Westward Through Nebraska
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
 contents   |   previous   |   next


      Sir Charles Dilke is of opinion that Omaha bids fair to become the capital of the "Far West;" Mr. Rae remarks that it is one of those American cities which seem to spring up, flourish, and wax great in the twinkling of an eye. Its history dates from 1854, when it was founded by a few squatters; among whom was A.D. Jones, now one of the "solid" men of the place." In the fall of that year he received the appointment, of postmaster for the place, which as yet had no post-office. As Mr. Jones was one of the most accommodating of men, he improvised a post-office by using the crown of his hat for that purpose. Few letters arrived, therefore the old plug hat answered every object. When the post-master met one of his few neighbours, if there was a letter for him, off came the hat from the post-master's head, while he fished out the missive, and placed it in the hands of its owner. It is said that, at times, when the postmaster was on the prairie, some anxiously expectant individual would chase him for miles until he overtook the travelling post-office, and received his letter." Omaha, however, can now boast of a permanent post-office, under the superintendence of a post-master and six clerks.

      The town is seated on the western bank of the Missouri River, on a sloping upland, which rises some 50 feet above the river, and 966 feet above the sea. Its popu-

Click to view
Page  Image


Click to view
Page  19

      lation numbers about 25,000. It possesses two daily, and four other newspapers. It has twenty-seven manufactories, one distillery, six breweries; its hotels, twelve in number of which three are first-class; fifteen churches; and schools, public and private, in proportion to the population.

      Omaha is not only the terminus of the Union Pacific, but of the Omaha and North-Western, and Omaha and South-Western Railways. The former strikes up the Elkhorn Valley to the mouth of the Niobrara; the latter traverses the Missouri River Valley, and crosses the Platte to Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska.

      The Omaha barracks, to the north of the city, were built in 1868, and can accommodate 8000 men.

      Summit Siding (4 m.), at an elevation of 1142 feet. The surrounding scenery is rich and well-cultivated, and as yet we have no evidences of the silence or solitude of the West.

      Gillmore (10 m.), elevation 976 feet.

      Papillion (16 m.), elevation 972 feet, on the east side of the narrow stream of Papillion Creek, a tributary of the Elkhorn.

      Elkhorn (29 m.), elevation 1150 feet, situated on a river of the same name. The place is one of considerable and increasing traffic.

      The Elkhorn River is about 300 miles long. The valley through which it flows averages about eight miles in width, and abounds in productive land. It has become a complete German settlement; and the settlers have brought their native industry to bear upon the cultivation of the soil, and each snug farm-house stands embowered in a beautiful and productive orchard, or surrounded by a well-tilled garden. They need be at no loss for cheap, abundant, and varied supplies of food. The stream is full of buffalo-fish, pickerel, pike, catfish, and several other kinds. Its surface is also covered at certain seasons with ducks and geese, which come here for the purpose of breeding and feeding. Then the hunter's skill is called into requisition to chase the wild turkey on the hills, and the deer and antelope. Sum up all these products, and you will find, as the result, that an hospitable settler can place before you a bill of fare of first-rate quality.

      Valley (35 m.), elevation 1120 feet.

      Fremont (47 m.), elevation 1116 feet, is the principal town of Dodge County, in the territory of Nebraska.

Click to view
Page  20

      There are here a telegraph station and an excellent "refreshment bar." The population is about 2000. Here the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad unites with the Union Pacific.

      The Platte River now comes in sight, and we may justly say of it that "distance lends enchantment to the view." Its breadth is fully three-quarters of a mile, and hence you would suppose it a fit stream for argosies to navigate it; but draw near, and you find it has only six inches depth of turbid water. We skirt its bank for a considerable distance, following up the old track of the pioneers of civilization, who, for the last twenty years, have steadily directed their steps further and further to the westward.

      Every traveller is impressed by his first view of the Platte Valley; but he should endeavour to obtain that first view in latter spring or in the early summer, when everywhere a bloom and freshness rest upon the scene. Otherwise, if he delay until the plains have been scorched, and the grasses and flowers have withered, and the streams no longer murmur, he will wonder at the enthusiastic accounts of more fortunate tourists. Let it be his consolation then, however, that if the brightness and beauty have vanished, the sublimity remains. The scene may be less tender, and pathetic, and attractive; but it is grander, it is more majestic. It may not appeal to the fancy but it does to the imagination. We prefer it in its summer aspect; but for others, the broad, almost boundless plain, whose horizon is bounded only by the sky, may have a greater effect—may appeal more strongly to their sense of the marvellous, the lofty, and the infinite!

