As the white man moved deeper and deeper into the territory which, for generations, had belonged to the American Indian, tension on both sides mounted. The Indians saw themselves rudely ousted from the lands that had belonged to their forefathers, their crops and herds, their little livelihood, taken from them. They naturally resisted. The early pioneers, conversely, believed the red men a primitive and menacing block to the difficult settling of what was to them a new land.
In 1854, the first organized defense move was made by the settlers. Acting Governor Cuming of the Territory of Nebraska recommended "that the citizens . . . . organize in their respective neighborhoods two volunteer companies, constituting in all two regiments, one north and one south of the River Platte."
In compliance with this order, the Columbus Infantry and the Columbus Guards were organized. The companies were expected to elect their own officers, although the regimental commissions were given by the acting governor. Night guards were also established in frontier districts with the admonition to "keep such arms and ammunition as they can procure in good order and ready for service."
At the time of the Pawnee War of 1859, the Columbus Infantry included the following officers: Michael Weaver, captain; William Grauman, first lieutenant; John Browner, sergeant. The Columbus Guards' officers were: J. Rickly, captain; J. P. Becker, first lieutenant; J. C. Wolfel, second lieutenant.
In 1859 the Pawnee Indians began their summer hunt from their village on the south bank of the Platte, opposite Fremont. When they reached the Elkhorn River near West Point, members of the tribe committed several depredations on the families of white settlers living there. An expedition immediately set out from Omaha with the purpose of pursuing and punishing the guilty Pawnees.
In command was John M. Thayer, major general of the Nebraska militia, appointed by act of the first territorial legislature. The Columbus Infantry and Columbus Guards, with others, journeyed across the prairie and made a junction with the posse somewhere near the present site of Oakdale. The little group, numbering no more than three hundred, followed the Indians until it overtook them at Battle Creek, where they had camped.
The story of what followed was fortunate from the standpoint of the white soldiers, who were outnumbered by the braves ten to one. Their head chief, Peta LaShara, threw down his arms and leaped upon his pony. He then rode toward the militia, uncovering his breast and motioning them to fire at his heart. The group under Thayer held a parley with all the chiefs, at which it was agreed that the amount of their depredations should be deducted from the first annuity received from the government.
With the acceptance of this proposition, (gladly agreed to by the white men who faced a force of three thousand Pawnees) the troops returned to their settlements by way of the Platte, stopping off at Columbus to camp for the night.
When a treaty was later concluded in 1857 with the Pawnee tribe, in which the Indian heldterritory was ceded to the government, the redskins retained a reservation seventy-five by thirty miles. This reserve was bounded on the east by a line parallel with the mouth of the Beaver River, embracing the present Nance County, and including both the Beaver and Cedar Valleys. When the Pawnees moved from their village on the south side of the Platte River to this reservation, the entire white colony of Genoa was forced to vacate, since it fell within the area retained by the Indians.
Some of the "evicted" settlers went on to Utah, while a large number of others settled on the eastern boundary of the reservation in a little hamlet known as Zigzag. Among this group were the Hudson, Freston, Brindley, Saunders and Welch families.
It was at the Genoa
town-site that the first Indian agent, Judge James L. Gillis, took up his residence.
Gillis, a native of Pennsylvania,
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who had served in the United States Army, saw to the erection of a steam saw and grist-mill as well as the establishment of the first Indian school. After he had served for some time, Judge Gillis was relieved as agent, and returned o Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where his children had settled.
Although the white settlers had little trouble with the Pawnees, this very friendship served to intensify the traditional enmity of the Sioux and the Cheyenne tribes with the Pawnees themselves. Although both Cheyenne and Sioux Indians had warred among one another, they always joined forces against the Platte River tribes. During the Civil War, this coalition (Sioux and Cheyenne) acted as a menacing force to the many frontier settlements in the territories of Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.
During the summer of 1864, General Curtis, in charge of the department of St. Louis, was sent to Nebraska Territory to suppress a growing insurrection on the part of the Sioux and Cheyennes. When he arrived in the fall of the year, the general realized that his small force of cavalry was not sufficient, and he began to organize the settlers for their own defense. It was at this time that he met Frank North.
