,
Omaha and Otoe tribes are the ones involved. The Pawnee tribe has
a very extensive literature, perhaps two thousand pages in print,
including its chief traditions and legends. There is no story of
Weeping Water among them. The Omaha tribe has an extensive
collection of literature in print, including the 27th volume of
the United States Bureau of Ethnology, written by Francis
LaFlesche and Miss Alice Fletcher. This is a book of seven
hundred. pages, giving minute account of the history, the
religion, the traditions, the songs, the customs, the legends of
the Omaha tribe, written by two persons having the most intimate
knowledge of all these matters. There is not Weeping Water legend
in this Omaha literature. The Otoe tribe has no such a body of
literature in print. The work so well done for the Pawnee and
Omaha has not been done for the Otoe, but in the literature which
exists and in the knowledge of the leading persons in the Otoe
tribe there is no Weeping Water legend.
All the various stories in print purporting to relate to the legend of Weeping Water date from a period subsequent to the publishing of Professor Dake's book. French explorers gave name to the stream "L'eau Qui Pleure." This name is found upon a map published in Paris by Perrin Du Lac, a French geographer, in 1802. It is applied to the stream now known as the Weeping Water. It is not explained in any known literature, French, Spanish or English, how the stream came to receive this name. The natural surmise is that the name was given because of the sound of its water. In the Sioux language the verb: "Han-pa-ha" or "Yan-pa-ha" means crying or weeping. In the same language "min" or "mni" (pronounced "Ne") commonly means water. The Otoe language is a dialect of the Sioux and the attempt to render the French name for Weeping Water into its Otoe equivalent has given us "Ne-haw-ka," present name of a beautiful village in the valley of the Weeping Water.
In order to make this introduction to the beginnings of Nebraska literature as complete as may be practicable search has been made through the literature of early explorers for mention of the Weeping Water stream in brief extracts. It will be noticed that none of them mention the legend of Weeping Water.
The Story of the Rawhide will be treated in a future issue of this magazine. A large mass of manuscript and clippings on the subject are in the Historical Society Library.
© 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller