How Once Upon a Time
the Indians Roamed
the Prairies


"Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest,
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations,
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
"From the forests and the prairies."




HE Indian life is such an important part of Nebraska history that we must give a brief sketch of the main tribes. The Omaha, Oto and Missouri, Pawnee, various tribes of the Dakota or Sioux; with the Cheyenne and Arapaho, of a roving disposition, in the extreme southwest, were the original or domestic Indians of Nebraska. The Santee Sioux and the Winnebago were brought here not long ago. The Dakota or Sioux, were the most numerous of all the tribes and groups mentioned, but they did not all live within Nebraska. The Pawnee were the largest






strictly Nebraska tribe, The Oto and Missouri occupied the southeast; the Omaha, the northeast; the Pawnee the central part; and the Sioux the northwest. So far as we know the Pawnee were the first of our Indians to see white men. It is probable that a company of them, from the southeastern part of what is now known as Nebraska, visited Coronado while he was in Quivira.
     The Pawnee house was an earthen lodge and was dedicated with great religious ceremonies. They believed in a great power called Father, and the winds, thunder, lightning and rain were his messengers. They cultivated the ground and raised corn, beans and other vegetables, but hunting was one of their sources of food, a Chief governing the hunt, who saw that each family had its share of the animals killed. Their home was in the Platte Valley and they never made war on the United States, but the great trails crossed their country and contact with the immigrants changed their customs and life, as they suffered much from the depredations of the white man, who destroyed their crops and stole their horses. They were divided into tribes based on village communities, each village having its name, its altars, its sacred objects and priests. A council of leading men of character and ability governed them and each chief had a crier who called out orders and other matters of interest. They were reduced by sickness and hostile tribes from ten thousand in 1836 to six hundred and forty-nine in 1906. In 1876 they gave up their reservation, which was all the






land they had left in Nebraska, and received a new reservation in the Indian territory, now Oklahoma.
     The Dakotas or Sioux were a very warlike tribe and caused great trouble with emigrants.
     There were many battles with the Indians, notable among them the Grattan massacre, Ash Hollow where General Harney defeated a large body of Indians, and the Custer massacre, in 1876, which practically ended Indian warfare.
     Forts Kearney, McPherson and Sedgwick, were established for the protection of the frontier. In 1865 Julesburg, near Fort Sedgwick, was burned by a large body of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. The Sioux were always at war with the Omahas, who occupied the northeast part of the state, and finally the Omahas reduced by smallpox and war left their homes and gathered around Bellevue where they had the protection of the white men. Here they became connected with a French family by the name of Fontenelle through the marriage of one of their maidens to Lucien Fontenelle, who bore him four sons and a daughter. One of the sons, Logan, afterwards became a chief of the Omaha tribe.
     Lucien Fontenelle was descended from the old nobility of France, and lived in New Orleans with an aunt, Madame Mercier, and because of a severe reprimand ran away from home when he was seventeen, going, to St. Louis and afterwards to Bellevue, Nebraska, where he became active






in the fur trade. After several years Lucien visited his family in New Orleans, but was so changed in appearance, looking like the Indians with whom he lived that they refused to accept him until an old negro mammy recognized him by a mark on his body. He endeavored to induce his family to take his children but they indignantly refused to have anything to do with them; on his way back to Nebraska from this visit, he sickened and died, leaving his children in the care of Father De Smet, who educated them in Catholic institutions.
     In 1854 the Omaha tribe ceded to the United States all their land, except what has since been called the Omaha Reservation, the same spot where Lewis and Clark found them in 1804, and to which they were ordered to remove from Bellevue. Logan Fontenelle, their chief, protested it would be suicidal to attempt to take his people away from the protection of the white man and throw them among the hostile Sioux around their reservation. The government insisted, however, and soon after Logan Fontenelle while on a hunting expedition, with a number of his followers, was killed on Beaver Creek by the arrows of a party of Sioux who were in ambush. His followers carried his body to the bluffs above Bellevue and buried it near the graves of his father and mother.
     The Omaha tribe lives on its reservation, and a daughter of Logan Fontenelle, Mrs. Tyndall, was recently a guest at the beautiful hotel Fontenelle, built by the citizens of Omaha in 1915,






and named in honor of the Chief who did so much for his people.
     Over forty of his tribe came to a banquet given at the hotel and showed evidence of civilization and prosperity, many coming down in their automobiles,---a far cry from the old Indian travois or poles tied to the sides of the ponies, and the wigwam where they sat in a circle on the floor at meal time.


Hotel Fontennelle

Hotel Fontennelle

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