No one living knows just when the first white men settled at Bellevue. The story has many times been told how Manuel Lisa climbed the sloping hills from the riverside where his boat lay moored and as his eye swept that wonderful panorama of forest, hill and river he exclaimed in French, "Bellevue;" that he then staked out his fur trader's cabin in the valley below and thus began the first white settlement in our state. This was in the year 1810, so the story goes. Manuel Lisa himself left no writing to prove it and we know that Fort Lisa, his chief fur trading post, was twenty miles farther up the Missouri River. The old fur traders died long ago and the trees and hills about Bellevue which looked down upon their boats in the river tell no tales of these early "voyageurs." The Astorians who passed up the river in 1811 made no mention of the trading post of Bellevue and the soldiers who built Fort Atkinson in 1819 on the Council Bluff twenty-five miles above are equally silent in regard to it.
The fur trading records first tell of Bellevue in 1823. There was then a fur trading post and an Indian agency, called the Council Bluffs Indian Agency, at Bellevue. The Omahas, Otoes and Pawnees came there to trade. It was easier for the fur traders and Indians to meet at Bellevue than at any other post on the river. The smooth valley of the Platte made a natural pathway; the rock foundation of the hills sloping to the riverside made a natural landing place for boats; wood and water were at hand; and the beautiful view down the valley where the Platte and Missouri mingle their waters among forested islands added to the other attractions. When the soldiers abandoned Fort Atkinson in 1827 and marched away, Bellevue became the chief post and the oldest town in fact as well as in story of the Nebraska country. The first of these honors she retained through all the fur trading years and the second remains hers to-day.
Bellevue in 1833.
(From Thwaites's "Early Western Travels." Arthur H. Clark Co., Cleveland, Ohio.)
Bellevue was the stopping place of the early adventurers, trappers, travelers, missionaries and soldiers who came to this region. The early names in our annals cluster about Bellevue. Peter A. Sarpy, Henry Fontenelle, Prince Maximilian, George Catlin, John C. Fremont, Professor Hayden, J. Sterling Morton, Brigham Young, each halted at this hospitable lodge in the wilderness. The Indians of the Platte valley brought hither their furs. Missionaries made here their first attempt to civilize and Christianize Nebraska. When steamboats began to make regular trips up the Missouri, Bellevue was one of the principal landing places. In 1846 the Presbyterian Church fixed on Bellevue as the site of its principal mission to the western Indians and in 1848 the old mission building standing to-day was built. Here came the first governor to the Nebraska territory in 1854 and here the first newspaper, the Nebraska Palladium, was printed. All the signs then pointed to Bellevue as a future great metropolis of the Platte valley.
Bellevue Woods as Seen To-day. Top of Child's Point, Looking East.
(From photograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.)
Then came disaster after disaster to Bellevue's fond hopes and aspirations. The capital was located at Omaha. The Pacific Railroad left a natural crossing at Bellevue and a natural roadway up the valley of the Platte to find a more difficult crossing and longer route through Omaha. Sarpy county was created with Bellevue as the county seat, but even this distinction was carried off by the new town of Papillion in 1875.
Bellevue still stands by the riverside, the oldest town in Nebraska. Her early ambitions have been blighted but a wonderful compensation for their loss is hers. Hers is still the most beautiful site upon the river. No noise of factories or warehouses, no crowding of jealous poverty and sordid wealth within her borders, no ugly skyscrapers blot out her landscape. No clamor and rivalry of the market place disturb her visions. She is still Old Bellevue, with all the glory and romance and early dreams of old Nebraska gathered within her borders. She is now and forever will remain the center of interest for all those who love the story of Nebraska's early days, and the keeper of Nebraska's earliest memories and traditions for all time.