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Richard Pell Family

Richard PELL brought his family to Nebraska a bit before it was legal to do so. They came by covered wagon from St. Joseph, Missouri in 1853, arriving in what was to be Otoe County a year before the territory was open for settlers. Although, the Pells jumped the gun on legal entry, by 1854 when they moved to Cass County, they established a legal claim near the present day location of Union. Richard secured his land with a special government dispensation which he had received for serving in the U.S. Army as a young man. The land he chose was among the most beautiful pieces in the entire region. It later became known as Larsh's after a man who bought the homestead and turned it into a showcase place. Today, people go there for picnics and gatherings. The name of Richard Pell is found on the first Nebraska Territorial Census taken in 1854.

The Pell's were not alone in this new land. Richard's wife, Martha Spratlen Pell, was part of a large family who had arrived in Cass Co. by various routes. Together, the Pell's and Spratlen's farmed their lands and ran various parts of a trading industry. James Spratlen built a barge and ferried goods and people across the Missouri. Several Spratlen's along with Richard ran a store in Rock Bluff. In those days it was the only way to survive.

The children of Richard and Martha included, Henry Tatum, William A., George W., Lydia (later m. to Larkin True), Elizabeth (later m. to A. A. Bryant), and Nancy (later Mrs. Ervin). An older daughter, Mary, did not come with them to Nebraska territory. Mary Pell had married William Roles the spring before the family left St. Joseph, MO and the couple set out for California on the Oregon Trail. The family never saw their beloved sister again, for after surviving the rigors of the Oregon Trail, Mary died in California.

For some years Henry Pell, Billy Wolfe of the Factoryville and Union area and Larkin True were engaged in the freighting business. They would obtain several loads of goods brought up the river from St. Louis or beyond and then haul them by ox wagon to Salt Lake City. There were many hazards to face not the least of which were the Indians who were (with good reason) growing increasingly hostile. Family stories have it that the three men could mostly bargain their way out of trouble and always carried a few goods coveted by the tribes as gifts in exchange for free passage.

However, one time in 1866 the freighters were taken by a group who wanted their scalps, and no amount of bargaining seemed to ease the hostilities. Henry, through some knowledge of signs and the tribe's language managed to discover that the war party were angry at all whites over some transgression (which the traders had had nothing to do with) and were determined to wreck vengence. Henry conveyed to the leader of the group that he would bet his life on a foot race. "I'll race against your fastest brave and if I win, you let us go. All right?"

After some conversation among themselves, the men of the war party agreed. Henry was paired up against a young man who looked the very picture of speed. An area for the race was marked off, and the leader gave a signal. Henry and the brave were off, but Henry had a great motive for running his fastest and narrowly won the race. The leader honored his word and let Henry and Larkin (don't know if Billy was with them on that trip or not) go. After that narrow escape, however, Larkin quit the freighting business and the other two only made a few more trips.

I know all this through family stories as well as through an account in a history of Cass Co. as told by my cousin Gertrude True (Wood). Henry Tatum is my great-grandfather. If you wish to check the facts, please contact another cousin, Lucille M. Dabney, 1879 So. 133 St., Omaha, NE 68144. She is preparing a book on the Pell's and has documented much of this tale.

---Julia Pearsley Ryden, May 1999

Submitted by Judy Ryden

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