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MY VERY FIRST VISIT TO THE PAWNEE VILLAGE

IN 1855.

READ BEFORE THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE NEBRASKA STATE

HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

BY GENERAL JOHN M. THAYER.

The passage of what was known as the Kansas and Nebraska bill May 30, 1854, providing for the organization of those territories, attracted the attention of the people very generally of the North and South, and many were ready to remove to those sections of the country. I had long had the intention of finding some point in the northwest for settlement, and in the spring of 1854 had taken a trip to Nebraska in view of spying out the land. I was so well pleased with the appearance of the country that I determined to locate in Omaha, which had then been laid out and planted in anticipation as the future capital city of Nebraska. In September of that year I arrived in the city of Council Bluffs, which was then the stopping place for all persons intending to locate in the central portion of Nebraska. I was accompanied by my wife. We found there at that time a number of persons who helped to lay the foundation of the territorial government. I recall the Hon. J. Sterling Morton and wife, Dr. George L. Miller and wife, A. J. Hanscom and wife, Samuel Rogers, Thomas B. Cuming and wife, Mrs. Murphy, and Frank Murphy, and others whom I can not now recall. All the gentlemen whom I have named, with the exception of Thomas B. Cuming, are now living, and all located in Omaha opposite Council Bluffs.

President Franklin Pierce by proclamation opened the territory for settlement and appointed a set of officers. He selected Francis Burt of South Carolina for governor, and named Thomas B. Cuming, of Keokuk, Iowa, to be secretary of state, and Mark W. Izard for United States marshal. Governor Burt started with a view of making the journey to, what was to be to him, his future land of promise, but he was

in poor health at the time, and as he journeyed toward Nebraska his health grew worse and became very much impaired while on a steamer from St. Louis to Bellevue. The steamer could go no farther than St. Joe, from which place he proceeded in a hack to Nebraska City and from there in a wagon to Bellevue. He was taken into the Old Mission House at that point and continued to grow worse, and he finally died there in a few days, never having assumed the duties of office as governor. By the organic law his death devolved the duties of the office of governor upon the secretary of the territory appointed, Thomas B. Cuming above named. The latter assumed the duties of the office of acting governor, and soon put the machinery of organization on foot, laying off the territory into counties and providing for the election of members of the legislature. President Pierce did not immediately fill the office of governor by another appointment, but finally did appoint Mark W. Izard, who was then U. S. marshal, who, being on the ground, immediately assumed the duties of the office. Governor Cuming had developed into an active, energetic, broad-minded governor, filled with new ideas of progress, while Governor Izard was of the reverse order, and it was a mystery to many people why he had ever been selected for the governorship. It was a general conclusion that the delegation from Arkansas felt under obligation to provide a place for him. The legislature elected under the proclamation of Governor Cuming met during the winter of 1854–55. I was unexpectedly called back east and was gone some weeks. While I was away the legislature had made provision for laying off the territory into a brigade, and had elected me brigadier-general to command the frontier and to struggle with the Indians. I did not give much thought to the subject at first, but thought I would undertake whatever duties might devolve from it. I found subsequently that it became a more serious subject than I had supposed.

I had built a small house on the site of Omaha and on my return from the East occupied it. We had just about got settled in it when I noticed, one afternoon towards evening, Governor Izard coming over towards it, and I said to my wife, “I wonder what is up now?” He called upon me and I soon found what his call was for. He said to me the couriers had just arrived, informing him that the Pawnee Indians were making a raid on the settlers along the Elkhorn river, stealing their stock and driving it away, and consequently the people were greatly alarmed and appealed to him for protection; and that he felt it his duty to call upon me to go at once to the Pawnee village and hold a council with the chiefs, with a view of inducing them to keep their Indians in subjection and not to meddle with the whites. Here was a development which I was not looking for. I had no familiarity with the Indians and had hardly ever seen them. Here was a call upon me which I could not escape. I had made up my mind not to shirk any duty, and, taking a cheerful view, I determined to be of use to the settlers if it was in my power. There was nothing left for me then but to make preparation, to visit the Pawnee village.

The village of the Pawnees was on the south and west side of the Platte river, on a very high point a few miles this side of where the town of Fremont had just commenced a setilement. The Governor said to me that Mr. Allis, who had formerly been a missionary to the Pawnees and had been employed as interpreter for that tribe, was living in a little town on the east side of the Missouri river in Iowa, opposite Bellevue, and that he would send a messenger for him to come to Omaha at once and accompany me on the expedition, as it would be necessary to have his services as an interpreter, and I was very glad to have him associated with me. 0. D. Richardson, who had settled in Omaha, having formerly been lieutenant-governor of Michigan, kindly volunteered to accompany me in this movement. I had decided also to take along John E. Allen, a brother-in-law. That made up the party of four. I had purchased a team for farming purposes and took that as the means of our conveyance. I, of course, could not tell how long we would be absent, but I determined to provide a goodly supply of good things, so that

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we might live well, no matter what hardships we might meet with. My wife was an excellent cook, trained in a good New England home, and she volunteered to prepare rations for us that would last us some days. She at once set to work and baked a half dozen loaves of bread, boiled a whole ham, baked six or seven mince pies, and fried nearly a half bushel of doughnuts, ground coffee for several days' consumption, put in a full supply of condensed milk, pickles, and other good things, all of which was a portion of supplies that we had laid in for the winter. She was engaged all one day and all one night in preparing these articles of food and the part of next day in order to get them ready for us. When the interpreter arrived we were prepared to start on this trip to the Pawnee village, putting in feed for the horses, and taking some blankets with us which we expected to sleep in, or in the wagon if there was room enough. The Governor came over to see us off and say good-bye, expressing the hope that we would make the Indians behave themselves. He was a kindly old gentleman, a tall six-footer in size, and a good chewer of tobacco. It was reported of him that he was a retired Baptist minister, all the way from the wilds of Arkansas. He had many qualities which made me like him. He evidently was trying to do the best he could for the settlers. Being thus prepared we started on the expedition. We took the trail leading west from Omaha, aud in a few hours crossed the Elkhorn river on a flat-bottomed boat, near where a family had located, and then made for the direction of the Pawnee village on the high bluff to which I have alluded, reaching a point on the Platte on this side of it. The village was entirely exposed to our view and the hundreds of Indians loafing around it. They soon discovered our team approaching their direction and. were a good deal excited at the apparently strange appearance to them. We could discover a crowd on the bluffs as they were drawn by curiosity to come out and look at the strange team that was approaching. We halted in full view of the village, and the interpreter signalled to them to send a number of Indians across

the river to lead us back, as we were coming to see the chiefs. Soon some twenty Indians crossed over to the place where we were awaiting their coming. The interpreter inforined them that we wanted them to lead us back across the river. The Platte river was as it is now, a dangerous stream to cross without a guide who is familiar with it; so it was arranged that we should take my two horses and unharness them, and Gov. 0. D. Richardson ride one and I the other, and the Indians furnish a pony for the interpreter, one of them giving up his pony and doubling upon the back of another. I left Allen in charge of the wagon and the supplies in it, having no suspicion of treachery on the part of the Indians. While they were with us and around the wagon they took good care to learn what was in the wagon. When we were ready to cross the river our escort of Indians took the lead and we followed in single file. When perhaps about half way across the Platte I suddenly realized that my horse was sinking in quicksand, and instantly slid off into the river, realizing the serious danger from the quicksand. I gave him a touch with my whip, and with an unearthly yell, renewing the whir, caused him to make a tremendous effort to get his limbs out of the quicksand and plunge forward, and fortunately he struck hard sand and thus saved himself. I led him along a few rods and then got onto him again and thus we crossed the river without further incident. I was the only one who had the wetting in water up above my waist.

On reaching the first bank we were led up into the heart of the village and into what appeared to be a great council tent, constructed in the shape of an amphitheater, by poles set upon the ground, then spliced at each end and forming a wide circle. The poles. were bound with leather strap made of buffalo skins. This tent was filled with as many of the Pawnees as could get into it. We were led into the center of it and there the old chief and his associates were squatted on the ground. By my direction Mr. Allis introduced me to the chief, telling him who I was and for what purpose I was there, that I had come to make complaint to him that the

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