"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder


In the year 1803, Nebraska was sold by Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, to Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States. It was sold as part of the great country between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, all of which was then called Louisiana and owned by France. The price paid was $15,000,000, which was about three cents an acre.

Lewis and Clark

As soon as the United States had bought this country, President Jefferson sent Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark with forty-five other men to explore it. They were to go up the Missouri River as far as they could, then cross the Rocky Mountains and reach the Pacific Ocean. They were to make maps, bring back reports of the land and make friends with the tribes with which they came in contact. It was a wild land of which white men knew very little. Indians and wild animals had their homes there. No one knew the way across the mountains to the Pacific.

Lewis and Clark started from the mouth of the Missouri on May 14, 1804. They had one large boat with a sail and twenty oars, and two smaller boats with oars only. They had powder, lead, tools and trinkets to trade with the Indians. They had two horses for their hunters to ride in order to help them to carry the game which they killed for the party.

The Lewis and Clark party made about twenty miles a day up the Missouri River. Part of the time they used the sail and part of the time the oars and a great part of the time they pulled the boats with long ropes which the men held while they walked along the shore. It was two months before they reached Nebraska, at the mouth of the Nemaha River, not far from the village of Rulo, in Richardson County. Here they found Indians, wild plums, cherries and grapes.

On July 15th they were at the mouth of the little Nemaha River and on July 20th they were at the mouth of the Weeping Water in Cass County, where they killed a large yellow wolf. The next day they reached the mouth of the Platte River and camped a little way above it. They sent out runners to the village of the Otoes near the place where the Elkhorn flows into the Platte.

After resting and repairing their boats they went on past the site of Omaha and on July 30th reached a high bluff near the present town of Fort Calhoun in Washington County. Here they camped. The hunters brought in deer, wild turkeys and geese. Catfish were caught in the river and the men tamed a beaver. Here on August 3d they held the first council ever held by the United States with the Nebraska Indians. Fourteen Otoe and Missouri Indians came to the council. The principal chiefs were Little Thief, Big Horse and White Horse. They promised to keep peace with the United States and were given medals and presents of paint, powder and cloth. They gave the white men presents of watermelons. The place where this council was held was named Council-bluff and is now a part of the town of Fort Calhoun. A hundred years after this a large rock was placed on the schoolhouse grounds in memory of this first council held with the Indians west of the Mississippi River.

On August 11th the party reached Blackbird Hill in Thurston County, where it found the grave of the great Omaha chief who died of smallpox about four years before. On August 16th the party was at the mouth of Omaha Creek in Dakota County. Here the men made a net of willows and with it pulled out over eleven hundred fish from a beaver pond in the creek.

The Lewis and Clark Monument at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.
(From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)

Sergeant Charles Floyd, a member of the party, died on August 20th and was buried on a high bluff on the Iowa side of the river near Sioux City. This is called Floyd's Bluff to this day. It is a landmark which may. be seen for many miles across the Missouri valley in Nebraska.

On the 28th of August they camped at Calumet Bluff in Cedar County, where they held a great council with the Sioux Indians under a large oak tree. First the pipe of peace was smoked. Then Chief Shake Hand said: "I see before me my father's two sons. You see me and the rest of our chiefs. We are very poor. We have no powder nor ball nor knives and our women and children at the village have no clothes. I went formerly to the English and they gave me a medal and some clothes. When I went to the Spanish they gave me a medal, but nothing to keep it from my skin; but now you give me a medal and clothes. Still we are poor and I wish, brothers, you would give us something for our squaws." Then White Crane and Struck-by-the-Pawnee spoke, approving what the old chief had said, and asked for some of the great father's milk, which was their name for whisky. Presents were given these Sioux and peace was made between them and the United States.

On September 4th Lewis and Clark camped just above the mouth of the Niobrara River. Here for the first time they met the Ponca Indians, who had long made their home in this part of Nebraska. A little beyond, they saw great herds of buffalo and also elk, deer and villages of prairie dogs. Soon after they crossed the Nebraska line into South Dakota.

The Clark Monument at St. Louis.
(From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)

Two years later, in September, 1806, Lewis and Clark came back from the Pacific Ocean to Nebraska. They had suffered great hardships on the journey. Many times they had nearly lost their lives from hunger and thirst, from warlike Indians and wild animals, from rocks in the rivers and from pathless woods and mountains. But they had lived through them all and carried the flag of the United States for the first time across the mountains and plains to the great ocean on the other side. And now they came back with honor and glory for they had found a way to the Pacific Ocean and they had written the story of their travels in a book which they kept every day, telling all about the tribes of Indians they had seen and the rivers and mountains and the land they had crossed. They made a path for white men into the great West and after them came hunters, trappers, traders and emigrants until the West was explored and settled.

Captain Clark for many years lived at St. Louis and was governor of the great West which he explored. He was tall, very strongly built, with piercing gray eyes and red hair. His appearance made a deep impression on the Indians, who had never before seen a red-haired man. The Omaha Indians to this day call St. Louis the town of red-haired men. Here the Indians came to hold councils with him. Here he met the traders, trappers and early emigrants, and here he died in September, 1838, beloved by all who knew him.

Captain Lewis lived only three years after the return of the expedition, dying in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1809.

The names of Lewis and Clark are forever linked together in the history of the West.


  1. With what tribes of Nebraska Indians did Lewis and Clark meet?
  2. Show on the map the location of each place mentioned in this story.
  3. Why did Chief Shake Hand say his people were very poor?
  4. Which did more for Nebraska, the Mallet Brothers or Lewis and Clark?
  5. How much of Nebraska did Lewis and Clark explore?
  6. What do the pictures of these two men tell you of their characters?