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Kansas Collection Books

Andreas' History of the State of Nebraska

Military History
Produced by Ted and Carole Miller.

Part 1:
Military History | Death of Logan Fontenelle
Part 2:
The Rebellion | Proclamation
Part 3:
First Infantry (afterward First Cavalry)
Part 4:
Second Nebraska Cavalry
Part 5:

First Battalion Nebraska Veteran Cavalry
The First Regiment in Nebraska.

Part 6:
The Curtis Horse
Part 7:
The Curtis Horse (cont.)
Part 8:

Public Acknowledgment | The Distinguished Soldiers
Department of the Platte

Military History Chapter Names Index

Part 1

THE military history of the Territory may perhaps be most appropriately treated under three distinctive heads, relating to three different phases of military service. The history of the Territory's participation in the actions of the civil war, and of the continuous succession of troubles occurring on the frontier, is, of course, the most important branch. Besides this, however, is the subject of a general military nature concerning the department of which Nebraska at present forms a considerable portion; and finally, the topic of the State militia, which, being yet in its infancy, does not furnish material for any prolonged consideration.

Treating of these various branches of the subject, there appears in this chapter first an account of the early militia organizations, for local defense; second, the record of Nebraska's share in the rebellion, which was of a nature well calculated to develop any amount of latent pride over the operations of its troops; then the continued and perplexing border troubles; following that, the general departmental history of the different military districts of which Nebraska has made a part; and in conclusion, the subject of the State militia as at present constituted.

While this arrangement of the chapter necessarily divides the militia into separate sections, the reader will, at a second glance, perceive the advantages gained by a more thorough chronological presentation of facts, since it is true that the Territorial and the State militia are very distinct features in the general military history of Nebraska

The authority under which the first militia was organized was a proclamation issued by Acting Governor Cuming, December 23, 1854, in which he recommended that "the citizens of the Territory of Nebraska organize in their respective neighborhoods into volunteer companies, constituting in all two regiments, one north and one south of the river Platte," which formed a social as well as natural dividing line for many years. The companies were to elect their own officers, the regimental commissions being designated by the Acting Governor, and the companies were advised to "keep such arms and ammunition as they can procure in good order and ready for service," and to establish night sentinels in the frontier districts. Block houses were suggested as a suitable place of refuge in case of attack. The regiments were designed solely for defensive work, in the face of a by no means imaginary foe. The Indians, while sectionally peaceful, were subject to constant influence through intercourse with more war-like tribes, and, worst of all, through frequent incursions of the savage Sioux.

In the spring of 1855, depredations were committed upon the property of settlers in Dodge County, supposed to be the work of Pawnee Indians. Gov. Izard thereupon appointed Gen. J. M. Thayer and Gov. O. D. Richardson a commission to hold council with the chief of the Pawnees, and through the interpreter, assure him of the Government's desire for peace, but at the same time to impress on his mind the fact that outrages of such a nature would not be tolerated.

The council was held at the village of the Pawnees, on the Platte, and the report of the council is given in the language of that document: "We left Omaha by the way of Belleview (as it was then spelled), and there were met by Mr. Allis, the United States Interpreter for the Pawnees, who accompanied us on this service. On the third day from the time of our departure, we arrived at the upper village of the Loup and Tapa bands of the Pawnees, and had a talk with the chiefs in council, in presence of the bands, numbering, perhaps, two or three hundred. We were received and treated in a very friendly manner by them.

After stating to them the fact of the stealing of a number of oxen on the Elk Horn, and your instructions to us, they replied through the interpreter that they were glad to hear of the kind and friendly feelings that were entertained toward them by the Government and people of the Territory. They said they wished to be on friendly terms with us; that they were glad we had come among them; that they knew of no depredations committed by the Pawnees upon the whites; that the Poncas were frequently about, and were enemies of theirs, and constantly annoyed them. They presumed the Poncas did the thing complained of.

"We then left them, returned to the north side of the Platte, and in the morning proceeded down the river some four miles, opposite to where the lower village (or as it is called, the Grand Pawnee Village) stands. After waiting a short time on the bank of the river, the chiefs of the Grand Pawnees came across, and through the interpreter we made known to them our business. In a few minutes they replied that they knew of no depredations by the Indians of their band or tribe upon the whites of Nebraska. That a few days since some of the Poncas were about, and they sent out a number of their tribe to find them. They came across one ox that was wounded; that they killed the ox and used him; that the ox had several Ponca arrows in him, and they supposed from that that the Poncas shot him with arrows; that they had had nothing more to do with the affair than above stated. In answer to the question how it happened that the ox was in the direction of their village from the Horn, they said it was a trick of the Poncas to drive the ox toward their village to throw suspicion off from themselves on to the Pawnees. The chiefs of both bands were distinctly told that though the whites were friendly to the Indians, yet they will not suffer the Indians to take their property or injure them in any way; and that the Indians will be held to a strict account and punished for any injuries they may inflict upon the whites."

