Thursday, September 27, 2018

Colonel Manypenny’s “Gift”

Congress, eager to open Unorganized Territory for whites, eyed Indian land bordering the Missouri River. 

In January 1854, the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Colonel George Manypenny, traveled from Washington, D.C., to "talk" with those Missouri River tribes.

They met in Bellevue, population fifty, the only white settlement on the river's west side.

The Missourians and Otoes arrived together. Then sixty Omaha chiefs, or "those going against the wind," breezed in.

Colonel Manypenny talked the tribes into selling land for cash, goods, and a reservation all their own. That gift to Congress settled, he left. 

In Washington, Colonel Manypenny made major reductions in the treaties—above all, in the amount of money. 

Colonel Manypenny's dirtiest deal? 

Reducing the $1,200,000 promised to the Omahas to $84,000. That came to two cents an acre for the 4 million acres from the Niobrara River to the Platte and from the Missouri River to the Sandhills.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hauling Mail on a Mule

If it weren't for William Parker Carr, the county I grew up in wouldn't be named "Harlan." Not that Carr planned this. No, when he left New England forever and traveled to the swift Missouri, he just intended to find work. Plus maybe a girlfriend.
Carr found his first job: delivering mail on a mule. If he'd known better, he might have declined. The mail route crossed the land of the Pawnee, those skilled robbers of horses and mules. But Carr needed a job so he took it. 
One night, Carr's mule acted queerly. 
"What's eatin' him?" Carr wondered. Then an image crossed his mind: a half-naked savage swinging a tomahawk, a ridge of porcupine hair rising from his shaved head. 
"Pawnee!" he shrieked, and dug his heels into his startled mule's flanks. They tore along, galumphing over the moonlit path, Carr starting at each night noise. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Dirtiest Deal

The dirtiest deal in my home county happened when settlers near the tiny town of Alma snagged the Harlan County seat in the late 1800s.

A native of that Nebraska county seat, I didn't find the affair that scuzzy, but descendants of the nearby town of Orleans still do.

Mention the county seat there and faces redden and glower, voices snarl and snap.

Indeed, Orlean's descendants seem to think that locating the county seat in Alma was Harlan County's worst calamity, more unfortunate than the 1935 Republican River flood that killed 110 people, destroyed 11,400 head of cattle, and wiped out trees, houses, barns, bridges, and railroad tracks.

"At least," they say, "we recovered from the flood," but not the Harlan County seat fight, still taking its toll in Orleans.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Cadaver Dogs

It's June 2013, and the FBI is at it again: searching for Jimmy Hoffa's remains, missing since July 30, 1975. 

This time the agents bring in a bulldozer, a backhoe, and shovels. 

They dig and dig in a field of waist-high grass where a barn used to be. 

The agents are so certain they'll find the famous ex-Teamsters' boss that they bring in cadaver dogs to sniff out his decomposing body and they hire Michigan State forensic anthropologists to identify his remains. 

But on the third day of the excavation, the FBI agents give up. 

Where is Jimmy? They don't know.