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The river was high, for that was the spring after the great snow; we could not run all night, and often tied up to a cottonwood tree, apparently in the middle of the river, or again on some shelving beach, with white, clean sand, and the boys would get out there and run races in the moonlight for tobacco and "sich.” The wood-yards, and the inhabitants that gathered there, were always a source of wonder, and at times of sport. The regular fight between the Captain and the owner of the yard over the price of wood, often ending in "You go to H-11," would make a horse laugh if it could be reported now phonetically; and when we did stop to “wood up,” especially at night fall it was a novel scene. After the Captain and the wood-yard man got through swearing, the mates and the deck hands began; and such oaths, accompanied by blows, and threatenings without number! Talk about clothing a man with curses, as with a garment! Why, these fellows furnished material enough for an ulster, rubber poncha, Marquee tent, and a spare suit for Sunday. "Come now, there! lively now with that wood! Roll it in!
Are you asleep out there you
You tumble up now, lively!” “All aboard!” and with a jerk the plank was yanked in, sometimes leaving the last man in the river to be hauled out by his comrades. We had no labor unions then. I wonder what working men would say now, at being cursed and struck an hour at a time; but they did not seem to mind it-grew fat and danced the Juba over it.
The boat was so crowded that it was hard to get anything to eat, and a tremendous rush was made for first places at the table. An hour before the bell rang we formed in a long row and patiently waited; but then we had nothing else to do. And the table! none of your little, square, four at a time stands, but the length of the entire cabin. No little snippy dishes of this and that on the side, but great immense roasts, and stews and broils, and the Captain in all the grandeur of primeval authority, stood at the head of the table, with a knife as long as your arm, and he cut and he carved as he pleased, but was very polite with his mouth, as to what part you would have, etc. A big fat steward stood behind him, to hand him things, the darkey boys trotted down the long table with heaping plates. Juicy! Fat! Those were dinners when you got at them once!
At one point a typical frontiersman came aboard, Jim Bridger, a man who had seen Indians-yea, killed them! How we gathered around him and stared! He had a bullet hole in his hat just above the hair, and I had no idea then that such a hole could be made in any other way than when the man's hat was on his head.
The "landings” at towns were as unique as the "wood-ups,” but I have no space here to describe them, for we must hurry up or we shall never get to Nebraska.
In Kansas we saw cannon mounted on the bluffs at several points. Our boat was not halted, but several had been. At one place only were we searched. A committee came aboard; they did not ask us to say "caow" or "to hum," nor lift our baggage for rifles. It happened that nearly all our people were going to Nebraska, or Sioux City, and we were passed without further trouble.
Above St. Joe, Missouri, we found few wood yards, and had to cut our own wood. The passengers would go out and help, to kill time, and make time, for they wanted to "get there” bad. The New Yorkers would try to make fun of the long, lank Missourians that came to the landings. At one place they had teased a green looking chap considerably. After the Captain had shouted "All aboard," and they were pulling the gang plank in, he said to Charley Porter, "Got any terbacker?" "Yes," said Charley, handing out a full plug of fine natural leaf twist. The Missourian took out a six-inch jack knife and cut off one third of the plug. Holding it up he said, “That's terbacker enough for any man, ain't it?" "I should think it was,” said Charley, “Well you take it," said the native, biting a huge chunk off the two-thirds in his hand and cramming the rest in his shirt as he jumped ashore.
And so we plowed our way upward, our numbers thinning a little at Rulo, Brownville, Nebraska City and other places, until we reached Omaha. Here there was quite an exodus.
Our party did not go ashore, and all I remember of Omaha at that time was a long sand ridge away out where the river is now, with two cottonwood shanties, saloons, and a scrubby old cottonwood tree. One shanty had a sign, “The Last Chance," that meant till you got to Sioux City, and was the first time I had ever seen that sign.
The two gamblers, who were going further, invited every one ashore to “take suthin;" as they had won all the loose change aboard, they could well afford to, and I think fifty, at least, must have followed them to the cottonwood bar.
We were about three weeks from St. Louis to Omaha, and over a week more in getting to Decatur, our famous town site; and now we were really in Nebraska and beginning to help make a state. What a queer looking place it was! A more heart broken and dilapidated set of tenderfeet never put hoof ashore, than we were the next day after the boat was gone and we were left fairly alone miles from nowhere and nobody "to home.” Instead of four stores, there were two log trading posts, owned by Frenchmen, who hated "ventre bleu Yankees,” and as for the fifteen houses, there wasn't such a thing as what we had been accustomed to call a house in the place. The long, cold winter had driven all but a few of the inhabitants of the fall before away, and we came near having to sleep on the prairie the first night. None of this particular party were accustomed to hard outdoor labor, and had never seen a country before where there was not a good tavern handy at night and a warm breakfast readycooked the next morning. Our complications, annoyances, and experiences would fill a volume, but you have nearly all been there and I must rush on to describe things of a more local nature.
How we packed a small frame house (made in St. Louis), from the river banks on our backs and set it up for the only woman in the crowd, and how we lived on a barrel of eggs, and of potatoes, that some member had thoughtfully bought from the boat, after seeing the "townsite," until another steamboat came along; how the rest of us slept in a log cabin with a dirt roof, and got wet when it did rain, and how part of the sawmill had been left behind in St. Louis, and there was nothing to do but stake out claims, and play euchre, a new game to us, must be left for “another story." I am anxious to write a few words of a phase of early Nebraska that cannot be reproduced.
Imagine us stored away in cotton wood shanties hastily constructed, dug-outs, log cabins, and a few settlers coming in from time to time, to add to our numbers, and bring word from the outside world. For our mails came once a week to Ashton, Iowa, and had to be sent for, so that it was often a fortnight between times. Staking out “claims," wondering what we should do by and by when our money gave out, and whether the country would produce anything if it were planted, making acquaintance with the Indians, who flattened their noses against the windows of the cabin, and scared our only woman almost to death, formed our chief occupations for the first month
In those days I had jet black hair, and soon sunburned darker than many a half breed. This, I think, took “Old Lumbar's" fancy, so one day he hailed me and said in substance: "You young man, got good ed-yuc-a-shun, you don't look like Yankee, how you like to come with me in
Injun payment come soon, you keep my books, learn Injun trade.” I was only too glad to agree, and the next morning took my place behind the rude counter of a little log trading post and began another
chapter of life still more strange and more at variance with my previous belongings. While the little town grew,
few families came in some prairie was broke, the town company made a few improvements, and we began in odd ways to assume the duties of citizenship in a new country, this chronicle will turn to the doings of still older settlers than any of us in Nebraska.
The Omaha Indians had barely been removed from below Omaha to their present reservation in the fall of 1856, and as no arrangements were made for post traders, and no white men allowed on the reservation other than the agent and his employees, the two Frenchmen, Sarpy and Lambert, and one American, Chase, had established stores or "posts,” as they called them, just over the line in Decatur. The event of the year, the "payment,” was daily expected. Did you ever see an Indian payment in all its glory? I guess not. Forty thousand dollars in gold was distributed per capita among the heads of families, and almost every dollar of it was spent within four days from the time it left the United States agent's hands-in this way: the old time regular traders had trusted the Indians through the fall and winter, and were allowed to go to the paymaster's table and collect their accounts, as each tall red man stalked by and got his gold pieces; and to the honor of both parties there was seldom a disputed account, though the bookkeeping had been of the rudest kind on both sides. This diminished the forty thousand dollars woefully. In addition, half a dozen temporary traders mostly from Council Bluffs, for the Omaha merchants had not caught on to the Indian trade yet, rushed up at payment time, pitched their tents in the neighborhood, and divided the remainder of the forty thousand dollars with the "regulars," much to their
Pursuant to the treaty of March 16, 1854. See Treaties concluded by the United States of America with Foreign Nations and Indian Tribes, 1851-1855 (Boston, 1851), p. 135.- Ep.