How Once Upon a Time
the United States
Bought Louisiana


     Iagoo, in Hiawatha, thus describes the coming of the white men to the Indian territory:


"O'er it, said he, o'er this water
Came a great canoe with pinions,
A canoe with wings came flying,
Bigger than a grove of pine-trees,
Taller than the tallest tree-tops!
In it, said he, came a people,
In the great canoe with pinions
Came, he said, a hundred warriors;
Painted white were all their faces,
And with hair their chins were covered!
And the warriors and the women
Laughed and shouted in derision,
Only Hiawatha laughed not,
But he gravely spake and answered
To their jeering and their jesting;
"True is all Iagoo tells us;
I have seen it in a vision,
Seen the great canoe with pinions,
Seen the people with white faces,
Seen the coming of this bearded
People of the wooden vessel
From the regions of the morning,
From the shining land of Wabun."






HIS vast western country was claimed by the French in 1682, when La Salle sailed down the Mississippi, and, hoisting the Lilies of France, took possession in the name of Louis XIV. This land was called Louisiana, and for one hundred years belonged to France, being frequently visited by French priests and trappers. In 1763 it was ceded to Spain, but in 1800 passed again into French ownership.

   Napoleon, driven by the fear that England would take this vast western possession from him, as it had taken Canada, concluded to sell it rather than lose it.






     Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, decided to buy this vast tract of land, which extended from British America on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south, and from the Mississippi River on the east to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and contained 562,330,240 acres of land, for which the United States paid $15,000,000, or 2 3-5 cents an acre. Out of the Louisiana purchase thirteen states have been wholly or partially made, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Oklahoma; Colorado, Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas, Montana and Oklahoma include some territory, however, which was not in the Louisiana purchase.
     The shrewd and far-seeing Jefferson concluded to send out an expedition to explore the land he had purchased. Lewis and Clark were chosen and directed to explore the Missouri, the Columbia and perhaps other rivers of the northwest. Their expedition was one of the most important ever sent out by the United States.
     We have only to deal with their trip through the present state of Nebraska. There was perhaps no gayer or more care-free company of men than the early voyageurs on the river boats who lived only for the "present moment," and a company of these men, with laughter and song, started from St. Louis in two red and white pirogues, freshly painted, and with another big boat fifty-five feet long, carrying a sail, all well stocked with that which was needed for the trip.






     It was a long, toilsome trip up the river, rowing against the current, the waters of the stream often lashed by the wind and rain. The heat, being intense at times, those on board were almost overcome, but they finally arrived July 11, at a point opposite the mouth of the Big Nemaha River. July 15, they camped on the Little Nemaha and on the 18th rested just above the place where Nebraska City now stands. Going farther up the river they reached a point about fourteen miles above the present site of Omaha and there held the first Indian Council, August 3, 1804, with fourteen Otoes and Missourians, who had a French interpreter.
     The change of Government from that of France to that of the United States was explained to them, and they promised to obey the "Great Father," as they called the President, and asked that peace be made between them and the Maha tribe, with whom they were at war. When asked why they were at war they said, "We have no horses and when we borrow horses from the Mahas they scalp us."
     From this event the spot was called Council Bluffs, and Fort Calhoun now stands where the Council was held, as nearly as can be determined.
     The Daughters of the American Revolution and the State Historical Society placed a boulder here, August 3, 1904.
     The party went up the river coming to Black Bird Hill, in the northeast corner of the state, so named for Black Bird,. Chief of the Omaha tribe






a man greatly feared by his own as well as other tribes because any one who displeased him might meet death in a mysterious manner. It is said that a trader once gave him a quantity of arsenic and this he gave to his enemies with fatal results. Black Bird, the Omaha Chief, died of smallpox, four years before the visit of Lewis and Clark, and was buried on the top of a high bluff that he might see the traders coming up the river. We are told his weapons and the scalps he had taken in war were tied to a pole above his grave, and that his favorite horse was here put to death.
     August 19, about three miles above the Omaha village another Indian council was held, and August 20, Sergeant Floyd, one of the party, died and was buried on the Iowa side of the river, a short distance from Sioux City, where a monument now marks his resting place.
     Having spent eight weeks and three days from the time of entering, July 11, to that of leaving the state, on September 8, the party passed the Niobrara River and proceeded on its way west toward the Columbia River.
     After leaving Nebraska, they were guided on their trip from Fort Mandan, by Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea, a woman of the Shoshoni tribe, to whom we owe a tribute of praise and grateful homage for her part in opening up the western half of our continent to civilization.
     Taken captive at fourteen years of age, wife and mother at sixteen, guide and interpreter for






the Lewis and Clark expedition before she was seventeen, she unconsciously was a valuable aid in opening to civilization the great northwest.
     With her papoose on her back, she won the good will of the Indians along the route for her party, especially the Shoshoni tribe, guided it over mountain and stream, reached the Columbia River, saw the great water, the Pacific, then patiently returned to the place on the Missouri River where the expedition embarked for St. Louis.
     The faithfulness and daring spirit of this remarkable woman were a great aid to the expedition. There has been erected to her memory a monument at Portland, Oregon, and thus her fame is preserved to posterity.
     The journal of Lewis and Clark has been condensed and arranged for young people in a form most interesting and attractive. Moreover it gives a most authentic record of the life, customs, and conditions of the northwestern Indians and a vivid description of that vast and wonderful portion of our country which was their home.


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© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller