"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder



Map Showing Land Ceded by Indian Tribes in Nebraska.
(Drawing by Miss Martha Turner.)

The first white men who came to this region found several tribes and nations of Indians living here and claiming Nebraska as their home.

The Otoe.-- In the southeast lived the Otoe tribe, hunting as far east as the Mississippi River and claiming Nebraska as far west as the Blue rivers.

Map Showing Country Known to the Omaha (Shaded Area)

The Omaha.-- On both sides of the Missouri River from the mouth of the Platte as far north as Little Bow River, in Cedar County, lived the Omaha tribe. They claimed Nebraska westward as far as the Elkhorn River and Shell Creek. Their great chief Blackbird was the first Indian of this region whose name is known to white men.

The Ponca.-- Near the mouth of the Niobrara River lived the Ponca tribe, claiming the country westward along that river and the streams flowing into it. These three tribes, Otoe, Omaha and Ponca were closely related and spoke languages much alike. Their traditions tell that they came from the southeast up the Missouri and had been in this region only a few hundred years. All three belonged to the great Sioux family of Indians and were relatives of the Sioux nation living northwest of them. The Otoe and Omaha tribes numbered about 3,000 each and the Ponca between 1,000 and 2,000.

The Buffalo Hunt.
(From Thwaites's "Early Western Travels." Arthur H. Clark Co., Cleveland, Ohio.)

The Pawnee.-- Just west of the country claimed by the Otoe and Omaha tribes lived the Pawnee nation. Its principal villages were in the valleys of the Platte, Loup and Republican rivers. It numbered in the early years about 10,000 people and spoke a language entirely different from that of any other Nebraska tribe.

The Sioux.-- The Sioux nation roamed the whole country north and west of the regions claimed by the Otoe, Omaha, Ponca and Pawnee tribes. In what is now Nebraska it numbered from 10,000 to 20,000 people. It had no permanent villages, but followed the buffalo herds. About the time the first white men came, the Sioux were driving the Crows westward into the Rocky Mountains.

The Cheyenne and Arapahoe.-- Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, numbering about 3,000 persons, claimed the upper valleys of the North and South Plattes and hunted the western plains in common with the Sioux. They belonged to the great Algonquin family which lived in Canada and New England, and which had been the first Indians met by the Pilgrims when they landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. The Algonquin language is entirely different from either the Pawnee or the Siouan language. How this little company of Cheyennes and Arapahoes came to be so far away from their relatives is not known. Probably they followed the buffalo westward from their older home.

Omaha Mission Building in Thurston County, Built 1856

Indian Beliefs, Art and Music.-- These Indians believed in good and bad spirits which brought good and bad luck. They thought that certain charms and certain words drove away the bad spirits and brought the good spirits. They believed also in a Great Spirit, not always very clear to their minds, who gave the Indians the earth, the rain, the buffalo, and other good things. Their art was chiefly of two kinds, music and painting. For music they had drums, made of hollow logs covered with skins, rattles made of gourds or bladders filled with pebbles, and whistles or flutes made from wood or bone. Their songs and dances were a large part of their religion. For painting they had colored clay and soft rock and pencils made of bone. Their paintings were made upon skins or upon their own bodies.

Indian Languages and Homes.-- Thus seven different tribes of Indians, Otoe, Omaha, Ponca, Pawnee, Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe, numbering about 40,000 people and speaking three entirely distinct languages, lived in what is now Nebraska, when the white men first came here. The Sioux, the Cheyennes and the Arapahoes dwelt in skin tents, or tepees, and hunted for a living. The Omahas, Otoes, Poncas and Pawnees built large houses, called earth lodges, out of sod and poles, but also used tepees. They raised crops during certain seasons and hunted at other times.

An Omaha Indian Village in 1860.

Wars between Tribes.-- All these Indians, at first, were friendly to the white men, especially to the French. There was almost constant war between the Indians who had houses and gardens and the wild hunting tribes farther west. How these wars would have ended if the white men had not come cannot be told, but the wild Indians were gaining ground at that time.


  1. Make a map showing where the Indian tribes lived in Nebraska when the white men came.
  2. How many languages were spoken in Nebraska when the white men came? How many now?
  3. What do you know of the religion of the Nebraska Indians?
  4. Did the Indians live more by farming or by hunting? Why?
  5. Why were these Indian tribes at war with each other?