      From the Platte River up to Sherman the railroad is guarded by United States troops, posted in bodies of from thirty to fifty men at intervals of ten miles along the line. It is a curious sight to come upon the lonely sentinels stationed on their distant eminences, and each on the look-out for the Indian. We wonder what he thinks of! Of the strange scenery around him? That soon grows familiar to his accustomed eye. Of some sweet maiden far away? Or of the home circle which mourns its absent member? Perhaps so; but, at all events, the thought of duty will be first and foremost with him.

      Ketchum (54 m.).

      North Bend (62 m.), at an elevation of 1259 feet.

Click to view
Page  21

      Since the formation of the railway, a population of 400 has gathered here, and the rich corn-fields all around are satisfactory evidence of their prosperity.

      Schuyler (76 m.), elevation 1335 feet, is the principal town (400 inhabitants) of Colfax County.

      Cooper (84 m.), an unimportant station.

      Columbus (92 m.), a town with a population of about 1000, containing three churches, schools, warehouses, hotels, and other additamenta, is situated at an elevation of 1432 feet above the sea, so that we have already accomplished an ascent of nearly 500 feet.

      Crossing Loop Fork, an excellent piscatorial stream, on a sound substantial bridge of timber, we quickly reach the small flag-station of Jackson.

      Here, we are told, many passengers see Indians for the first time; that is, genuine Indians, who live by hunting and take a pride in getting scalps. They are Pawnees, professed allies of the United States Government, but by no means disinclined to "pot" a solitary Yankee. They probably consider themselves civilized, for each carries a revolver in the belt strapped round his waist. That they are stanch adherents to old traditions is proved by an inspection of their encampment. Outside the huts are poles stuck into the ground; and from the tops of these poles wisps of hair flutter in the breeze. The seeker after knowledge will, of course, inquire the meaning of this sign, and will be informed that the said wisps of hair are triumphant trophies severed from the scalps of conquered enemies. We agree with a recent writer that these Indians, whose only proof of civilization is the addition of the revolver to the scalping knife, are not persons for whom it is possible to entertain any very great admiration, except in the novels of Fenimore Cooper.

      Crossing Silver Creek, we arrive at

      Silver Creek Station (109 m.), elevation 1534 feet.

      Clark's Station (121 m.).

      Lone Tree (132 m.), elevation 1686 feet. The old emigrant road from Omaha to Colorado crossed the river opposite this point at Shinn's Ferry.

      Nothing delays us at Chapman's Station (142 m.), and we speed on to

      Grand Island (154 m.), elevation 1850 feet, where thirty minutes are allowed for supper. The principal hotel is Nebraska House. The island from which this small but thriving town (pop., 600) takes its name is situated

Click to view
Page  22

      in the Platte River, about two miles distant, is richly wooded, and measures about 80 miles in length by 4 miles in width.

      Here we take leave of schools and churches, and keep "our eyes peeled" for buffalo; the next 200 miles being the buffalo range, or the range of such buffaloes as escape the hunter's rifle, and the gradual cropping out of their food, the bunch grass, to give way to the corn plant.

     Pawnee (162 m.).

      Crossing Wood River, we skirt its thickly cultivated banks for several miles, and, at an elevation of 1974 feet, reach

      Wood River Station (172 m.).

      Gibbon (183 m.).

      Kearney (191 m.), elevation 2106 feet. On the opposite side of the river is Fort Kearney, first established in 1848, and rebuilt in 1858.

      Stevenson (201 m.).

      Elm Creek (212 m.). After crossing this small stream, which winds its way through a perfect forest of elms and passing Overton, we arrive at

      Plum Creek (230 m.), elevation 2370 feet.

      Cayote (240 in.). From this point we begin to lose sight of woods and groves, and the scenery at every mile becomes less interesting.

      Willow Island (250 in.), elevation 2511 feet.

      "Here may be seen a few board and log-houses, with their sides pierced with loop-holes and walled up with turf, the roofs being covered with the same material, which reminds one of the savage, against whom these precautions were taken. It derives its name from an island in the Platte, the second in size in that stream. And we may add, that from here, up the river, the traveller will doubtless observe many of the rude forts along the roadside as well as at the stations. The deserted ranches to be met with along the 'old emigrant road,' on the south side of the river, are fortified in the same manner. The fort was generally built of logs, covered on the roof and sides as already described. They were pierced in every direction with loop-holes, and afforded a safe protection against the Indians. 'They generally stood about fifty yards from the settler's hut, from which a subterranean passage led to the fort; and to this fort the settler and his household retreated when an Indian attack was threatened.'"

      Warren (260 m.).

      Brady Island (268 m.), elevation 2637 feet. In the vicinity is Fort Macpherson, so named in honour of one of the national officers who fell in the " Rebellion,"

Click to view
Page  23

      July 22, 1864. It is garrisoned by five companies of light cavalry.

      Macpherson's Station (277 m.).

      Crossing the North Platte on a substantial trestle bridge of great length, we in due time arrive at

      North Platte City (291 m.), elevation 2789; distance from Sacramento, 1485 miles east. This was at one time a rendezvous of roughs and gamblers; its morality is purer now, though its commercial prosperity has departed, and its population sunk from 2000 to 200. The Railroad Company have some works here.

      Nichol's (299 on.).

      O'Fallon's (307 m.). Observe, on the south side of the river, the curiously rent and riven sandhills, now approaching the stream in bold promontories which force it out of its channel, and now diverging from it in hollows and ravines of a singular character. Soon afterwards, we enter upon what is called the "Alkali Belt," extending to Julesburg, about 70 miles. "The soil and water are here impregnated very strongly with alkali substances."

      Passing Alkali and Roscoe, we reach

      Ogalalla (341 m,), at an elevation of 3190 feet; Brule(351 m.); and Big Springs (361 m.), at an elevation of 3325 feet, so named from a copious stream. that wells out of the opposite sandhills.

      Julesburg (377 m.), elevation 3500 feet, was another rendezvous for the "rowdy men of the West," until the railroad brought in its track the forces of law and order.

      From this point to Denver, in Colorado, the distance, along the windings of the Platte River, is 200 miles.

      Leaving Julesburg, we enter the valley of the Lodge Pole Creek, pass Chappel (387 m.); and at Lodge Pole (397 m.) attain an elevation of 3800 feet. The surrounding country grows very picturesque, and broad areas of prairie grass are pleasantly diversified by narrow valleys. Antelopes abound.

      Colton (408 m.).

      Sidney (414 m.), in Nebraska Territory, At this place is sometimes posted a company of Uncle Sam's Regulars. The train stops here to allow it's passengers half an hour for refreshment. The Company have a machine-shop and some other works at this station; and the town itself, though not containing above 200 inhabitants, is evidently destined for an important career.

Click to view
Page  24

      Brownson (423 m.).

      Potter (433 m.), at an elevation of 4370 feet.

      In this vicinity the acute traveller will begin to make acquaintance with the cayeutes, or prairie dogs, and at about three miles from the station is situated the great prairie-dog, city, occupying several hundred acres, honey-combed by a perfect labyrinth of subterranean burrows.

      The prairie dog or Wish-ton-Wish (Spermophilus Ludovicianus) is a rodent, and not a carnivorous animal, and its popular name is due to the short yelping sound which it is fond of uttering, and which resembles, in some respects, the bark of a young puppy. It is a pretty and rather curious animal, measuring about sixteen inches in total length. Its general shape is round and flattish, and the head is peculiarly flat, giving to the animal a very remarkable aspect. The fur is grayish red; that is, chestnut alternated with gray.

      It is a burrowing animal, and exceedingly prolific; multiplying rapidly, and extending its excavations to vast distances.

      "Indeed," says Wood, in a book known to many of our readers,—"Homes Without Hands"—"when once the prairie dogs settle themselves in a convenient spot, their increase seems to have no bounds, and the little heaps of earth near the mouth of their burrows extends as far as the eye can reach.

      "The burrows," continues our authority, "are of considerable dimensions, and evidently run to no small depth, as one of them has been known to absorb five barrels of water without being filled. It is, not impossible, however, that there might being been a communication with some other burrow, or that the soil might have been loose and porous, and suffered the water to soak through its substance. They are dug in a sloping direction, forming an angle of about 45° with the horizon, and after descending for five or six feet, they take a sudden turn, and rise gradually upwards. Thousands and thousands of these barrows are dug in close proximity to each other, and honey-comb the ground to such an extent that it is rendered quite unsafe for horses.

      "The scene presented by one of these 'dog towns' or 'villages,' as the assemblages of burrows are called, is most curious, and well repays the trouble of apporaching without alarming the cautious little animals. Fortunately for the traveller, the prairie dog is as inquisitive as it is wary, and the indulgence of its curiosity often costs the little creature its life. Perched on the hillocks which have already been mentioned the prairie dog is able, to survey a wide extent of horizon, and as soon as it sees an intruder, it gives a sharp yellp of alarm, and dives into its burrow, its little feet knocking together with a ludicrous flourish as it disappears. In every direction a similar scene is enacted. Warned by the

Click to view
Page  25

      well-known cry, all the prairie dogs within reach repeat the call, and leap into their burrows. Their curiosity, however, is irrepressible, and scarcely have their feet vanished from sight, than their heads are seen cautiously protruded from the burrow, and their inquisitive brown eyes sparkle as they examine the cause of the disturbance."

      The stations of Bennett (442 m.) and Antelope (451 m.) may be passed with the remark, that at the latter point begin the immense grassy plains which must one day become the "great pasture land" of the continent. They extend for about 700 miles in length north and south, and about 200 to 250 miles east and west. The herbage of these plains is peculiarly nutritious, and grows from nine to twelve inches high.

      It is said that in this unsettled country there is abundant feeding ground—and we should be disposed to second the assertion—for millions, we cannot say how many millions, of cattle, and that then there would be grazing land left enough for fattening half the stock in the Union. The grass is good, and water is plentiful, and there are no dangerous vermin, and the cattle plague is unknown. In summer the dryness of the atmosphere is such that it turns the standing grass into a naturally prepared standing hay, without injuring its nutritious properties; then, after the rains, or even the snow, up comes the grass again, as green as any verdant farmer could wish to see it.

      A predecessor on "this line" grows quite enthusiastic about this region of green pastures. Why, he says, why not stock it with sheep? See what room there is for the largest flocks ever brought together! and then, ready at hand, you have water-power for your manufactories, so that you have only to get your wool, and manufacture it into cloth on the spot, and despatch your supplies in all directions. And, seriously, there is no reason at all why this great valley should not rival in wealth and prosperity the territory of Colorado, with its flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.

      At Bushnell, 12 miles west of Antelope, we have attained the astonishing elevation of 4860 feet. Here we enter the territory of Wyoming, whose name has been made familiar to us by Campbell's graceful poem; though the poet's "Wyoming" was situated on "Susquehanna's side," and not in the Far West.

      Pine Bluffs (473 m.), elevation 5026 feet. Pine trees are abundant in this neighbourhood.

Click to view
Page  26

      Egbert (484 m.), where we take leave of Lodge Pole Creek, whose grassy valley was once a favourite hunting ground of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.

      Hillsdale (496 m.).

      Soon after we pass this station, our eyes are greeted with a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains—the vast mountain-chain that, with great varieties of configuration, extends from the Arctic Ocean to the Straits of Magellan, and flings off its final extremity in the rugged island of Tierra del Fuego. A wondrous barrier, which Nature seems to have reared to prevent the encroachment of the waters of the Pacific. The highest peak that rises above its dark, distant line is Long's, which towers to a height of some 15,000 feet; and to the left the snow-capped crest of Pike's Peak is not less than 13,000 feet above the sealevel.

      It may be as well here to introduce a brief general description of this great range, or, more correctly speaking, of these ranges of mountains which occupy the central and western portions of our continent, forming a continuation of the Mexican Cordilleras, and extending as far north as the Pacific Ocean. They lie between the Pacific and 105° W. long., with a breadth of about 1000 miles, and cover an area of 980,000 square miles. They form two parallel chains from the Sierra Verde to the mouth of the River Mackenzie, and these chains are occasionally united by a transverse ridge. From lat. 32° to 40° N., the double line bears nearly north and south; then from 40° to 45° N., the course is north-west, and turning somewhat sharply to the left they next pursue a route nearly parallel to the shore of the Pacific, throwing off several spurs, and some isolated peaks, one of which—Mount Elias, lat. 61° N., long 141° W,—is 17,800 feet high, and planted like a sentinel on the boundary between the British possessions and our recently acquired territory of Alaska.

      Some of the loftiest peaks are, Mount Chaster, in the North California range, 14,000 feet high; Fremont's Peak, near the sources of the Colorado and Yellowstone rivers, 13,570 feet; Mount Brown, in British Columbia, 16,000 feet; and Mount Hocker, 15,700 feet. The passes vary in elevation from 6000 to 7000 feet, and an immense mass of the rugged mountain table-lands is between 4000 and 5000 feet, The pass through which our railroad is carried is the only one possible for a railroad; and it is quite allowable to suppose that all-seeing

Click to view
Page  27
Nature left it open specially for the establishment by man of a channel of communication between Eastern and Western America.

      The geological formations of which the mountains are composed are gneiss, granite (mainly so in the railroad region), porphyries, mica and talcose slates, and goldbearing quartz, with deposits of mercury, silver, coal, petroleum, and carboniferous limestone. This description applies, of course, to the general range, from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean; but the details cannot but be useful to a traveller who is sure to have left his geography-book behind him.

      The central forms the watershed, dividing the rivers that fall into the Pacific from those that terminate in the Arctic Ocean, Hudson's Bay, or the Gulf of Mexico. And between the first and second, or eastern and western ridges, lie the territories of Utah and Sierra Nevada, whose rivers find their outlets in the great lakes, as the Great Salt Lake and Humboldt Lake.

      The western range is of inferior elevation to the eastern still north of the fifty-fifth parallel, where both ranges attain the same height. They are generally barren, though the lateral valleys are often very grassy and pleasant hollows, watered by running brooks, and sometimes shaded with trees. Their sole offset in the south is the Saba and Ozark mountains, which traverse Texas to the Mississippi. The valley, or depression, between the two ranges of the Rocky Mountains, which is 100 miles and more in width, reaches a considerable elevation beyond the railroad track, as we know that the tributaries of the Columbia River pour down its rugged course in a series of rapids and cataracts for nearly 100 miles; and it is probably still higher towards the sources of the Peace River, where the mountains, only 1500 feet above it, are clad in everlasting snow. The Sierra Verde lies about 490 miles from the Pacific; but, as the coast strikes due north to the Sound of Juan de Fuca, the western range of the, Rocky Mountains maintains a distance of 350 miles from the ocean, from that point to the sixtieth parallel of north latitudes.

      Archer (508 m.). The railroad to the left is the Denver Pacific, which meets us at

      Cheyenne (516 m.). The town is situated on a broad breezy level, watered by the Crow Creek, at an elevation of 6041 feet. It is 1260 miles distant from Sacramento, and 110 miles from Denver.

Click to view
Page  28

      There is not much, so far as we know, to say about Cheyenne. It is neither so small as it was at first, nor so large as it has been, and may again be. In July 1867 it boasted of one house. About a year and a half later it had 6000 inhabitants; and now, perhaps, the population is between 3000 and 4000. And there is no doubt, too, that it was once "a rough (a very rough) place," and that some of its "prominent citizens" would not have been deemed pleasant companions by you or us. Its reckless days, however, have vanished; the worst of the population seem to have been drafted off to other places; and the streets are as quiet as any of our eastern cities, where the reign of law and order has been firmly established.

      Let us note that at the hotel they cook (or did cook) capital antelope steaks. They make a capital dish, with a flavour something between that of beef and venison.

 contents   |   previous   |   next
  • HOME

  • Western Trails
    Nebraska Western Trails
    UNL Libraries
    Electronic Text Center
    Institute of Museum and Library Services
    Funded by the
    Institute of Museum and Library Services