In 1858, Frank North had come to Columbus and started to break prairie as a business, with teams that he brought with him. His experience in trapping and freighting brought him into contact with the Indians. Later, as a worker and a government clerk at the reservation in Genoa, he became proficient in the Pawnee language, both oral and sign.
It was at Frank North's suggestion that Genera! Curtis first employed about seventy Pawnee Indians to act as scouts for protection against raids from the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Ogallala tribes. At first neither North nor the Indians were enlisted, but were hired at day wages and rations. When Curtis was relieved of his command by General Black and ordered to proceed to Fort Riley, Kansas, he was accompanied by Frank North and a small group of Pawnee Indians, acting as guides and scouts. This escort proved highly successful.
North soon was given a captain's commission and instructed to recruit an entire company of Pawnees, to be mustered into service in December, 1864. So effectively had this force handled the problems of protection and defense that it was mustered out with an honorable discharge and the highest official commendations in 1866.
The following year, the Union Pacific Railroad had laid its tracks past Columbus and was already extending into the wild country to the west. Rather than transport regular army troops to the plains to protect the thousands of workers and horses from marauding Indian bands, the Pawnees under North were again brought into action. This time four companies of fifty Indians each were organized and Frank North was advanced to the rank of major.
Serving under him in the command were Captain Edward Arnold, James Murie, Charles Morse, and his brother, Luther North. Two other white men, a lieutenant and a commissary sergeant, completed the battalion. At different times the officers were changed; Gus G. Becher, George Lehman and S. E. Cushing also served. At the time of his promotion Major North was twenty-six years old; his brother Luther was twenty.
With all the equipment left over from the Civil War at their disposal, the Scouts were able to wage a campaign of unprecedented success. Throughout the middle west, this battalion on horseback became a symbol of justice, for the Pawnees literally knew every inch of the ground and the hard-riding soldiers and their white officers emerged victorious from almost every skirmish.
When General Sherman, with an escort of two troops of cavalry, visited the Nebraska Territory, Pawnee scouts accompanied him as far as Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Since the enemy Indians rarely ventured an attack after the first snowfall, it was a custom to disband the Scouts about December of each year and mobilize them the next Spring to guard the construction gangs and settlers who were following the iron rails as they reached out across the prairie.
Both Major Frank North and Captain Luther North served every season until the Pawnees were finally mustered out in 1870. The other officers changed each year but a majority of those in command of the famous cavalry remained Columbus men.
After 1870 there was a period of peace for almost six years, marked only by an occasional outburst of Indian trouble. However, in 1876, the entire country was shocked by the news of the massacre of General George Custer's command at the hands of Chief Sitting Bull. General George A. Crook, leader of the Army in the West, was immediately ordered by General Sheridan to organize an expedition into the northwest country to take Sitting Bull.
The History of Platte County Nebraska
Although he was then engaged in government work at Fort Russell, Frank North was also asked by General Sheridan to make an immediate trip into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) where the Pawnees were then living, and enlist one hundred Indians to do guard duty for General Crook.
The expedition, including Major North's one hundred Pawnees, consisted of fourteen hundred men. On November 26, 1876, a portion of the force under Colonel Ronald S. MacKenzie, met the enemy at a fork of the Powder River in the Big Horn mountain country and a terrific battle was waged.
Thinking that his soldiers had the Indians hemmed in, Colonel MacKenzie ceased fighting at nightfall and planned on making the capture the following morning. Despite the watchfulness of the Pawnees, however, the enemy escaped and scattered, a few to Canada and others to Fort Laramie. The greatest majority did not reach camp. Starved, sick and maimed as a result of battle, they left their own trail of dead and dying in the snow.
This was the last official mission of the famed Pawnee Scouts and accordingly, the loyal Indians were taken to Sidney, Nebraska, where they were mustered out of service in the Spring of 1877. To the end, the Pawnees remained faithful to the white men, even though their story is one of those pages of American history which is better turned swiftly in the over-all development of the West.
In return for ceding the greater portion of their Nebraska heritage to the whites, the Pawnees were supposedly protected by a solemn treaty. Although the former Platte River tribes moved to the strangeness of an Oklahoma reservation, became homesick, ill and hungry, this covenant was only poorly observed by the white man. In spite of this, the Pawnees volunteered to help out the government and the early pioneers by repeatedly serving against the hostile tribes.
When Major Frank North went for the last time to Oklahoma to ask for volunteers, he was welcomed as a brother and a special ceremony was held for the white leader who, a few years earlier, had been christened an honorary chief of the Pawnees. Every adult Pawnee brave in the reservation offered to accompany him, although many were sick with the ague, and Captain Luther North later reported that "the braves we could not take cried like little children at being left behind. Not only did they want another chance at their ancient enemies, but they wanted to get back to their beloved Nebraska."
The earliest records of Indians in these territorial days showed that the redskins used psychology in their attacks upon the white men. The rumored raids of 1863 stand out as an example of this technique which was perhaps unconsciously practiced, especially by the hostile Sioux.
In the summer of that year, the Indians "made mention" of a proposed attack on the settlers to a lone trader who encountered them one day. The alarm was immediately spread throughout the Platte Valley. At once the people began pouring in from all over the countryside, and the Home Guard was set up. There began a period of ten days when mass fear and hysteria prevailed, although no actual skirmish with the Indians was forthcoming.
If nothing else, the affair served as an excellent drill for possible future raids, since a regular stockade was erected covering an area of approximately five acres, including the old American Hotel, which was started in 1858. Also enclosed within this stockade was the V. Kummer residence, Rickly's store and mill, and the premises of F. G. Becher, Jacob Ernst, and Michael Weaver --- all Columbus residents.
Within this confine every man, woman, and child; every horse, ox, and cow, was jammed, for the homesteaders had arrived bringing their stock with them. The men hauled in all their cedar fence posts and built a breastwork by setting one end of each post twelve inches in the ground, and lining the posts so that they touched one another. A few openings for gates were left, and these were well guarded each night.
Among the early settlers who had gathered at this alarm (the reports had spread panic from Grand Island to the Elkhorn), were Thomas Lynch, Patrick Gleason, the Carrigs, and the entire Upper Shell Creek settlement. Also in the stockade, which extended east as far as Buffalo Square, were the Lusches, Reinkes, Erbs, Wetterers, Losekes, Edward Ahrens and his son, John, and Herschel and Christiana Needham.
The false report circulated credited the Sioux with a band of savages, five hundred strong, concentrated on an island between the two channels of the Platte. The terrified population feeling themselves cut off from all outside military assistance --- lived inside this stockade for several days, eating and sleeping with no roof and only a few individual tents.
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Each day the men would leave the stockade to their farms and work in the fields, keeping their guns always ready. At night they returned to the impromptu encampment to await the "attack."
It was the following year, on August 17, 1864, that an actual raid was made by the fierce Sioux tribe, spreading death and destruction through the Platte Valley. Adam Smith, son of Adam Smith, senior, who died in the infamous attack, recorded the gruesome details of the pillaging of Pat Murray's hay farm near Genoa. This affair, known as the Looking Glass Meadow Massacre, once more awakened the countryside to the menace of hostile Indians.
Although the elder Smith, felled by eight arrows, died the morning following the raid, Mrs. Murray, who had been left for dead with five arrows piercing her body, had crawled over the prairie all night before she was found. She recovered from the ordeal and lived for twenty-eight years after the massacre. Steve Hendricks, the small boy who witnessed the horror, crawled into a haystack and thus escaped the Indians.
The decade that followed was undoubtedly the last one in which the Indians played anything but a satellite role in the taming of the plains and prairies. The Platte Journal in 1872 reported that the Omaha tribe had returned from a grand buffalo hunt in which they claimed to have killed four thousand buffaloes. That this was necessary to provide meat and skins is an indisputable fact; for the Indians resented the intrusion of the white men as much for their thoughtless slaughter of these herds as for any other reason.
Another item of the day appeared in 1875, combining pioneer humor with a well-aimed warning: "A new style of hair dressing is likely to come into vogue throughout the northwestern country this season. Spotted Tail, Red Cloud and Company, with a full and efficient corps of assistants, offer to any of the general public who will persist in entering the Black Hills country before it is formally thrown open, the most 'sloux-perior' advantages for getting rid of gray hairs --- or those of any other color, in fact . . . ."
This was the same year that the President of the United States held a conference with leading Sioux Indians at Washington, D. C., to negotiate the relinquishment of the braves' claims to the Black Hills country. During this meeting, the Sioux were reminded that under the treaty of 1868, they were to have been furnished with clothing for thirty years, and provisions for only five years. Although their allocation for food had expired two years previously, the government had continued to feed the Indians on a gratuity. Thus, the tribe had little alternative but to capitulate and deed over its lands.
About this time, the last of the once mighty Pawnees were moved to Oklahoma, where the national government had established an Indian Reservation. Decreased almost forty percent in two years, the Platte River Pawnee Indian tribes presented a pathetic sight as they marched to the desolate swampland that was to be their new home.
When the advance guard of the Poncas, under military escort, reached Columbus in June, 1877, the entire band --- including bucks, squaws and papooses --- numbered about six hundred. Camping south of the Loup, about a mile and a half from town, they remained for two days while a large number of Columbus residents went out to the edge of town to see the "grand Indian jollification" that was expected.
The Poncas, however, remained glum. In spite of the fact that they were joined by a band of friendly Otoes, there was a marked feeling of resentment at their predicament. Finally, to oblige the people of Columbus, and add to their own meager funds, a few young bucks of the tribe did some war dances about the town. Following this last ceremony, the Indians broke camp and continued their journey.
The few redskins who remained in the valley of the Platte were never integrated into the community, but remained aloof as a relatively unimportant part of that life. One typical news item of 1880 reported that "a lot of Omaha Indians have been in town from their reservation for several days past, seemingly with no other occupation than to gaze in at the windows, frightening women and children nearly out of their wits." This was a common practice of the Indians, to invade the white's privacy.
COLONEL WILLIAM CODY
Columbus, during those years, was the birthplace of a phenomenon of the entertainment world, which did much to publicize the West, not only in the United States but in foreign lands. About 1868 a former scout for the Fifth Cavalry, William F. Cody, began to attract public attention. Cody had filled a contract to supply buffalo meat for the construction gangs on the Kansas Pacific, and when General Carl
The History of Platte County Nebraska
brought the cavalry from Kansas to Fort McPherson, Nebraska, Cody accompanied him.
It was in the battle of Summit Springs near the Republican River country that Cody attained his first real fame. This encounter, which took place fifteen miles south of Sterling, Colorado, between the Platte River and Frenchman Creek, focused on the capture of two white women by a Sioux chief, Tall Bull. The victims were killed by the old Indian when he discovered he could not keep them in captivity.
In the ensuing battle for retaliation, Major Frank North and his Scouts played a dominant role. Major North, however, was a modest man. When, a few days later, an eastern newspaper correspondent, Ned Buntline, arrived at Fort Sedgewick to gather material on a story about Indian warfare, the famous major was about to leave for Fort McPherson, and reluctant to talk of his own exploits.
"I'm not the man you want to talk with. Go and see Bill Cody," was his advice to the newspaperman.
This one small incident was the beginning of Cody's great fame as a scout and Indian fighter. Although he was a brave soldier and participated in many encounters with the redskins, Cody was with Colonel Royal on a northern trail, and not within fifteen miles of the Summit Springs raid. The imaginative Buntline, however, made him the hero of the fight, and credited him with the killing of Tall Bull (who was actually shot by Frank North).
Cody, better known to the world as Buffalo Bill, played in his first amusement venture on the stage. Buntline's "blood-and-thunder" stories, written for the old Beadle and Adams dime novel series, had publicized him as a hero, and it was this reputation, plus the action and shooting of the drama, which made it a success.
However, Cody had ambitions for a show of his own. In 1883, he joined with four other noted Indian fighters from Platte County, to stage a performance under canvas. These men were Major Frank J. North, George W. Clother, Bun Turner and Fred Matthews. Their first appearance was at Columbus, where they organized and trained, and their second at Omaha. Later, they played at the Chicago Exposition, and the former Scout and Indian fighter went on to international fame.
Cody bought the original horses for his Wild West show from Luther A. North, and rehearsed a new and dramatic type of entertainment including Indian dances, battles, shooting contests, and buffalo hunts. Long before the show achieved its world-wide reputation, Frank North severed his connection with it and retired to Columbus. He formed a co-partnership with Cody in Omaha under the firm name Cody and North, and embarked in the stock business. The firm accumulated 4500 head of cattle and five ranches in this endeavor, and centralized much of its operation in the Dismal River section of western Nebraska. The firm was dissolved in 1882.
Major North was married December. 25th, 1865, to Mary L. Smith in Columbus, and their daughter, Stella (Mrs. E. H. Chambers), was born April 16th, 1869, and is a resident of Columbus. Her famous father died in Nebraska in March, 1885.
Although it is true that William Cody could not equal the shooting record of either Frank or Luther North, he won international fame as a rifle shot, and participated in many of the colorful episodes of that era in history. In 1872, when a buffalo hunt was arranged for Grand Duke Alexis of Russia by General Sheridan in western Nebraska, Cody was assigned to instruct the Grand Duke in killing buffalo.
His partnership with "Doc" Carver, one of the great marksmen of his day, rivaled P. T. Barnum in drawing crowds. In addition to Major North, the names of Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull were other stellar attractions in the Wild West show, and the combined company played before the leading audiences of England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. It is estimated that as many as six million people saw his show in a single year.
Luther North, who survived his famous brother by many years, continued to live in Columbus until his death in April 1935, and added much to the lore of the early days of Indian warfare through his stories and writings.
One such account, concerning the Plum Creek fight of August, 1867, is illustrative of the bravery of the original Scouts. A Cheyenne chief, by the name of Turkey Leg, had led a band in tearing up newly-laid track of the Union Pacific Railroad about four miles west of Plum Creek, Nebraska, and proceeded to plunder the train.
Major Frank North was immediately notified by Lieutenant David who, with ten scouts, was sent out to reconnoiter near Plum Creek, and he arrived at the scene the following day with Captain James Murie and his company of
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Scouts. Major North, Captain Murie and his men waited in the vicinity for some time before one hundred and fifty of the Cheyenne warriors led by Turkey Leg, appeared on the south side of the Platte River near the old Plum Creek stage station.
Major North and some of his Scouts crossed on an old bridge, while the others attempted to ford the stream. A battle ensued in which many of the Scouts' horses became stuck in the mud. Their riders, after dismounting, ran up the opposite bank on foot and opened fire on the Cheyennes with their Spencer carbines. The enemy, however, was well armed, for besides their bows and arrows, this tribe for years had been securing rifles and revolvers largely for the purpose of fighting the Pawnees.
After seven Cheyenne warriors had been killed, the hostile Indians ran back toward the hills where their pack train had been left, and where about four hundred of their women and children were watching the battle. Lining up in front of their families, the Cheyennes again opened fire while the squaws cut the packs off the horses, mounted and galloped away to safety. Major North, Captain Murie, and the Pawnees closed in after them. The ensuing fight lasted for many hours, during which seventeen Cheyenne warriors were killed and the rest driven back approximately twenty miles. The wife of Chief Turkey Leg, along with two children and thirty-five horses and mules, were captured. (The squaw and one child were later exchanged for some white prisoners held by the Cheyennes; records show them to be the two Martin sisters, both under twenty, and three boys about ten or twelve.)
"I sometimes think this was the greatest victory ever won by my brother," Luther North later said in discussing the numerous battles participated in by Frank North. With the odds at least four to one against him, Major North fought to victory on the open prairie, losing only two horses and no men. Two Pawnee Scouts were slightly wounded in the Clash.
The official record of the Plum Creek engagement is to be found in Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army where the date is given as August 17, 1867 The battle was remarkable also, because it was one of the few events in which Pawnee Scouts fought without other military support.
