NEGenWeb Project
Resource Center
On-Line Library




Picture or sketch

Court House and Jail

     The story of the negotiations of Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson which ended in Nebraska's becoming part of the United States need not be told here. Enough to say that when the French flag came down at New Orleans on December 20, 1803, the prairies and valleys of Nebraska had changed sovereignty at a price of less than five cents per acre, with the inhabitants thrown in. There were about 40,000 of these inhabitants, half of them, like the Pawnees and Omahas, living in settled villages with the crude beginnings of agriculture, the other half, like the Sioux and Cheyennes, in a nomad state. For a hundred years the French influence had been dominant in Nebraska. It is true that from 1762 until 1802 the province was nominally a possession of Spain. There were Spanish governors at New Orleans and at St. Louis, but the people, the language, the civilization, remained French. The earliest documents written on Nebraska soil were in the French language. There is an interesting



Picture or sketch

William Clark

affinity between the sounds of the Gallic tongue and those of the aboriginal Nebraskans. The nasal "n" which the English has not is prominent in both of them. The half-breed and even the Indian population here had made progress in learning how to "parley voo" and I have myself heard at this day French words and phrases with a correct pronunciation from the lips of full-blood Indians in their Nebraska homes. An interesting proof of the French influence is found in the commissions and letters sent by the American governors at St. Louis to Nebraska chiefs. For a number of years these were written in parallel columns,--English on one side, French on the other. And even as late as 1854 the log books of the steamboats running to Nebraska towns are written in the language of Victor Hugo and Maupassant.

     It was a part of the far-reaching plans of Thomas Jefferson to explore and Americanize as quickly as possible this western empire. In pursuance of this plan he commissioned his own private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark, a brother of General George Rogers Clark, whose daring conquest of Illinois during the revolutionary war forms the leading theme of President Roosevelt's "Winning of the West" to command an expedition. This expedition, forty-five men in all with three boats and two horses, started May 14, 1804 on its voyage up the Missouri and reached the mouth of the Big Nemaha in Nebraska on July 11. On the 12th Captain Clark went up the Nemaha two miles in a boat and landing not far from where now stands the town of Rulo found a number of Indian mounds and was delighted with the fruits, flowers and grass there growing. On July 15th the party reached the Little Nemaha which was forty yards wide. There were then no trees growing in the Nemaha country except near the water. The plan was to have the best hunters go ahead on shore with the two horses and kill meat for the party. On the 18th the record says the hunters on the Nebraska side brought in two deer. On the 20th the party camped in Nebraska a little above the mouth of the Weeping Water and the next day reached the "mouth of the great river Platte, three-quarters of a mile wide." Sunday, July 22, the camp was pitched nine miles above the Platte and here on the 23rd the Stars and

Picture or sketch

Meriwether Lewis



Picture or sketch

Site of Lewis and Clarke Council

Stripes was raised for the first time in Nebraska and two men sent with another flag up the Platte to the villages of the Otoes and Pawnees. At nine o'clock on July 30th the expedition came to some timber land at the foot of a high bluff and made camp. Here was killed the first elk and the first badger, and here, on August 3, 1804, was held the first council between representatives of the United States and the Indians of Nebraska. This council is the great historic event in early Nebraska annals. Fourteen Indians, members of the Otoe and Missouri tribes, were present on one side and the whole white force on the other. The meeting was held under an awning made from the sail of the largest boat. Presents were exchanged. Peace and protection were promised and the Indians acknowledged the authority of the United States. The spot was called by Captain Lewis Council Bluff. The events of this day were celebrated August 3, 1904, by a pageant reproducing the council of a century ago and the dedication of a boulder of Nebraska rock with commemorative inscription. The village of Fort Calhoun now stands on the summit of Council Bluff and the council of 1804 was held within a few hundred yards of the railway station there.

     On August 11 the expedition reached the tomb of the great Omaha chief Blackbird, on a high hill of soft yellow sandstone about three hundred feet above the river. Upon the top of this hill a mound thirty-six feet around the base and six feet high enclosed the body of the dead chief. The site is not far from the present village of Decatur. On August 16th the party went fishing in Omaha creek and caught over eleven hundred fish of all kinds. August 24th lonia mountain or the "Nebraska volcano" in Dixon county was reached and the comment made that it seemed to have been on fire lately as the ground was so hot that they could not keep their hands in it. August 31 at a point in Nebraska called Calumet Bluff, the first council was held with the Sioux. A large party of the Yankton band crossed the river from their homes in South Dakota and after the usual ceremonies received presents and pledged their allegiance t the United States. September 4th the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Niobrara and camped just above its confluence with the Missouri on

Prior page


Names index
Picture or sketch

@ 2002 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller