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in the annals of that time than other women, probably because their duties as teachers brought them into public notice. Sev: eral admirable articles from the pen of one of them, Mrs. Alvira Gaston Platt, appear in the records of this society.
As, owing to the location of the Presbyterian mission and the trading post of the American Fur Company at Bellevue, it was the scene of the first gathering of any considerable number of white people, we must look here first for the women who made the history of that period.
Rev. Mr. Hamilton was in charge of the Presbyterian Mission, and Mrs. Hamilton and the Misses Amanda, Maria, Elsie, and Mary Hamilton bore most prominent parts in the home and social life of that period. The mission house, in which they resided, was the one building of any size and degree of comfort for some time, and within its walls Father Hamilton received and Mrs. Hamilton entertained many and varied guests. Here came the first Governor of the territory, Francis Burt, stricken with disease even before his arrival, and was cared for by these pioneer women, who assumed cheerfully every duty presented to them, until he succumbed to the burden of anxiety which, enfeebled by the hardships of his journey from South Carolina, he was not strong enough to endure.
From Judge A. N. Ferguson have been obtained some interesting reminiscences of his mother's participation in those early events. Judge Fenner Ferguson, who had been appointed the first chief justice of the territory, left Albion, Mich., accompanied by his wife and three sons, in October, 1854, and coming up the river from St. Louis on the steamer Admiral, arrived at Bethlehem, a little town in Iowa opposite Plattsmouth, in November. They were obliged to land there on account of the low water and go thence by wagon to Kanesville, some miles further up. Their destination was Bellevue, but until the old agency building could be fitted up for them they boarded at the Pacific House in Kanesville. The agency building had one room below, an attic above, and porches in front and rear. Just beyond them lived Isaiah and Rachel Bennett, who kept an eating house, and there meals
were obtained until they could set up their own household goods and provide for themselves.
One of the good results of the mission school was already apparent in the education of quite a number of Indian girls, who were glad to further obtain the benefits of association with white people by living with them, and Mrs. Ferguson obtained the services of Susan Fontenelle, who had been educated at the mission schools there and further south. Susan Fontenelle's mother was the daughter of an Omaha chief, and her father, Lucian Fontenelle, was the grandson of a French marquis. Her relatives in New Orleans were among the most patrician of the patrician residents of that old city, but Susan's father, imbued with a spirit of adventure, had wandered away and become a famous trader among the Indians, married among them, and dying, left his children with their strange heredity to make of themselves what they could. About the time she lived with Mrs. Ferguson, her brother, Logan Fontenelle, the last chief of the Omahas, a man of much more than ordinary ability and intelligence, while on a hunt was killed by the Sioux. His body was brought home to Bellevue and buried as near as possible to the site of the building which had been his father's trading post. Mrs. Ferguson and several other women attended this funeral, and were she alive she might tell a most interesting story of this strange mingling of civilized and savage ceremonies. It was the custom of the relatives of deceased Indians, particularly of women, to make loud outcries over the body from the time of the death until several days after the burial, and also to cut their flesh until the blood flowed. These wierd cries and bodily sacrifices were greater in proportion to the rank of the deceased, and as Fontenelle was the chief, the whole tribe united in the ceremony. Then, as he was possessed of white blood and had been a great friend of the white people, they attempted to show their respect by participating in the last rites. Commodore Stephen Decatur read the burial service of the Episcopal church as the body was lowered into the grave, and Mrs. Sloan, a Pawnee half-breed, vehemently protested that it was a most un
seemly thing for him to do. What were the thoughts of these women who had but lately come from pleasant homes where the beloved dead were decorously laid away to rest, as they watched this strange sight?
When Susan Fontenelle's father lay on his deathbed he exacted a promise from the famous Father de Smet, who was with him and who had married him, to go to his sister in New Orleans with his last request that she take his only daughter and educate her; but she refused, and Susan was left in the care of the mission schools. She married Louis Neal, and after a life of strange vicissitudes has returned to Bellevue to spend her last days, her daughter attending Bellevue College. To the writer she said a couple of years ago: “When I was about sixteen and living at St. Joseph with some white people who had been very good to me, a steamboat came up the river and on it was a cousin of mine from New Orleans. They told her I was there and wanted her to come and see me, but she refused, and said slighting things of me and of my mother. When I was told of it I wished that she might sometime be w se off than I was, and I think my worst wishes were realized, for they did lose all their property and suffer very much, I heard long after." Mrs. Neal shows even yet traces of the gentle breeding of her ancestry in her quiet grace of manner and ready tact.
Mrs. Ferguson was the target of much curiosity on the part. of the Indians. Often the daylight would be suddenly obscured, and she would look up to see the dusky faces flattened against the window panes curiously regarding her. The shoes she wore were a great curiosity to them. One day a stalwart Indian, with his blanket wrapped around him, came up on the back porch and taking one of the pans which lay on a bench put it under his blanket and started off. Mrs. Ferguson saw him, and going out demanded it and finally took it from him. He started off, but suddenly turned and strode back rapidly. She ran in and slammed the door to in great fright. A crash, a shaking of the door, and then-quiet. When at last someone ventured out the mark of the Indian's tomahawk was found where he had hurled it into the door.
A beautiful little kitten was given Mrs. Ferguson, and as cats were scarce it was greatly prized. It suddenly disappeared and no search could find it. Some time after an Indian walked in wearing the remains of kitty in the form of a tobacco pouch, the head ornamenting the front.
Mrs. Ferguson was the only woman present at the issuing of the first paper in Nebraska, the Palladium, but there is no record of a woman's column in it.
Just about the same time that Judge Ferguson's family arrived came also from Michigan Mr. and Mrs. J. Sterling Morton. They were married in Detroit and started westward the same day to make for themselves a home in the new territory. Their first one was a log cabin of two rooms situated just beyond that occupied by the Fergusons. Here the young bride assumed the duties of her household with a gay heart and boundless hope. Judge Ferguson tells how she used to feed the Indians, but insisted on adding her quota to their education by obliging them to use the knife and fork which she always placed with the plate set out on the porch for them. A lady also tells of the interest and admiration Mrs. Morton excited when she appeared at a ball at the Douglas House in Omaha. “She was so bright and beautiful in her pink silk dress; every one fell in love with her.”:
When it was decided to make Omaha the capital Mr. and Mrs. Morton went from Bellevue to Nebraska City and there began in truth the home which they had purposed to make before they left the more luxurious ones of their youthful days. Arbor Lodge was the result, and a more beautiful object lesson could not have been given to the women of later Nebraska than this. She made not only the interior of the four walls she called home beautiful, but she widened home to embrace beautiful yard and trees and shrubs, vines and flowers. She loved nature and taught her children to love it with her. She spent days in the woods with them, and the trees that beautified their home bore pet names that commemorated familiar household events. When more mothers teach these simple, natural pursuits to their children, and share them with them; when the beauty of tree and grass and flower and the delight of making them grow is learned by women, we shall begin to escape from the unhealthy environment which dwarfs us physically and mentally, we shall have strong bodies and healthy minds and a broader outlook into life.
Mrs. Morton has left behind her a better monument than even the beautiful one which surmounts her last resting place, in the lesson which she taught of collaborating with Mother Nature in making a bit of earth beautiful and abiding in it with love.
As we have journeyed with Mrs. Morton to Nebraska City we will take a glance at some of the women who assisted in planting homes there in those days. Mrs. John McMechan, whose husband laid out Kearney City, which afterward became Nebraska City, was one, and Mrs. Geo. H. Benton had the honor of giving birth to the first ohild, a boy. Sarah Kennedy was the first bride, becoming Mrs. Geo. W. Nuckolls. Mrs. John Boulware was one of the very oldest settlers, and one the memory of whose good deeds many a settler still cherishes. Mrs. James Fitch endured the hardships of pioneer life, and there were quite a number of others, as Nebraska City was among the first and most numerously settled of the towns which sprang up along the Missouri river.
Plattsmouth, lying between Nebraska City and Bellevue, was also settled very early, and Mrs. Wheatly Mickelwait, Mrs. Wiles, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. O'Neill, Mrs. F. M. Young, Mrs. Wm. Gilmour, Mrs. J. McF. Hagood, Mrs. Todd, Mrs. Kirkpatrick were among the first. Miss Sarah Morris was the first bride, becoming Mrs. Elza Martin.
Omaha, although not first among the river towns in point of settlement, was destined soon to surpass them all, as it became the capital of the territory, and here we find in the person of Mrs. Marguerite C. Cuming
THE FIRST LADY OF NEBRASKA, the wife of Thos. B. Cuming, first acting governor of the territory.