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Oldest Mission Church

Indian children rejoiced the heart of the missionaries. The first convert, a boy of twelve years, was baptized by Mr. Merrill April 20, 1834. For the first eighteen months Mr. Merrill applied himself to the task of learning the Otoe language that he might preach to the people in their own tongue. On April 1, 1835, a contract between Moses Merrill and John Daugherty provided that the missionary was to teach the Otoe and Missouri children of both sexes and receive therefor the sum of $500 per year from the government. The same year the Baptist missionary society, which had sent out Mr. Merrill, made an appropriation of $1,000 to erect mission buildings at the Otoe Agency about six miles above the mouth of the Platte where the main Otoe village had been moved. In 1834 appeared the first Nebraska book, a little pamphlet of fourteen pages containing familiar hymns translated into the Otoe language by Mr. Merrill. It was printed at the Shawanoe (Baptist) Indian Mission at Shawanoe, Missouri. For the next five years the life of Mr. Merrill was crowded with the labors of both teacher and missionary. His diary (a copy of which is among the archives of the state historical society) is filled with incidents of frontier life, but most of all with the missionary's struggles against the indifference of the Indians and the terrible effects of trader's whisky in the tribe. The Otoes would exchange the furs of a whole year's chase for a few tin cups of poor whisky adulterated with water. Over and over on nearly every page is the record of more whisky brought into camp with the acompaniment (sic) of drunken stabbings and shootings. At one time the missionary when on a visit at Roubidoux's trading post writes: "This is not the house of God nor the gate of heaven. It is rather the house of Satan and the gate of Hell. Eight Otoes arrived who had come sixty miles to exchange their furs for whisky." In the summer of 1838 Mr. Merrill spent several weeks with the tribe on their summer buffalo hunt. February 6, 1840, the missionary pioneer passed away and the Otoes mourned the friend they called "The-One-Who-Always-Speaks-The-Truth." His son, Rev. S. P. Merrill, born July 13, 1835, at Otoe Mission was the first white child born in Nebraska--so far as known. In October, 1834, there arrived at Bellevue Rev. Samuel Allis and Rev. John Dunbar, sent out by the Presbyterian churches. They met the representatives of the Pawnee nation at Bellevue and after a council with them Mr. Dunbar went to the Grand Pawnee village while Mr. Allis accompanied the Pawnee Loups--the first missionaries to the Pawnee nation. Both these ministers lived and lodged, ate and hunted, with the tribe, for the next two years. During that time they acquired the Pawnee language and made friends of their Indian brethren. In 1836 Mr. Allis married



Miss Palmer who had come out from New York and made his home at Bellevue, while Mr. Dunbar and Dr. Satterlee, who had come out to join the mission force, went with the Pawnees on their slimmer hunt. The next year Dr. Satterlee was killed by some Indian traders near the head of Grand Island. In 1837 Mr. Dunbar went east and returned with a wife and the first printed Pawnee book, containing simple words and designed to teach children. In 1842 both missionary families moved out to the Pawnee villages on the Loup and remained there four years, instructing the older Indians in farming and the children in the rudiments of an education,--and bearing the gospel to both old and young. The continual raids of the Sioux upon the Pawnee villages finally broke up the mission work-and the government had failed to station the troops so as to protect it.

     The first mission to the Omahas was in charge of Rev. Samuel Curtis and wife who came to Bellevue, under Baptist auspices, in 1837. The next year they went to Blackbird Hills, near the present site of Omaha agency, and began a mission and government school. For some reason, not fully explained, both mission and school were failures and at the end of the year Mr. Curtis gave up the Indian work and went back east. The real pioneer in mission and school work among the Omahas was Rev. William Hamilton,--known for many years as "Father" Hamilton. He arrived at Bellevue June 6, 1853. In 1856 he built the Omaha mission school, a substantial structure of Nebraska stone, on a beautiful hill a few hundred yards from the Missouri river. Here for the next thirty years was the center of Christian and intellectual life in the Omaha tribe and from this center went forth the young men and women who have made the tribe one of the most progressive and civilized of Indian peoples. Father Hamilton died at Decatur in 1893. His widow still lives there.

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Dedication of Lewis and Clark Monument

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