Omaha on the Missouri



Big T

HERE are men and women living in Omaha to-day who remember the founding of the city as if it were yesterday. It was only thirty-three years ago that the town site was platted and the first building erected. What marvelous changes have been wrought within that brief period! A busy, thriving and progressive city of a hundred thousand people now stands upon the site where but a single cabin could be seen in the summer of 1854. The Territory of Nebraska, organized in that year, has become a great commonwealth--one of the most flourishing States in the Union, with a population of fully one million. The surviving pioneers must indeed look back with wonder at the transformations which they have witnessed, and it must afford them pleasure to recall to mind their struggles in the early years of Omaha's history. The city's growth has certainly far exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine. It is safe to say that not one of the pioneers of 1854-55 expected to live to see Omaha ever become a great city, such as she is to-day. Those who assisted in the founding of the city, and have ever since continued to lend their aid in her up-building, have a right to be proud of the grand results which have been achieved. The ranks of the pioneers have been thinned from time to time by the hand of death, yet among those who survive may be found some of our most prominent and honored citizens. While some of them have been retired by age from the active list, and perhaps are comparatively unknown to the busy, rushing throng of younger people who have been attracted hither of late years, it should not be forgotten that in times past the veterans fought many a hard battle to maintain Omaha's supremacy, and to secure to her the foundations of the prosperity which she now enjoys.
     The pioneer period in the history of Omaha is full of stirring and exciting incidents. The old settler enjoys the reminiscence, while the new comer eagerly listens to the recital of that which to him is new and interesting. This historian, therefore, feels confident that these pages will be appreciated by a large number of readers.
     The first settlers of Omaha came from Council Bluffs, which in the early days was a Mormon town. The Mormons in their westward pilgrimage from Illinois, beginning in the



year 1846, crossed the State of Iowa, and made Council Bluffs one of their principal halting places. The place was at first called "Miller's Hill" by some, and "Miller's Hollow" by others, after a Mormon elder named Miller. The name was soon changed to "Kanesville," in honor of Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a brother of the famous Arctic explorer. When the President called for volunteers for the Mexican war, in 1846, the Mormons responded by organizing a battalion, which crossed the plains to California. Colonel Kane organized this battalion for the Mormons, and became quite popular with them. In 1853, however, the

     [But very few men have been identified with the life and growth of Omaha so actively and efficiently as Dr. George L. Miller. He was one of the pioneers, coming to the then straggling and struggling village of Omaha, in October, 1854. Dr. Miller was born in Boonville, Oneida county, New York, July 1, 1831. At the age of seventeen he began the study of medicine at Syracuse, and after five years of office study, went to New York and entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in

1852- He practiced his profession for two years after his return to Syracuse, but determined to try the West, and there carve out a name and fortune. He came to Omaha long in advance of the railroads, when stage coaching to St. Joseph, Mo., was about the only means of communication with the outside world. Here he began the practice of medicine. But people were few in those early days, and patients scarcer still, and the hardships of frontier life were many. He entered politics a year after his arrival in Omaha, and was elected to the Territorial Council. He served three terms in that body, during the last as its presiding officer. In 1860, in the hope of bettering his fortune, he removed to St. Joseph, and while waiting for a practice, turned his attention to literary work. Those were exciting days, on the eve of the rebellion, and Dr. Mil-

Dr. George L. Miller


ler's editorials in the St. Joseph Gazette attracted such commendatory attention, that he was almost moved to the adoption of journalism as a permanent pursuit. But in 1861 he secured the position of sutler at Fort Kearney, and remained there until 1864, when he returned to Omaha, and became the Democratic candidate for Congress, and was defeated. In 1865, Dr. Miller established the Omaha Herald, and continued to be its editor until March 1, 1887. With his pen he did invaluable service for  Omaha and Nebraska.He toiled ceaselessly and vigorously for the up-building of the city and State. He is a powerful writer, a deep thinker, and fearless in the expression of his views. His strong mentality and prime abilities commanded for him respect abroad as well as at home. In the national councils of the Democratic party no man

from the West has ranked higher. He is a master of political strategy, and so sound in finance, government, and the other components of political economy, as to rank with the statesmen of the day. Indeed he has been the familiar associate of the leading men of the nation; Horatio Seymour and Samuel J. Tilden having repeatedly conferred upon him distinguished evidences of their regard and confidence in his abilities, Dr. Miller has never had any penchant for office. When President Cleveland was elected, he was very strongly urged by leading men all over the country for a Cabinet position, but outside of the distinguishment, the place had no attractions, and he was well contented when another was chosen. Since his retirement from journalism, Dr. Miller has been enjoying the competency which his toil amassed, though still clinging to his identity with Omaha, among whose citizens he enjoys a well-deserved respect.]

name of Kanesville was changed to "Council Bluffs." By this time the place had become an important point, owing to the Mormon immigration, which was very large during the summer season for several years. In addition to this there was the California travel, caused by the gold discoveries. At about the same time that the Mormons made Council Bluffs a halting place they established what they called "Winter Quarters," on the west side of the Missouri river, on the site of the present village of Florence, six miles north of Omaha. The land at that time, in the year 1846, belonged to the Omaha Indians, with whom the Mormons established freindly (sic) relations, and made an agreement by which they leased from the Indians for two years sufficient land for their purposes. In less than three months, seven hundred buildings were



erected, and the number was soon increased to over one thousand. The town had its workshops, mills and factories operated by water power. It became a busy place, and soon contained a population of from six thousand to eight thousand. The intention was to make "Winter Quarters" the main starting point of the emigrant trains for the West. It being located on the west side of the river, the Mormons could cross on the ice in the winter, and thus avoid ferrying in the spring, and summer. Always capricious, and in this case, as it is alleged, instigated by white men, the Indians, notwithstanding they had formerly given the Mormons permission to settle upon their lands, complained to the Indian agent that they were trespassing upon them, and cutting too much timber, and killing too much game. The Indian agent accordingly ordered them off the land. Thereupon the Mormons recrossed the river to the Iowa side. To this circumstance was attributable the rapid


rise and growth of Kanesville, and the abandonment of "Winter Quarters" again entirely to its savage inhabitants, leaving only its ruins to indicate its former prosperity. In the annals of the Mormon church, this halting place in the wilderness must always fill an important and interesting page. It was from this spot that the exploring expedition of pioneers, headed by Brigham Young, took its departure on the 14th of April, 1847, in search of a permanent location west of the Rocky Mountains, "far from the haunts of prosecuting Christendom," as one of their historians put it, "and where the footprints of a white man had scarcely ever before been seen." The expedition resulted in the discovery and selection of the Great Salt Lake Valley.
     In 1853 James C. Williams, at the suggestion of Colonel Peter A. Sarpy, of the American Fur Company's trading post at Bellevue, decided to locate a town upon the site of "Winter Quarters." He accordingly laid out the town site in the fall of that year, and the name of Florence


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© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller