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days of elegant leisure, but the instant the whistle of a steamer was heard there was a general stampede for the landing. Parties were quickly improvised, and the eatables and drinkables aboard were levied upon by those whose principal living consisted of such delicacies as venison, wild turkey, prairie chicken, and game of every variety. These were gladly exchanged for bacon, fruit, vegetables, etc. There was always a darky aboard with banjo or fiddle, so the festivities culminated in a dance.
At the time of which I write, 1856, the principal trading post at Decatur was held by Peter A. Sarpy, and for a time Clement Lambert was his chief clerk. Like most Indian traders, Lambert was fond of his booze. One evening a steamer arrived from St. Louis and tied up for the night. This was the signal for a general carousal, and Lambert went on a tear. He owned a famous pony, as fearless as himself. When Lambert got fairly full, he stripped to pants and Indian leggings, buckled a belt around his waist, stuck in it a pair of Colt's revolvers, sprang to the back of his pony, gave a couple of Indian war-whoops, and made for the river. Barely halting long enough to give another yell, and with a gun in either hand, he ordered the gangway open, which was quickly done under the force of circumstances. Then with a command,
more forcible than elegant, he told the pony to go, and he went, not only on to the steamer, but up the flight of stairs, into the saloon, and up to the bar. Here he ordered a big drink for Billy, the pony, and commanded every soul present to "drink to the health of Billy and the President of the United States."
During the Civil War, steamers reduced in size and with light draft carried supplies to the forts as far north as Benton and Pierre, bringing back rich furs, by which many traders made independent fortunes.
Just here, a personal incident connected with steamboating may not be out of place. The uprising of the northern Indians and the dreadful massacres had called out a large number of troops who went in defense of the white settlers.
I was then captain of Company I, 2d Nebraska Cavalry, Governor Furnas, colonel of the regiment. Being severely ill at Crow Creek agency, it became necessary to send me to the hospital at Ft. Randall. As one of the fur company's steamers came puffing down the river, it was hailed for this purpose. Fearing they were to be pressed into the service, the captain paid no heed to the signal, whereupon the officers in command ordered a shot fired across her bow, causing a quick change in the direction of the boat, for she speedily came to the landing, and I was carried aboard and safely conveyed to the hospital. During the trip, the Captain became interested in my condition, and at a point where they were taking on wood, the Captain sent the private who had been detailed to take care of me ashore, and told him to get a bush of bull berry. The bush was brought, loaded with berries, red, acid, and astringent. The Captain told me to eat a handful, or extract and swallow the juice, which I did. Within an hour I experienced great relief, and to this I feel sure I owe my life.
The first lumber-yard established on the upper Missouri was at Omadi, Dacotah county, one of the first towns laid out in the territory of Nebraska. Steamers from St. Louis came to this point laden with lumber for the flourishing young town. A schoolhouse was erected, sawmill built, and hopes were high for making Omadi the county seat of Dacotah county. Today, the site of Omadi is marked by a sandbar on the opposite side of the river from where it was originally located. The treacherous Missouri, having decided to change her bed, cut out the bank, and swept over and around to the other side, leaving the place where poor Omadi had been, in Iowa.
Coming back to 1856, the date of my arrival in Decatur, I take up the story of pioneer life in Burt county.
The "Iowa Central Air Line" was surveyed and located to the Missouri river, at a point opposite Decatur. There seemed to be no possible reason for believing the road would not be speedily built through. Having a little money to in
vest, I decided to purchase land and shares in the county and town. Since I had been one of the engineers in the party surveying the line, my locating here was believed to establish the fact of the point of crossing the river, and shares jumped in one week from one hundred to eleven hundred dollars. It is a matter of history how the Iowa Central Air Line went into possession of the Chicago, North-Western R. R. Co., and was made to swerve to the south in order to reach Council Bluffs, which had come into prominence from being the point where supplies for troops and overland parties were obtained. Stephen Decatur, better known as "Commodore Decatur," was godfather to the town which bears his name. Though sorely disappointed by the railroad failure, the settlers bravely went to work to develop the natural resources of the beautiful and fertile country.
The Indians had occupied the reservation several years, but not until after the close of the Civil War was the allotment made giving to each Indian his own particular portion. I was appointed by the government to make the first allotment, and at the close of the second summer every member of the two tribes, Omaha and Winnebago, was satisfactorily settled.
At the time of my coming there was not a white woman in Decatur.
The first team owned there was a yoke of oxen belonging to me, slow but sure.
Surprise parties were the fashion, and often did they carry a merry party out to the sod house of some settler who was aroused from his slumbers by the "whoa haw gee" of the driver. It required some effort to get up a first-class entertainment, but there were always some ready to lend a hand, and by the time a half dozen calico dresses were seen on the street, dances, concerts, lectures, etc., were not infrequent. Many of the settlers were afraid of the Indians, who were our near neighbors, but the people of the town had become accustomed to their antics and war-whoops so that none of these things disturbed them.
One summer, when town lots were at a low ebb, it was decided to make an extra effort to sell some. The 4th of July was at hand, so what could be better than to combine business with pleasure and patriotism. The combined intellect of the place evolved a fine program that should stimulate curiosity and whet the appetite for town lots and a good dinner. A few days before the Fourth, "dodgers" were sent out through the county, reading like this:
FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION.
TOWN LOTS FOR SALE AT YOUR OWN PRICE.
FREE MEALS FOR EVERYBODY
INCLUDING THE CHILDREN.
A WONDERFUL SURPRISE FOR
ORATIONS AND SINGING.
The surprise was to be in the form of a war dance and designed for the climax of the festivities. The Indian agent, sent by the government to the reservation, entered heartily into the arrangement and promised to furnish the finest specimens at the agency for the war dance. The ladies of Decatur entered into the spirit of the time, and with patriotic fervor vied with each other in preparing delicacies for the banquet, baking "Revolution cake" and "Washington pie," and furnishing enough bread, doughnuts, chicken, baked beans, etc., to feed a regiment. The day was perfect; flags and flowers gaily dressed out the tables set on the green, and everybody was on tiptoe of expectations, ready to welcome the crowds sure to come, with true western hospitality.
A large number of Indians were to come in their war paint and feathers and with the red, blue, or yellow blankets furnished by the government. It was expected they would make a picturesque showing riding down the bluff at full speed on their swift ponies. The expectations were fully met. The Indians are always fond of surprises, and at this time determined to have one of their own, so, instead of waiting quietly
for their part of the program, they came tearing down the bluffs with unearthly yells, whooping as they had been told to do, their blankets and long hair streaming in the wind, just as the farmers and settlers with their wives and children dressed in their Sunday best were coming in on the river road. With one startled look, every last wagon was turned quickly about and went flying home at a galloping pace. They had heard of Indian uprisings, and knowing nothing of the "wonderful surprise," stayed not on the order of their going but went at once. The Decatur people had their war dance, which was an old story to them, and the Indians had the "free meals," for every table was quickly cleared by the hungry savages, who were ready to eat anything from a coyote to a grasshopper.
It is said that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick." Surely the people of Decatur that day had reason to feel that fate was against them. Even their patriotic enthusiasm was not rewarded. However, they have gone on with courage unabated, until now, despite the absence of a railroad, they have one of the prettiest towns in the state. They have good schools and churches and beautiful homes where peace, prosperity, and contentment abide under the shade of the groves their own hands have planted.
HISTORY OF THE LINCOLN SALT BASIN.
PRESENTED AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE NEBRASKA STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, JANUARY 10, 1905.
BY JOHN H. AMES.1
In attempting to comply with the request of your Society to prepare a history of the Salt Basin near Lincoln, I shall confine myself as closely as possible to documentary evidence,
1 John H. Ames, commissioner of the supreme court of Nebraska, was born on a farm in Windham county, Vermont, near the city of Brattleboro, February 20, 1847; was admitted to the bar in Buffalo, New York, in May, 1868, and in July, 1869, removed to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he engaged