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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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By some unknown date, probably several centuries before Columbus reached America, peoples belonging to the Caddoan stock had spread over and occupied much of the country from the Red River into South Dakota, and from the Missouri nearly to Scotts Bluff.1 This was probably at the expense of Algonquin tribes along the fertile Missouri bottoms. It is doubtful if there was ever any considerable Indian population of the Great Plains prior to the introduction of the horse, which greatly facilitated the hunting of buffalo and extensive migrations in search of water, fuel, and shelter.

After the Caddoan occupation of the trans-Missouri region, there occurred an influx of Siouan peoples, also agricultural, from the north and east.2 The Dakota division of the Siouan stock, defeated in disastrous wars with the Algonquin Chippewa (who were aided by newly-acquired firearms from the French), around the beginning of the 18th century began to emigrate southwestward from Minnesota. This movement forced the Algonquin Cheyenne and Arapaho ahead of them into the Black Hills and Cheyenne river country3 of South Dakota. The migrations and displacements continued until, by 1800, the Dakota Sioux were in possession of most of South Dakota.

The westward migration of tribes had by this time become greatly accelerated through the use of the horse. The horse (strayed or stolen from the early Spaniards) had reached the Pawnees by 1700, and the Dakotas by 1740.4 Goaded by enemies on the east and attracted by the herds of buffalo swarming over the Great Plains of the Platte country, the Tetons (most western branch of the Dakota Sioux) drove the Cheyenne and Arapaho before them, and had occupied all of western Nebraska to the North Platte by 1830. Therefore, when white men began to enter Nebraska in numbers, they found the Kansas, Omaha, and Ponca Sioux in the Missouri Valley; the Caddoan Pawnees restricted to south central Nebraska, along the middle Platte and Loup rivers; and the Ogallala and Brule divisions of the Teton Dakotas over all the remainder of the state. The Arapaho and southern Cheyenne normally held the southern Platte country.

The Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Dakotas were normally at peace with each other, but constantly warred against the Pawnees on the east and the Shoshone on the west. The Kiowa and Comanche had presumably drifted out of Wyoming southeastward across western Nebraska, in the early 18th century, to establish themselves in western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. This set-up in the first half of the 19th century made the forks of the Platte and wild battleground between the Cheyenne-Arapaho-Tetons and the Pawnees. Until about 1835 the Pawnees dared to have villages on the North Platte, but a decisive defeat in that year near Ash Hollow5 caused them to retire far down the river to the Loup country.

When these northwestern Plains Indians were first visited by Europeans in the 19th century, they possessed a nearly uniform culture. This culture was based on use of the horse and hunting of the bison, and conditioned to an exceedingly nomadic life. Agriculture was practically unknown (except among the Pawnees and other tribes to the east); very little pottery was made; and the bison provided everything from fuel and food to shelter and raiment. These nomadic hunting horsemen naturally became great horse stealers and far-raiding warriors. Such were the inhabitants of the Scotts Bluff area when the white man arrived. In numbers they may have approached a total of 40,000-50,000 souls, divided: Dakotas, 25,000; Pawnees, 10,000; Cheyenne, 3,500; and Arapaho, 3,000. As yet, smallpox, cholera, and drunkenness had not taken a toll of these highly susceptible aborigines.6

1W. E. Connelley, "Notes on early Indian occupancy of the Great Plains," pp. 438-470, Vol. 14, 1915-1918, Kansas Historical Collections. Mr. Connelley has used Indian traditions, the reports of early travelers, and the evidence of artifact distribution in working up his material and two distributional maps. W. D. Strong, op. cit., in American Anthropologist, discusses some of the archaeological evidence for his postulated spread of Caddoan stock.

2Map in Connelley, op. cit., shows Siouans to the Niobrara and lower Missouri by 1540. Plate 33, Indian tribes and Linguistic Stocks, 1650, compiled by Dr. J. R. Swenton, in the Paullin: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, 1932, shows a further encroaching of the Siouans into the fertile trans-Missouri lowlands of Kansas and Nebraska.

3The various movements of the Dakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and adjacent tribes are outlined in:

  1. David Bushnell: Villages of the Algonquin, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi, Bureau American Ethnology, Bull. 77, 1922.

  2. Doane Robinson: A Comprehensive History of the Dakota or Sioux Indians, S. Dak. Hist. Coll., Vol. 2, 1904.

  3. George B. Grinnell: The Cheyenne Indians, Vol. 1, 1923.

  4. James Money: Ghost-Dance Religion, pp. 653 et seq., 14th Annual Report, Bureau American Ethnology, 1896.

  5. A. L. Kroeber: The Arapaho, Vol. 18, Part 1, 1902, Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist.

  6. W. McGee: The Siouan Indians, 15th Annual Report, Bureau American Ethnology, 1897.

4C. Wissler: The Influence of the Horse on the Development of Plains Culture, pp. 1-25, Vol. 16, n. s., "American Anthropologist," 1914.

5R. Sage: Wild Scenes in Kansas and Nebraska, p. 50.

6Among the best early descriptions of Plains Indians are those to be found in:

  1. George Catlin: Letters and Notes, 1841.
  2. Prince Maximilian von Wied: Travels, 1841.
  3. Original Journals of Lewis and Clark.
  4. E. James: Long's Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, 1823.

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