could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

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Indians in Buffalo County after White Settlement



1300’s – mid-1800’s – Pawnee hunting ground
1675-1725 – Apache bands wandered in and attached Pawnees
1820 – 1870? – Brule Sioux attacks on Pawnee
1853 – attack witnessed by Wescoatt party
1864 – Indian attacks in Platte valley
1870’s – Indian wars and defeat of Sioux by US Army;
1871, May 13 - 1874 – Louisa Collins’ experiences with Pawnee
1872, Sept 1 – Pawnee hunting party came through – Achey desc.
1873 – April – attack 25 miles northwest of Kearney
1873 – Sept – (Come Back) Hostetter arrival, Pawnee at station
1874, April 1 – (Come Back) First fire, Indian wearing shawl
1870’s – Mrs. George Smith and Indians getting drink
1875 – (Come Back) Elizabeth Looker Brown – Common to see Indians on the street
1876 – Removal of Pawnee to reservations in OK
1878 – (Come Back) Mrs Yourm – often saw Indians on the street
1880 – Probably all gone


Bureau of American Ethnology
The Bureau of American Ethnology (or BAE, originally, Bureau of Ethnology) was established in 1879 by an act of Congress for the purpose of transferring archives, records and materials relating to the Indians of North America from the Interior Department to the Smithsonian Institution…. In addition, the BAE was the official repository of documents concerning American Indians collected by the various US geological surveys, especially the Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region and the Geological Survey of the Territories. It developed a manuscript repository, library and illustrations section that included photographic work and the collection of photographs.


History of Buffalo County by Samuel Bassett, 1917

Bassett - Chapter 1, p. 1 – Indians in Buffalo Co
A report in 1896-97 by the Bureau of American Ethnology gave the names of the principal Indian tribes and the location of their lands within the state which they had ceded to the federal government.

The area generally east of Columbus and north of the Platte was claimed by the Omaha tribes. That south of the Platte, east of Columbus was used by the Otoe and Missouri tribes. The central part of Nebraska from Columbus to North Platte belonged to the confederated tribes of the Pawnees. West of the fork in the Platte and south of the river was claimed by the Cheyenne and Arapaho. North of the Platte were the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho.

The area including Buffalo County was a great hunting ground with much wild game. The land south of the Platte was been ceded to the Federal government in 1833, the Ft. Kearny Military Reservation in 1848, and the land north of the Platte in 1857 in the Treaty at Table Rock. They retained a strip of land along he Loup for a reservation.

The Pawnee had been living in central Nebraska for probably 300 years before being displaced in the 1860’s. They were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma in 1876.

Bassett, Vol. I, p. 46 - Spring 1853
In the spring of 1853 Riley and Jonas Wescoatt of Albia, Ia., arranged to take a herd of 400 young cows across the plains to California….

They crossed the Missouri River on April 28th at Bellevue, then a trading point, and Mr. Riley Wescoatt states that they saw no house or habitation after leaving the Missouri River until their arrival in California, except the ranch later known as "Boyd's Ranch" on Wood River, about ten miles northeast of Fort Kearney, the location of this ranch being about a mile west of the present Village of Gibbon in Buffalo County.

On May 28th, about one hour before sundown, when the party was about four miles south of the present Village of Wood River, in Hall County, Nebraska, and was preparing to camp for the night, it was noticed that there was a commotion on the south side of the Platte River and the firing of guns was heard. By means of field glasses which both commands carried, it was seen that a large party of Indians had attacked an emigrant camp on the south bank of the Platte and were scalping women in the camp. The fight appeared to last but a short time, ten minutes, Mr. Wescoatt says, and while there was some talk of crossing the river it was finally decided not to do so.

Bassett, Vol. I, p. 18 – quote from David Anderson’s account of coming to this area
Fall, 1859
"Ten miles west of Dobytown was the famous Keeler ranch. Here we met the notorious Tom Keeler, the terror of the plains and especially of the Cheyenne Indians. With all his native rudeness and roughness, however, Mr. Keeler was one of the most hospitable and generous men that I ever met. His buildings were all of sod, and the dwelling house was tidy and inviting. Mr. Keeler was loyally and lovingly attached to his wife and children.
"One day during the war period a cavalcade of rebels who were fleeing from the draft in Missouri stopped at his wells to obtain water for themselves and animals. Their mules were decorated with flags of the Confederacy, and the men were lustily hurrahing for Jeff Davis. This exhibition aroused Tom Keeler's Union feelings so intensely that he stood before the well with a gun in each hand, demanding that the rebel bunting be removed before any Union Nebraska water should be drawn. His wife stood at the door, armed with a double-barreled shotgun. After very acrimonious discussion the demand was complied with and the boisterous fugitives congratulated Keeler and his wife upon their courage and loyalty.
"A few weeks after we passed this ranch Mr. Keeler's stables, containing forty head of horses, together with 200 tons of hay, were wantonly set on fire by the Cheyenne Indians and totally destroyed. In later years Mr. Keeler removed to Eastern Nebraska and settled on the Elkhorn River, near Elkhorn City. In 1878 he met his death in a shotgun duel with Daniel Parmalee, a prominent citizen of Omaha.”

Bassett - Chapter V – Johnson visits Indians in winter 1860-61
The Pawnee were living on their reservation at Genoa in Nance County. Johnson visited and reported in the Feb. 21, 1861 issue of the Huntsman’s Echo. Described their homes – like the one built at the Archway. They were divided into three bands.

Bassett - Chapter XIV – Indian scare of 1864
August 1864 – Why the stampede out of the Platte valley when no Indians had been seen within 100 miles?

Some background – People living here had dreaded an attack for years. Indians had attacked and killed1-2 men at a time if caught out alone. Two were killed by Sioux a few miles west of Wood River Center in 1863. Ted Oliver remembered spending many long hours on the roof of their log cabin watching for Indians.

Bassett’s theory – From 1837 the area on the north side of the Platte was dominated by Mormons. Mormon leaders preached that the Civil War was punishment of the Gentiles for their persecution of the Mormons and while the war raged the Indians would raid settlements on their borders and kill the settlers. In Minnesota the Sioux attacked and killed thousand settlers.

In July 1864 a bullwhacker on a freight train from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Laramie later told of Indians, probably Pawnee, who visited them regularly begging for food, until they reached Ft. Kearny. When they reached the mouth of Plum Creek – south of Lexington – they saw where the Indians had attacked a wagon train. On the return trip when they reached the same sot they saw that a train of 11 wagons had been attacked and there were several fresh graves along the trail. There were reports of attacks on settlers and wagon trains in southeast Nebraska.

Ted Oliver and two other men were at the fort when news came of the Indian attack at Plum Creek. Oliver and his friend were ordered to stay at the fort and help protect it. The third man was allowed to leave and go warn the settlers in the area and tell them to meet at Wood River Center.


(In possession of Winona Whitney, Kearney, NE, now lost)

[May 13, 1871]

Saturday 13 …. Here my first sight of a Pawne such looking beings my heart sunk within me with fear is my future home to be surrounded by such beings O Lord save me how can I live in such fear and dread Glad we dont see any more Pawnees Tonight (O how glad I am) my dear husband meets me I will feel shure that I am safe

Oct - Nov 1872 One of the most horrible scenes I ever could feature or imagine as a coming[?] event indeed in all my life I thought [that?]. imagine what my terror to live where I would see my window pane frequently [?] the face of a s a v a g e We do not know what we can stand Today all alone with little Lou no other human within a mile while sitting by my window reading what should I see within three feet of me but the face of a savage of the Pawne tribe pressed against my window pane in a few seconds her[e] cam[e] another pressing his face against a second pane to Then they stood grinning peculiar to a savage rather a smile at things in the house They know they can not kill or rob merely stoped to beg and barter, the appetites completely control them I know so that is why they dont steal as I mentioned them to you anyway they started on a trip around the Platt River. I cannot say I am really afraid but I confess to a wishing of not caring to see them again When we were in a house with twenty or thirty men & so many friends or relatives I own I am more brave. Perhaps my children some time may chance to find this and wonder why mother was thus. We live almost on the banks of the Platt on our homestead These savages in comming make me feel a little lonely notwithstanding the many new building going up in the Junction they look cold out side, and cozy inside.


Dec [Written in the margin: "Have not written on in a year I must rectify this mystak]

Was at a Pawnee camp today an old squaw ran out and picked Lou up in her arms and started on a run for the camp I with difficulty made her understand to let her down

[Dec] 28
An old squaw came along to day bargained for a pair of mockisons for Lou she held up five fingers saying she would bring them in so many days I gave her all she could eat she said I was heep a good squaw


Apr 1st The first fire in our town today Smeads building burned to the ground three families lost nearly all their goods But there is sweet with the bitter the worst whisky & gambeling hole in town burned with it. Lulu called me a moment come quick some Indians coming she likes them ever so well had O such a good letter from Mrs Sydenham she is such a true friend her poetry so good is usually on the crusades

Apr 2 /74 Have I O have I to go to that Homestead again will the Lord give me g r a c e But our family is less as yet I hear the whispered murmer from my heart will heaven ever relieve me of the homesteading life But sadness has just come our Sister in law Sarah is gone poor brother Stover and little ones I am thank God for a spared companion & children the question is now who will break our band first The daily bequest ___ throne is [faded but appears to read "to Heall Lets see what it says"]

Apr 7 All alone Lou & I Milton & Bell have gone down home to finish cleaning their house Mr C & Finnie are out sewing wheat this morning Mr C & Milton called us to the door to see a waggon load of Pawnees that were going to ride down to the river with them.

Where the Buffalo Roamed, p. 418-19

Mrs. George E. Smith had the distinction of being the third arrival in Kearney, among the ladies present. [Louisa Collins, Mrs. Norris were first and 2nd] Her husband had preceded her here in 1871 and she reached Kearney shortly after the Norris family in 1872. She said that there were only two things she had a real fear of in those early days, the Indians and the wind. The Smith family lived on their homestead, just north of town and they paid fifty cents a barrel to have water drawn from the shallow well in town, it being then thought impossible to have wells on the high bluffs or divides.

One day a large band of Indians came to the house and after flattening their noses on the window pane to see who was home, came to the door and she passed dipper after dipper of water out to them until the drank every drop of water n the barrel.

Central Nebraska Press Daily, Kearney Junction, Nebraska, April 8, 1873, page 1

April 7 paper reported the murder of two men 25 miles northwest of Kearney, supposedly by a third man in the group. Someone arriving in town on this day reported that that third man was found dead a short distance away. The three men were Eugene Leak, Richard Bell and C. F Hilderbrand.

A telegram from North Platte said “There was a fight with the Indians 5-6 miles from here last Sunday. On the body of an Indian a number of white man’s fixings were found, among them a receipted bill for traps &c., made out to one Hilderbrand.”

People living in the area thought it was Pawnees. The North Platte telegram said they were Sioux.

A newspaper in Benton County Iowa reported that the event occurred on Apr. 2 near their cabin and that they were not found until the 7th or 8th of April. It was also reported that there was a coroner’s inquest and verdict (resulting verdict not reported) and the burial took place in Kearney Junction.

Kearney Cemetery Records
Ben Hildebrand – location given but no dates of death, burial or age. Cause of death: right side of skull broken. Remarks: Brown hunting clothes and woolen socks. Remains from old cemetery re-entered on this lot and on lot 812. August 6 to 8 1889. (Old cemetery by Lake Kearney)

No records for Leak or Bell

Come Back Letters

Mr. & Mrs. D. C. Hostetter were living in the Soldiers Home at Burkett, NE northwest of Grand Island in 1923. Today it is the Veterans Home which that city has now grown out to surround. The Hostetters had the following memories of early Kearney.

“We came to Kearney 50 years ago 1873 in Sept. We seen the ups and downs We came late in the evening on the Burlington . Pawnee Indians were lying on the platform wrapt in their blankets Several of them there campt on the Island south of Kearney – first day of April 1874 we had our first fire a frame building I think third lot north of the Opera House families roomed upstairs My sister Mrs H Achey lost a bright colored shawl an Indian had found it among there household goods things had been (tossed ? spilled?) out loose they took it from him she got it again that day. The building burned to the ground had only a bucket brigade pump and draw wells to get water. The cowboys were bad when under the influence of liquor and that was only time they came to town

Mr. & Mrs. Henry Achey
We sure were a Happy Bunch as thier not classed off as Rich or Poor[.] all were Sociable with one another & all wanted to Get Acquainted with one another[.] About 10 of Set [Sept.] 1872 the Pawnee Indians stop at through(?) and camped for a Short Time[.] their were betwene 400 & 500 of them[.] they were on thier fall Hunt going west – to hunt Buffalo & about the middle of Oct they came back[.] at that time i arrived in Kearney & it Sure was a great(?) sight for me to See Real Red Wild Indians[.] i was not very much impressed with them as they were so dirty[.] the Braves al Rode Ponies & the Poor Sqaws & thier Pappooses straped on thier backs & were Leading Two or Perhaps 3 Ponies loaded with thier Belonges & meat[.] Some Looked So tired & Some Had one or Perhaps 2 or 3 Little girls or Boy Running a Long By thier Side[.] all on foot as the Ponies Had all the Load they could carry[.] when the Boys were about 15 years old they were Braves & did not work Any[.] carried a Bow & an Arrow[.] i sure felt Sorry for the Poor Squaws[.] i Saw them -?-id & Pick Lice of[f] the childrens Heads & Eat grass Hoppers & any thing hat was to dirty for any one to Eat[.]

Mrs. Mary Yourm of Marble, Indiana tells us, “I came out to Kearney in 1878 and lived there for five years….When I first came out there we often saw Indians on the street and when my brother-in-law – C. F. Bodinsen built his first home in the 200 block in Kearney it was considered out in the country.”

Carl Bodinsen owned a grocery store from 1878 to 1889 when he bought a hardware store in Kearney. He built his home at 24th and A]

Elizabeth Looker Brown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, wrote, “I will say that my father Dave Looker came with his family of two little girls to Kearney in 1875 I was about 4 yrs old at the time and remember distinctly that Buffalo Bill and his Indians had just arrived in town, starting out with his first show coming direct from North Platte to Kearney. It was no uncommon thing to see Indians on the street every day. Kearny consisted at that time of two Hotels, the Grand Central and the Commercial – These sat across from the Depot between that and our home were a large Livery Stabel where we watched the stage coaches come and go.
“…my father died nine years ago and is buried in the Riverdale Cemetery a corner that he donated from his farm.”

“Gilbert C. Fosdick II, Stagecoach Driver” by Mardi Anderson, Buffalo Tales, Vol. 25, No. 3, May - June, 2002

When Gilbert C. Fosdick II arrived in Kearney in February 1877, he found gold fever and Kearney business men laying plans to supply the prospectors. Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills but that was Indian territory. A treaty had been signed with the Sioux Indians so now the gold seekers could enter the Hills legally. They were waiting for spring and the snow to melt….

Although Gilbert Fosdick had come west to seek gold, he had no funds when he arrived in Kearney in mid-February. David Anderson was the county sheriff. Fosdick appealed to him for help and apparently made a good impression on the sheriff. Mr. Anderson took Fosdick into his home and helped him find a job driving stage for the newly formed Kearney and Black Hills stage line. The first stage left Kearney on April 30, 1877 with John Campbell driving.

Fosdick was assigned to a section of the route which started at Swan Lake in what is now Cherry County and went about 20 miles northwest to the Snake River….

[part of a letter from David Anderson to Fosdick’s family]

The Particulars about the Killing as I learned it are as follows – On the morning of his death he was told there was indians on the line and that he had better not go with the mail. but – thinking it would look cowardly on his part he sadled a mule and Started. and when last Seen alive he was about Seven miles from the mail Station – and Some distance from the road running from the Indians. The company looked for him for a week and found his body Striped and Scalped – his body was buried by Mr. Hardenburgh the agent of the road and another employee – the mule was Shot and male Sack has not been recovered. Dick was Shot through the head and Shot through the Body. his clothes and papers taken

Editor’s note: The following information was sent to us by Tom Powers who found it in a report of a Cavalry officer who investigated the killing of Gilbert Fosdick.

29 June 1877 – Fast Thunder, High Bear and Good Voice with Charles Tackett as interpreter guided 2nd Lt. Frederick Schwatka, 3rd Cav, to the site where the body of the mail carrier Fosdick had been buried. Schwatka reports of 8 and 9 July 1877 argues that Fosdick, a driver on the Kearny-Deadwood mail route, had been killed by a white man named Hardenburg, not by Indians because he was speaking out about the regular theft of Indian ponies from the agencies. The body, when unearthed, had not been shot or scalped as described by Hardenburg, and Good Voice demonstrated that Fosdick’s mule had not been stolen but led down a canon and there shot by a man riding Hardenburg’s horse. Hardenburg and George P. Clark were arrested, but freed at Camp Sheridan for lack of evidence, [Department of the Platte, Ltrs Recv’d, Box 51; National Archives.]


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