The result of this commission was practically of no great value, except to impress a mild lesson on the Indians of their responsibility for outrages committed on the whites. This lesson, as subsequent pages reveal, was not heeded by the savages.

The commissions issued to Territorial militia in 1855, the year the system was organized, were: John M. Thayer, Brigadier General, First Brigade; Peter A. Sarpy, Quartermaster General, First Brigade; William English, Commissary General, First Brigade; John B. Folsom, Adjutant, First-Brigade; H. P. Downs, Inspector General.

First Regiment; J. D. N. Thompson, Adjutant; A. J. Hanscom, Colonel; William C. James, Lieutenant Colonel; Hascal C. Purple, Major; Thomas L. Griffy, Adjutant; John B. Robertson, Quartermaster; Anselum Arnold, Commissary; M. H. Clark, Surgeon; George L. Miller, Assistant Surgeon.

Second Regiment; David M. Johnson, Colonel; Richard Brown, Quartermaster; Gideon Bennet, Commissary; William McLennan, Adjutant; Isaiah H. Crane, Surgeon; William Hamilton, Assistant Surgeon.

The appearance of hostile Sioux near Fontenelle in July, 1855, first caused Gov. Izard to call upon Gen. Thayer for active service. The General was authorized to raise a volunteer company of forty men, and place them under proper equipment for effective duty. The first company of volunteer militia was also assigned to service under him, and further authority given him to demand an increase of force, if necessary.


When the country of the Omahas was sold to the Government of the United States, a colony came from Quincy, Ill., to Nebraska to seek for themselves and their children new and better homes. Upon arriving at Bellevue, Neb., they found there Logan Fontenelle, the chief of the Omahas. He was a half-breed, his father having been a Frenchman, his mother an Omaha squaw. Logan had been educated at St. Louis, and was much more than ordinarily intelligent and brave. As he was familiar with all Eastern Nebraska, the colonists requested him to accompany them in their search for a suitable location for a settlement. He acceded to their request. This was in 1854. The Quincy colonists, consisting of Dr. M. H. Clark, James A. Bell, W. W. Keep and some others, under the guidance of Logan Fontenelle, started out together, journeyed up the Elkhorn, and finally found a spot with which all were satisfied. They named it Fontenelle in honor of their guide. They then returned to Quincy for their families, leaving Logan to guard their claim. Upon their return he joined his tribe.

In the spring of 1855, the Omahas were removed on to their reservation, and the money due from the Government was paid to them just above Decatur. Upon getting on the reservation, they, as had been their custom from time immemorial, went out on a buffalo hunt. Their course was due west, where were to be found, not only plenty of buffalo, but also plenty of Sioux, the latter as much their enemies as they were the enemies of the buffalo. It had been for years the custom of the Sioux to come and fight them every summer. The two tribes had had a number of battles already on the Elkhorn, and the Omahas saw that it was beginning to be of no use for them to fight the Sioux, so now they decided to retreat. After retreating two or three days, they supposed themselves out of danger and crossed to the south side of the Elkhorn, finding there fresh buffalo tracks. These they followed into the brush. After this they camped, and in the morning Logan, Joe La Flesche, and Sansouci started on ahead of the village, two or three miles, chasing some elk which started up in their course. La Flesche and Sansouci continued the pursuit of the elk for some distance, Logan falling in the rear or taking a divergent course; at any rate, he was never again seen alive by his companions. Soon after missing Logan, they saw behind them the Sioux still in pursuit, and made the best possible speed back to the village. In a short time, they were all surrounded and fired upon by the Sioux. This was about 10 o'clock in the morning, and the trouble lasted until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. About this time, the Omahas saw some Indians riding Logan's horse, with a small piece of his scalp dangling from one of their belts. The Omahas asked for a parley, and inquired if the owner of the horse had been killed. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, they cried out, "You have killed our chief and our best friend," and after the Indian fashion the whole village set up a wail of lamentation. This ended the battle; the Sioux returned to their own country, and the Omahas went out in search of the body of their fallen chief. Passing down Beaver Creek six or seven miles, they found it, the breast pierced with seven arrows, the back part of the skull broken in with a tomahawk, and a portion of the scalp removed. The young men washed him and dressed him in a piece of rawhide. In the vicinity of his body were two large pools of blood and an old shirt, with the left side shot away. Logan had been armed with a double barreled gun, one barrel rifle, the other shot gun, and in his last brave struggle for his life had shot away a large portion of the left side of the body of one of his enemies, who was probably the worst wounded man that ever survived his injuries. Joe La Flesche placed his body on the back of a large mule, and conveyed it to Bellevue for burial.

The Sioux themselves gave substantially the same account of his capture and death. After discovering him, they chased him fifteen miles, and failing to overtake him, gave up the chase. Watching him with disappointed eyes, they saw him descend into the creek, and as he did not appear on the other side, one of their number went stealthily forward to reconnoiter. This Sioux, upon reaching the bank of the creek, saw Logan vainly endeavoring to extricate his horse (a noble animal, which had saved his life that morning by its speed and endurance), from the treacherous mire of the bottom of the creek. Logan had attempted to cross the creek on what he supposed to be a solid beaver dam, but it proved too soft to bear his horse's weight, and his efforts, though strenuous, were vain. Upon taking in the situation, the Sioux crawled back out of sight and gave the signal to his companions. They speedily surrounded Logan, who was unconscious of their movements until it was too late to escape. However, he resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible, and as his enemies rushed upon him, he shot both barrels of his gun at one of them, hitting him in the left side, with the result we have outlined above. The odds against him were, however, so great that he was almost immediately killed by about seven arrows piercing him in the breast, and by having the back part of his head broken in with a tomahawk. This occurred on the 15th of June.

His body was wrapped up in a rawhide and removed to Bellevue for burial. His brother, Henry Fontenelle, made him a coffin, but as it was some time before this could be accomplished, and as the weather was warm, his body was so swollen that the coffin proved too small. He was, therefore, buried without one at Bellevue, on July 1, 1855. A large number of Omaha braves attended the funeral, the services of which were conducted by Stephen Decatur. Thus, unfortunately for the Omahas, was their brave chief, and one of the bravest of men, slain and laid to rest. His influence over his tribe was supreme, and they with good reason sincerely mourned his loss. He was sufficiently intelligent to perceive the tendency of modern progress, the results of the contact of the white man with the Indian, and the course that was necessary for the latter to pursue in order to prevent his, to most others, seemingly inevitable annihilation. And it is safe to say that had it been decreed him to live, the Omahas would to-day have been living upon a considerably higher plane of civilization than is now the case.

The so-called " Pawnee War " occurred during the summer of 1859. From the official reports the following statement of the disturbance is compiled:

About July 1, 1859, messengers arrived in Omaha, from Fontenelle and vicinity, announcing that the settlements along the Elkhorn had been broken up by the Pawnee Indians, who were driving off stock, burning fences and houses and threatening the lives of the inhabitants. A Citizens' Committee, consisting of John Evans, John M. Taggert, S. Searte and W. M. Saint, appealed to Gov. Black for aid in suppressing the troubles. The committee reported the Indians, encamped near Fontenelle, had been engaged in pilfering until finally, enboldened by the non-interference of the whites, they made more effective assaults, in one of which the settlers had killed four of the Indians. The situation was a threatening one, requiring prompt action. Gov. Black was absent, in Nebraska City, when the summons arrived, and Secretary J. Sterling Morton was called upon to act in his stead, by virtue of his legal authority. A numerously signed address was sent him, urging vigorous measures. In response, Secretary Morton issued a call upon Col. Charles May, Commandant of Fort Kearney, for troops to repel the incursions of the savages, the strength of whom was reported to be 700 or 800 warriors. In reply to this call, word was sent Acting Gov. Morton that all of the disposable force then stationed at Fort Kearney had just been dispatched to protect the transportation train of Russell, Majors & Waddell, Government contractors, but that he would immediately send an express to Lieut. B. H. Robertson, commanding Company K, Second Dragoons, and order him to proceed without delay, with his company, to the relief of the settlers.

Meantime, Maj. Gen. John M. Thayer, at the solicitation of many of the inhabitants of Omaha, and in compliance with earnest petitions from Fontenelle and other points on the Elkhorn River, set out for the scene of the disturbances, at the head of the Light Artillery Company, of Omaha, Capt. James H. Ford in command.

Upon the evening of the 5th of July, Gov. Black, with a portion of Company K, United States Dragoons, in command of Lieut. Robertson, arrived at Omaha. A dispatch was that day received from Gen. Thayer, dated in camp at Fontenelle, July 2, stating that the reports first received were fully verified, and that the settlements for fifty miles had been broken up. The General expressed the belief that no peace could be effected without first instituting rigorous measures, and that he was ready to open hostilities on receipt of the Governor's orders.

Gov. Black, in the face of this emergency, called for volunteers, procured horses and equipage from the firm of Wood & King, of Omaha, liverymen, who completely emptied their stables at his request, and laid in stores from the stocks of Lacy & McCormick and George Clayes, general merchants. These business men were prompt, humane and patriotic, responding when slight chance of compensation was apparent. The morning of July 6 witnessed the departure of the company, under command of Lieut. Robertson, and accompanied by Gov. Black in person.

The work of depredation was continued by the Indians. Dispatches were sent by Gen. Thayer, showing a deplorable condition of affairs in the vicinity of Fontenelle, and urging stringent processes. The post offices in the Territory named had been destroyed and Government property burned

On the morning of the 8th, Gov. Black's troops joined the forces under Gen. Thayer, south of the Elkhorn. By the consolidation of these divisions, about 200 men, mostly mounted, were placed under organization and elected commanding officers. This was as follows: Commander-in chief, Gov. Samuel W. Black; Major General commanding expedition, John M. Thayer. The staff of the Governor was: Lieutenant Colonels John McConihe, R. E. Bowie, C. D. Woolworth, Samuel A. Lowe. The staff of Gen. Thayer was: Captains R. H. Howard, A. S. Paddock, Witt Black, J. W. Pattison. The companies of troops were: No. l, Omaha Light Artillery, with one six-pounder gun; Captain, James H. Ford; First Lieutenant, E. G. McNeely; Sergeant, William Searight.

No. 2, First Dragoons, Captain, George F. Kennedy; First Lieutenant, J. C. Reeves; Second Lieutenant, C. A. Henry; First Sergeant, J. S. Bowen.

No. 3, Second Dragoons, Captain, R. W. Hazen; First Lieutenant, William West; Second Lieutenant, H. C. Campbell; Sergeant, Abram McNeil.

No. 4, Fontenelle Mounted Rifles, Captain, William Kline; First Lieutenant, James A. Bell; Second Lieutenant, William S. Flack; Sergeant, John H. Francis.

No. 5, Columbus Infantry, Captain, Michael Weaver; First Lieutenant, William Grauman; Sergeant, John Browner.

No. 6, Columbus Guards, Captain, J. Rickley; First Lieutenant, J. P. Becker; Second Lieutenant, J. C. Woolfel.

When organized, the regimental officers were: His Excellency, Samuel W. Black, Commander in Chief; John M. Thayer, Major General; William A. West, Colonel; B. H. Robertson, United States Army, Lieutenant Colonel; Samuel R. Curtis, Inspector General; Experience Estabrook, Adjutant; ---- Reed, Major; W. T. Clarke, Quartermaster; A. U. Wyman, Commissary; Henry Page, Wagonmaster; J. P. Peck, William McClelland, Surgeons.

The command numbered as follows:

                   Men.    Wagons.    Horses.   Day's Service.

No. 1.... 16 ....... 1......... 21 .......... 20 No. 2.... 52 ....... 4 ........ 57 .......... 16 No. 3.... 51 ....... 5......... 46 .......... 16 No. 4.... 40 ....... 6 ........ 36 .......... 16 No. 5.... 37 ....... 4 ........ 11 .......... 16 No. 6.... 11........ - ........ -- .......... 6

The entire roster of this expedition is preserved in the journal of the Council, pp. 270 to 276, Session Proceedings of 1860.

The campaign was a brief but effective one. After a demonstration or two, the Indians, then on their way to the summer hunting-grounds, were overcome and surrendered to terms just to them, but efficient for the protection of settlers.

Gen. Thayer stated that "the troops came upon the Indians and the Indians surrendered. The line was formed, the cannon was planted and the chiefs of all the different bands came forward, throwing down their arms and raising white flags. The interpreter was directed to communicate with them, and they asked to have a council. They acknowledged that their young men had committed these depredations, and offered to give them up and did bring forward six, who were delivered up. Two of them were shot as they were trying to escape the next day. The guard so informed me. I did not see it done."

The duty of protecting properly end the lives of citizens was fully appreciated by the civil and military branches of the Territorial Government. It is, however, beyond the intention of this chapter to enter into a detailed history of the Indian tribes of Nebraska, and hence we leave this work to those who have the special task in hand. An exhaustive history of the "Pawnee War" and the Indian tribes is shortly to be issued by a citizen of Omaha

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