Stories of Indian encounters were part of the legacy of almost every pioneer family during the last century and even in the years before that. Typical is the experience of Edwin Hull Chambers' parents and his great-great-grandparents in settling the westward-moving frontier. E. H. Chambers, who until his death was a member of the firm of Becher, Hockenberger, and Chambers in Columbus, was the husband of Stella North Chambers, daughter of the famous Pawnee Scout, Major Frank North.
The experience of the Chambers' family with Indian tribes dates back to the spring of 1763, when there was a great uprising of redskins, led by Pontiac, the famous chief of the Ottawas, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Beatrice Byerly, great-great-grandmother of Edwin Hull Chambers, had just given birth to a son three days before, and her husband, Andrew Byerly, who was a soldier, had gone to help bury some neighbors killed by the Indians.
That night a friendly Indian who had often been given food by Mrs. Byerly came to tell her that the entire family would be killed if they did not escape before daylight. Getting up from her sick bed, Mrs. Byerly scrawled on the door, "We have gone to Legionier" (Fort Legionier was about thirty miles away). Then she set out with her two sons and a child not yet two years old fastened on behind her in the saddle, and with her three-day-old infant in her arms. Joined by her husband on the long trek, Mrs. Byerly managed to evade the Indians and arrived at the fort, although their pursuers' bullets struck the gates as the family entered the stockade. Here, the Byerlys and other settlers remained two months, exposed to great privations and repeated assaults from the Indians.
Almost one hundred years later, this story repeated itself in the form of an encounter between a different Indian tribe and the descendants of the same pioneer family. A twenty-year old boy by the name of Benjamin Franklin Chambers returned to his native state of Pennsylvania to marry Sarah Ann Byerly, great-granddaughterof the woman who rode away from her home in the night as a result of a warning from a friendly Indian. Ben and Sarah Chambers settled in Dakota City, Nebraska, after traveling the Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for two months to reach their new home.
On one trip by bob-sled through Nebraska, the couple was followed by a pack of hungry wolves who threatened their lives as well as those of the horses. Although he had no gun, Ben Chambers wielded a heavy ax, and was thus able to kill a wolf occasionally. The whole
The History of Platte County Nebraska
pack would immediately stop to devour the slain member, and the Chambers got a brief respite from their howling escort.
The incident which paralleled the Indian episode in Sarah Chambers' family occurred while her husband was fighting with company "I," in the Second Nebraska Volunteer Infantry during the Indian warfare of 1862. He was stationed some distance from their prairie home when, one day, Mrs. Chambers saw a band of Indians bedecked in war paint and bonnets approaching the house. They came into the yard and sharpened their knives and tomahawks on a grindstone just outside.
The young mother closed the door and took her children with her into the bedroom. Peeking through the curtain, she saw another Indian approaching on horseback. He held an earnest consultation with the rest, and soon the entire band left, without doing any harm. Afterward, Mrs. Chambers learned that this young Indian was the son of a chief who had been befriended by her husband some time before. Learning that Ben Chambers' family was to be massacred and his home burned, he had hastened to repay the kindness shown him.
So history repeated itself on the Nebraska prairie in the days when the new community was a loose and amorphous structure. Sarah Chambers, like her great-grandmother before her, was saved by the act of a friendly Indian. But others were not so fortunate. "Going to another farm . . . . the Indians scalped the oldest boy and laid him across the path which led to the front door; another boy was scalped and laid across the doorstep. The mother, who had gone to the village for provisions, found them when she returned home. Frantic and grief stricken she searched for her baby --- she noticed there was a fire in the cookstove, and she had been most careful to see there was none when she left for the village. So, going to the stove she opened the oven --- and there lay her little daughter --- dead."
Pillaging, barbarity, and destruction became daily affairs in this period when white man and red man struggled to compete for the dusty, windswept acres of land. The Indians were not the only ones to practice savagery records tell of a night in 1864 after the Sand Creek encounter in Colorado, when more than one hundred scalps were brought out and displayed to a Denver theatre audience by the white soldiers who had taken them.
The books are all but closed on this era of American history. Outside the Indian reservations only an occasional landmark is now left to remind the descendants of these middlewestern pioneers of the hardships and the constant terror which were the price for coming to a land that had belonged to older, more primitive men.
© 2005 for the NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller