10 February 2017

Dozens of Geese Die at NPPD Powerline

On February 2, 2017 it became known that dozens of Snow Geese had collided with a 345 KV Nebraska Public Power District powerline near Edgar, southern Nebraska. Details were provided by Robert Harms, a biologist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that graciously provided details of this occurrence of wildbirds hitting a significant, industrial powerline. His comments became available via email, and he indicated that his comments could be presented to the public.

"The NPPD notified us by telephone that about 30 snow geese had collided with the 345 kV power line near Edgar, Nebraska on February 2, 2017. Apparently, the collisions occurred on February 1, 2017—the day before. I met with a NPPD biologist to inspect the site on the afternoon of February 2, 2017. The purpose of the site inspection was to determine how and why the collisions occurred and recommend modifications to the existing line (i.e., installation of bird flight diverters (BFDs)) to prevent the same situation from occurring in the future.

"A total of 95 dead snow geese and a few Ross’s geese were found under the power line in an overgrazed pasture. This likely underestimates the true number of birds that collided with NPPD’s power line. We have unconfirmed reports of injured birds that could no longer fly in the area but we did not find any during the site inspection. It’s likely that there were birds that collided with the line and could still fly, but died elsewhere. The birds laid dead under the line overnight—it’s possible that carcasses were carried off by coyotes and consumed elsewhere. All told — probably well over 100 birds died at this site due to collision with NPPD’s 345kV power line.

"An initial reaction during the site inspection was that the snow and Ross’s geese had been shot at as they fed in the cornfield, flushed, and then collided with the line. There were no signs of birds being shot—some dead birds had missing wings and heads and many had serrated stomach tissue and exposed entrails—this is not an indication of gunshots, but of collision. Additionally, I spoke with the landowner who indicated that she had heard no gunshots. I spent some time at the site to determine the circumstances that led to this large collision. The Edgar city sewage lagoon is located approximately 0.25-mile west and cornfield is located to the north. The wind was out of the northeast on February 1. In my mind, the most likely explanation is that a large flock of snow and Ross’s geese were roosting overnight on the sewage lagoon and departed early in the morning well before daylight as snow and Ross’s geese often do. As they departed, they flew into the wind (northeast) and collided with NPPD’s 345kV power line which is located about 0.25-mile east of the lagoons. The collisions likely occurred in low light conditions.

"I would characterize the area as intensive row crop irrigated agriculture with a few rainwater basin wetlands present; these are located west and north of Edgar. This general area of Nebraska experienced severe drought last fall—few rainwater basins held water then. Most of the basins are still dry—those with water have it because of an ice storm, then above normal temperatures in the area which resulted in melting and runoff with little infiltration over frozen ground about 3 weeks ago. All in all, the general area where the collision site is not the best habitat for migratory birds—it is likely that the sewage lagoon was only being used by the snow geese because it represents what little water is available at this time of year in this area given the drought situation.

"After discussion at the site, NPPD tentatively agreed to install bird flight diverters (BFD) on an approximately 1-mile long segment of the existing 345 kV line to minimize the risk of avian collisions in the future. This includes the segment of the power line that crosses immediately north of the sewage lagoon area. NPPD also agreed to install BFDs on a privately-owned rainwater basin wetland located approximately two miles west of Edgar."

Edgar is located in Clay county, Nebraska. The sewage lagoon is northeast of the town.

the industrial powerline where these geese died, is similar in features for the proposed powerline known was the R-Project, which is being proposed by NPPD across a vast swath of the sandhills.

09 February 2017

Meeting Postponement Inhibits Civic Involvement in Cherry County

An error in a published, public legal notice for a conditional use permit was apparently a basis for the postponement of the February 7th meeting of the Cherry County Planning and Zoning Board at Valentine.

At the January 31st meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners, it was indicated by public comment that the legal description given in the public notice in the newspaper of record – and as also sent to adjacent landowners – was erroneous. It stated: “section 20, T34N R29S” instead of the accurate T34N R29W. There was agreement that there is no such place, based upon accepted means of identifying land parcels.

After some discussion, the commissioners agreed – based up people in attendance as well as a prominent attorney – that the procedure to follow would be to open the scheduled public hearing at the zoning meeting, and then close the hearing for the CUP 01-17 application, and for it to be considered at a later meeting, following the publication of a corrected legal description via a public notice. The county attorney had a similar point of view.

The result. The meeting was postponed for some unapparent reason.

What a mistake this was as there were other items on the meeting agenda that had been properly placed by personal request. There were two items indicated under old business as item a: 1) deicing turbine blades, and 2) Wetlands (zoning and general plan). Dean Smith was also an invited guest that was going to speak on land values in regards to wind turbines. An ongoing item that would have been dealt with was to “review progress on wind study & commissioner’s request.”

The people that had properly requested that these items were on the agenda, were stifled from speaking in a timely manner and being involved in a civic manner for items which should have been addressed at the 7th meeting. Since when do items of concern to county residents be cancelled, seemingly because of a CUP request – which is not entirely compliant - by a corporate interest. The public hearing for this CUP was just one item on the agenda.

A request will be made for the “record” of how and why the meeting was postponed. For example, what discussions occurred, and by whom, prior to the decision for the postponement? This was a decision made by people representing Cherry county and is therefore public information.
This is another example – as well as several others previously – how mistakes are mistakes are being made that cause unnecessary travel, result in inaction, cause frustration, as well as other issues by county residents that expend their personal time and money to be involved with county government action or inaction.

It is obvious that the procedure to reschedule was deficient.

There had been a change in the meeting date placed on the front door of the Cherry county administrative center, apparently on February 3rd, according to a county official.
This is wholly inadequate. How many people drove in from homes many miles distant to check the front door about a significant change in a previously scheduled public meeting? There had been nothing heard on the radio. There was nothing in the local newspaper, but to learn from that source would require a subscription or purchase.

The six people present for the meeting had driven a distance of either 38 miles, 45 miles, 65 miles and 25 miles, and even walked two miles in cold weather to be at the meeting room at Valentine.
There is an indication that a phone call was made to one of the people, but they had been traveling, so the phone message received was known too late to change travel plans that included hurried travel of hundreds of miles.  Should an email be sent to another person with indicated items on the agenda, as they cannot afford a phone? During a discussion at the Valentine sale barn, a county landowner said they had heard that the days’ meeting was cancelled. This ranch wife then called the wife of a member of the zoning board to confirm that this was the case.

The meeting should have occurred as scheduled so that other important items on the agenda would have been dealt with!

There was enough concern/frustration about this situation that a small contingent of concerned citizens walked southward along Main Street to meet with Eric Scott, county attorney. He graciously took time to listen and respond to key topics of interest. All of the seats within the office of attorney Scott were appropriately occupied during the evening hour.

There are also other items of concern in regards to the planning meeting agenda. As given on the official Cherry county website, the date of the meeting was indicated as February 6th, though the meeting was to occur on the 7th, the previously defined Tuesday afternoon meeting day. Also, there was no “public comment” period agenda item as had been indicated at the January 3rd meeting would henceforth be a regular agenda item.

Ironic is that a newly issued public notice for a public hearing on CUP 01-17 – as issued in the February 8th newspaper of record, the legal description given is still not completely accurate; “Section 20, T34N R29” does not meet any required designation as required for any land parcel, and would be found to be inadequate in regards to any land transaction. The CUP application may be accurate, but the public notice is not. As least the revised notice had been revised to remove inconsistencies about the ability for members of the public to speak, as indicated at the most recent county commissioner meeting.

07 February 2017

Ranchland Advocates Attend Cherry County Soup Supper

Sand Hill residents concerned about the potential for wind turbines and the R-project powerline gathered the evening of February 4th at the Hamilton Ranch in southeast Cherry county.

In addition to local residents, people drove the roads from nearby Brownlee, from up at Valentine and Wood Lake, as well as from Burwell. All appreciated the hospitality of Kort Hamilton, and his parents John and Cindy Hamilton, who provided a warm equipment shed for the meeting sponsored by Preserve the Sandhills.

After ranch country conversation, a supper featured wonderful, home-made soups that were hearty eating on a cool winter evening. There were also fine tasting desserts. Each cook needs to be congratulated on their culinary skills used to prepare food that was enjoyed and savored.

Several items of current interest were then discussed.

Amy Ballagh, a distinct leader of Save the Sandhills and from the north Burwell ranch country, discussed the R-Project transmission line. A key concern is the route which this huge industrial powerline will follow, and the easement process being done by NPPD. She indicated hundreds of pages of documentation associated with an environmental assessment of this project. There are alternate routes southward of the corridor currently selected by Nebraska Public Power District which could avoid many of the problems associated with the current route, including potential impacts on the endangered Whooping Crane, expected impacts on the American Burying Beetle and damage to essential ranchland resources.

Details of this project readily convey that it would be essential in providing a means to distribute power generated by local turbine farm facilities. This would include a proposed turbine farm near the Hamilton ranch where there are known details for a 147 turbine facility, since a means of distribution would be available. NPPD prefers to slight this reality despite multiple instances of records that indicate the R-Project would provide a means where locally generated power could be sent outside Nebraska.

Another primary topic of the evening were the legislative bills being considered by the Nebraska legislator in Lincoln, as presented by Twyla Witt, with ancillary comments.

These bills include LB 504, introduced by District 43 representative Tom Brewer. This is the "Save the Sandhills" bill which would establish a two-year moratorium on any development of industrial wind energy projects within the region, and establish a task force to study the issue.

People were urged to get involved in the legislative process to work to get this bill passed, by either attending the public hearing on March 1st in Lincoln, or to communicate their view via phone call, letter or email to members of the Natural Resources committee.

A couple of particulars of this bill were expressed: 1) on Line 26, it says the region had "three hundred species of birds." Based upon 35 years of personal effort to know and understand bird occurrence in the sandhills region, and as based upon a database of more than 150,000 records starting in 1886, the tally is actually more than 400 species, which is a significant difference. There are also other prior records that occurred as far back as 1857; 2) on line 28 there is a typographic error: it is species not "specifies." It is up to the legislators to deal with this mistake in spelling, perhaps through an amendment; and 3) there are other particulars that can be variably considered.

There is also LB 392 which is a “wind friendly counties act” where counties could receive recognition through the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The local consensus was that counties should have the option to be "wind unfriendly" and keep turbines out. Another bill to oppose was LB87, as indicated by a member of the group with experience in "net metering" in regards to energy development facilities.

Another item of concern mentioned, based upon a conversation with a Nebraska state trooper in the Neligh area, was shared at the soup supper.
There was an obvious influx of construction workers being paid union wages to construct local turbine facilities that apparently resulted in unwanted and illegal activities. There were several obvious results which were not welcomed in the community.

An appreciated expert on wind turbine development, formerly of Minnesota, Kevin Willert of the Duck-Bar Ranch at Kennedy shared some of his experiences from the northland. "The building process is very ugly," he said, in regards to the massive Buffalo Ridge facility where 1100 wind turbines have been built near his former home, and county. More are planned. "Developers don't care what they destroy," he said. Also shared were his experiences with various noises associated with operational wind turbines based upon their mechanics, leaking oil and other miscellany.

It was obvious that Cherry county residents - as well as so many living in other sandhill counties - need to continue to be active and involved in efforts and decisions made by county planning and zoning boards (since it is readily obvious that notably in Cherry county, decisions have been made that ignore regulatory requirements) and the county commissioners. There have been votes to approve conditional use permits which do not comply with zoning regulations.

A special announcement was made by Judy Rath, who has prepared a new website for the sponsor group: it is preservethesandhills.org. This intent of this site is to share the unique life and times of sandhills residents, and how wind turbine developments will affect the lifestyle.

This Saturday event was a wonderful community gathering, and a special opportunity to realize how special the sandhills are, how people care about a unique land, and hours to realize a true sense of community and camaraderie. It was a time to relax, listen to ranch country conversation, enjoy a supper of unsurpassed quality and then hear about efforts to protect the hills. It was a fine time to gather, just before the onset of calving season.

Birds in the Valentine Area During January, 2017

The winter season at Valentine can be quite brutal. This year, there were days when there were frigid temperatures below zero. Other days were those where the high temperature in the state occurred at the heart city. Then there was a record-setting snow fall in the latter days of the month.

Birds react to these environmental conditions. On warm days there were robins and perhaps some Eastern Bluebird to notice. Otherwise the species during the month were mostly year-round residents. Especially enjoyed was the once and again voice of the diminutive Red-breasted Nuthatch. The lovely sound of the White-breasted Nuthatch can be heard nearly each day amidst the nature on the north side of the Valentine Mill Pond.

A short distance east of the town setting, a group of Trumpeter Swan found that a space just north of the Borman Bridge was a suitable place to linger, and therefore seen. There are a few American Crow which have been spending the winter, with three or four seen one day or another as they flew about looking for an edible morsel.

One significant difference was the occurrence of the Belted Kingfisher. There were several records in January 2016, but only one known occurrence in 2017. Habitat conditions were similar during both of these months, with open water predominant and no difference in arboreal places that could be used as places to watch for suitable prey in the flowing waters.

Canada Goose occur in this area throughout the area, with many present on the Niobrara River as can be seen from the Highway 20 bridges. The gesse, as well as the smaller-sized Cackling Goose can, on occasion, be seen flying northward amidst larger-sized geese. There have been no authoritative counts of the numbers of geese present on the river during winter. Mallard could be seen on Minnechaduza Creek (which should actually be Minichaduza) eastward of the dam at the mill pond. Notable this year, were two Ring-necked Duck in the early days of the month floating on the creek waters. They were a new addition to the list of local avifauna. As the days of the month were waning, the vivid voice of the Great Horned Owl could be heard by those with an ear attuned to sound of the night. Another addition to the local bird list was a Great Grey Shrike, seen sitting atop a tree in the northeast extent of the Valentine Mill Pond. To see this bird again on the day of the Polar Bear Festival at Meadville was simply another sighting to particularly enjoy!

There is then the Townsend's Solitaire, a winter presence. One was seen atop a tree in Valentine. One was also seen elsewhere in habitat along the River Road westward of Meadville, during that polar bear festival Saturday.

With snow prevalent on the ground, places where there was no snow cover, attracted Horned Larks, which are ground foragers. Bunches of these birds were seen along a street within Valentine, following a multi-inch snowfall, and then once again along the Cowboy Trail with town. They needed ground without snow to forage. While going to the Niobrara River Polar Bear Festival there were many hundreds along the shoulder of Highway 12 where the snow had been plowed away from the highway by the roads department. The birds dealt with disturbances - once and again - due to traffic, as they strived to find their essentials to survive.

The tally for this month was 34 particular species. This compares to 30 species in 2016 when there are records available for seven days, with no information available for outlier places such as the Niobrara River adjacent to Borman Bridge WMA or along the highway east of town.

Common Name 6 9 13 14 15 16 19 26 28 30
Canada Goose - - - - - - - - - - 850 725 - - - - - -
Cackling Goose - - - - - - - - - - 2 2 - - - - - -
Trumpeter Swan - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 5 - -
Mallard 2 2 5 2 - - 2 3 5 - - 2
Ring-necked Duck 1 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sharp-shinned Hawk - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - -
Bald Eagle 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
Red-tailed Hawk - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
Rock Dove - - 45 - - - - 30 - - 20 - - - - - -
Eurasian Collared Dove 2 19 7 9 - - - - 18 2 6 12
Great Horned Owl - - - - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1
Belted Kingfisher - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Red-bellied Woodpecker - - 1 - - 1 - - 1 - - - - - - - -
Downy Woodpecker 1 1 1 1 - - - - 3 - - - - 1
Hairy Woodpecker - - 2 2 - - - - - - 2 2 1 - -
Northern Flicker - - 1 1 1 - - - - 1 - - - - 2
Great Grey Shrike - - 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Blue Jay 2 - - 1 1 - - - - 2 - - - - 1
American Crow 3 - - 1 2 - - 4 2 2 2 - -
Black-capped Chickadee 1 2 3 2 - - - - 6 5 4 2
Horned Lark - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - 18 90 - -
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 1 - - 1 - - - - 1 1 - - - -
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - - - - - - - 4 1 2 - - - - 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3 4 5 3 - - - - 4 4 - - 9
Common Starling - - - - - - 4 - - - - 11 5 - - 8
Eastern Bluebird - - - - - - 9 - - - - 4 - - - - - -
Townsend's Solitaire - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - 1 - - - -
American Robin - - 40 - - 1 55 225 80 4 35 17
House Sparrow 52 15 38 16 50 - - 39 48 - - 59
House Finch 3 2 - - 4 - - - - 4 3 - - 1
American Goldfinch 1 34 29 5 - - - - 3 3 2 7
Song Sparrow - - - - - - - - 1 1 1 - - - - - -
Dark-eyed Junco 26 - - 2 6 - - - - - - 4 - - 3
Northern Cardinal - - - - - - 1 - - - - 1 - - - - 2

By the end of the month as temperatures somewhat moderated, there was some unfrozen water in the channel area of the Valentine Mill Pond, so Canada Goose once again began to congregate. The abbreviated song of the Northern Cardinal could perhaps be heard. The many Eurasian Collared Dove were busy in their seasonal antics in places where they will raise a brood this year.

Every day was a good day this month to enjoy the wildbirds. Hither and yon they are prevalent as either heard or seen. Notes were kept on one day or another, while the bird life is a daily event to enjoy at any time.

03 February 2017

Bald Eagle Numbers Soar in Nebraska

The number of Bald Eagle nesting within Nebraska had a dramatic increase in 2016. There were 158 active nests recorded, compared to 118 in 2015, according to a report recently issued by the nongame wildlife program of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Records on nesting activity and locales have been kept for at least a decade, with agency surveys and a compilation of contributed information methodology being used by agency staff since 2012.

In north-central Nebraska, these eagles nested in Brown county (two sites), Keya Paha county (two sites), Cherry county (at ten localities), as well as Grant and Hooker counties which each had one known nest. There were no known nests in Thomas or Sheridan counties.

In addition to surveys by the state agency, information was also provided by federal agency staff, non-governmental groups and public power districts. Numerous individuals also contributed useful information. Carolyn Semin contributed details on a new nest in the south Kilgore vicinity. Information for Cherry county was also provided by staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service. Special thanks was given to "Dr. Joseph Gubanyi and his biology students for monitoring several nests in eastern Nebraska and to a Niobrara High School science class for monitoring nests in northeast Nebraska," the report said.

An active nest can be used for many years, with more sticks piled on annually, so nests often become quite large and thus very obvious to observers.

This raptor starts nesting in late winter, so pairs are currently establishing their home territory and repairing or preparing their nest. It takes many weeks to incubate a clutch of eggs and then nourish the young to an age when they fledge and fly away from their nest haven.

Nests in Cherry county notably occur along the Niobrara River and in the lake country of the eastern and central portion of the county. There may be nests near lakes in the southwest portion of the county, but are likely not realized due to the lack of bird-watching activity in the area. An especially nice, repeatedly successful nest is in the Niobrara valley, atop a fine tree just a short distance south of the heart city. In the interior sandhills, nests occur by lakes that have a large tree that can support the mass of sticks of a nest. In the eastern extent of the region, the species occurs along many of the primary rivers.

The first modern-era nest of this eagle apparently occurred in 1991 in eastern Nebraska, according to the report. The number of known nests has continued to increase each subsequent year. The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was removed from the federal list of threatened or endangered species in 2007, and from a corresponding Nebraska list in 2008.

02 February 2017

Hearing on Wireless Communications Tower to be Delayed

A request for the placement of a wireless tower near Crookston, and within Cherry county, will have to be reconsidered due to details associated with the notice for a public hearing for a conditional use permit for the applicant.

Details given during public testimony at the January 31st meeting of the Cherry County Commissioners indicated there were errors in the “legal” notice issued in the newspaper of record and as also sent, as required by county regulations, to landowners adjacent to the proposed tower site. The items of concern were conveyed to the commissioners so that they were aware of them.

The testimony given by a county resident – as paraphrased – concerned particular items henceforth mentioned:

The legal description was not valid. The item within notice indicated the cellular tower location as “Section 20, T34N, R29S, RE: Keenan parcel.”

It was readily obvious that there is no such place upon any legal map. These is no known location within Cherry county with a “R29S” designation. This was a typographical error, since it should have said R29W.

This textual error made the legal notice null and void.

Also, a perspective continues about the words as given in the “legal” public notice issued by the newspaper of record. This is what was printed on page 9 of the January 18, 2017 issue of the Valentine Midland News.

“All interested parties are invited to attend this Public Hearing at which time you will an opportunity to be heard regarding the CUP 01-17 Conditional Use. Written testimony will also be accepted at any time up to and including the Public Hearing. Appearance to speak requires 10 day written notice prior to meeting.”

Problems abound in this singular paragraph, based upon grammar and fact.

Start with: “you will an opportunity to be heard”. There is obviously a word missing, such as have. To get into particulars, these words “CUP 01-17 Conditional Use” perhaps should have included the appended word permit. Most important the first couple of sentences are diametrically opposed to the last sentence.

The initial words indicate that public testimony can be expressed at any time during the public hearing. The last sentence of the paragraph, however, indicates that there is a limitation.

Some of my time had been spent at the office of this official, when the newspaper notice was being prepared for a mailing to landowners adjacent to the property where the proposed tower would be constructed. It was made certain that the photocopy of the newspaper item was what was being sent via the U.S. postal service.

Notable for this meeting on January 31, was its start. Commissioner Tanya Storer started her tenure with a “new tradition” … as each commissioner and others present stood and spoke the pledge of allegiance to a simple U.S.A. flag placed in the middle of the table where the three commissioners sit. Then there was the meeting, based upon an agenda!

Before noon, pertinent items of this public notice were indicated to the three County Commissioner members meeting at their end of January meeting, at Valentine so they would know about the situation.

Two of the three commissioners then spoke, after each of them having taken a look at a worn copy of the newspaper issue with the public notice.

There was more than one word or another in regards that the legal land description was wrong. One commissioner indicated that he could never fly a plane to such a place. Then, the county clerk said that there was no “R29S” in Cherry county.

This little bit of detail was enough to indicate that there would be no public hearing for this CUP application.

There were also other, further words to consider about the necessity for a ten day written notice to speak prior to the meeting.

The verbiage was not acceptable, as discussed during the commissioner meeting.

“Mandatory is not the case … cannot stop someone from speaking,” is what commissioner Tanya Storer said. She then also expressed the public hearing for CUP 01-17 needed to be “opened” and then postponed, a protocol which has occurred for other public meetings during the latter months of 2016.

A change in wording was discussed, that being “requires” to “recommended.”

The topic of discussion was how to adhere to the Open Meetings Act.

The county commissioners realized the situation and acted appropriately to what was wrongly indicated, once again, by the zoning administrator.

These were the results obvious during another day of civic involvement.

During the noon-time hiatus of the official meeting as all three members walked a short distance to enjoy lunch at the nearby Coachlight restaurant, some few steps to the south along Main Street. They all sat together.

There will need to be further involvement in this process. During a review of the application for a cellular tower by Verizon at Crookston, it is obvious that they have not complied – as required - with some clauses in the Cherry county zoning regulations.

This CUP request will eventually be approved, but the county and the applicant will have to adhere to the known procedures and zoning requirements.

30 January 2017

Placename Legacy of Some Central Niobrara Valley Land Features

An ever-running river of water flowing easterly across a plains country has been known and denoted by numerous generations of people. The rapidly running waters were known in many unknown ways of the land.

There is a lesser extent of history known through tribal legacy and then some more expansive written chronicles as a government arrived.

There were years unknown of oral history among the resident tribes so many decades ago. The people present then lived amidst a land they knew and that was a place of their life and where essentials meant a survival dependent upon local resources. These people did not write about their presence in something like a book of latter years. Words spoken within a haven such as a lodge or tepee on some night, were the means through which someone talked about a known places, and shared their words for another generation.

At a later time elsewhere, it was about 1830 when some French men associated with the American Fur Trader Company, went westward and established a post along the river they identified as the “L’Eau qui court.” They had a primitive post near the confluence of a tributary river with especially prominent falls. The waters flowed from a southerly land of vast dunes. The fur company men traded with local tribes that gathered beaver furs.

Indians walked and rode on treasured ponies across this land. They knew realities based upon experience, or some shared depiction spoken in tribute within a gathering. These were essential aspects personally spoken amidst a group beneath a suitable shelter – it was an individual voice – in a setting where elders listened, talked and then made a decision.

This is history for Indians of the vast plains.

Further along in history, as the government of the U.S.A. was especially active with legislation identifying territories and putting together legal treaties, many changes occurred on the vast expanses of the central plains of the western frontier of an expanding nation. Military expeditions were a regular occurrence and for various purposes.

Following a governmental decision, in 1855, Lieutenant Gouverneur Kemble Warren - a topographic engineer of the U.S. Army - was the officer leading the “Sioux Expedition” traversing “Dacota Country” as they went from Fort Pierre on the Missouri river to Fort Kearny on the Platte river. A travel map prepared by the expedition indicated a few river names. There was the “Niobrarah or L’Eau qui Court or Rapid River,” with the name Niobrara used by the Ponca. “Mini Tanka” or Big Water was a denoted attribution of the Dacotas. Also there was the “Wamdushka W.” or Snake river where the French fur post was present. This river was also known by the Omaha tribe as “Cici ka wabahi i te. Where they gathered turkeys. Many turkeys were found here starved to death, and the men gathered them to pluck the feathers to feather their arrows,” (27th annual report of the American Bureau of Ethnology, page 94), There was also the “Little Rapid R.” as primarily indicated.

The “Running water is clear and very swift,” Warren wrote in his journal account. “All the ravines contain springs of clear water.” A prominent tributary along the southward route was the “Wah-zee-koust-kee-ya” according to the deciphered spelling from Warren’s journal entry. The words were said to mean “the place where the pine runs far out,” with “Wah-zee” probably properly spelled as Wasi. This waterway is now known as Long Pine Creek.

This military party eventually reached Fort Kearny on the Platte river and then went westerly and were subsequently involved in the infamous battle at Blue Water creek.

On September 22, 1857 a second U.S. expedition was along the “L’Eau qui Court” river, after weeks of traversing through the vast lands of the sand hills, initially starting from Omaha city and traversing along the north branch of the Loup Fork to its western extent, and then beyond. Loup is a tribal name for wolf, which would be the grey wolf of the plains. In the Lakota language, it is simply, sunkmanitu tanka according to modern era dictionary.

This expedition of discovery and reconnaissance started in July with the assignment to find the best route for a military road from Sioux City to the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains. Details also needed to be known regarding a suitable route to the Black Hills. The character of the Loup Fork and Niobrara were to also be determined for government purposes. There was $25,000 allocated by the U.S. government to pay expedition expenses.
Large-scale map showing route of Warren Expedition of 1857

After weeks of travel, men driving hearty livestock pulling wagons of this Warren expedition departed from the sand hills – along an Indian and buffalo trail from the “buttes de sable” - near a creek identified as “Wasi W.” or wakpa, translating to Pine Creek. The Lakota spell pinae as “wazi.”

Upon reaching the L’Eau qui Court in latter August, the expedition split into two separate parties. One group, including Lieut. Warren went westward to Laramie. Others, including messrs. Ferdinand V. Hayden (geologist) and J. Hudson Snowden went eastward. Details in a hand-written journals kept by these military men depict regular activities and occurrences amidst a western frontier. Especially notable were the nearly daily entries kept by Snowden.

Upon moving downriver, the expedition camped “in good grass … opposite the point opposite the place where we first struck the “l’eau qui court …” Cottonwoods trees provided wood fuel. Snowden also wrote about the valley geology, and recorded meteorological specifics, including even the types of clouds.

“Four Brules who came into our camp from below & who are on their way up the river say there are a great many buffalo travelling north toward L’eau qui court R.,” Snowden wrote. There was no wood along this “portion” of the river, he noted.

Indian presence was pervasive in the vicinity.

As the Niobrara contingent moved along the north side of running water, they crossed an Indian lodge trail on September 23rd. Tribal members present wanted the government force to cross to the south side of the river for some reason, Snowden indicated. Perhaps the Indians wanted the military force to go elsewhere, and away from places important to the tribe?

During these days, however, on occasion, provisions were given to the tribal visitors to the military camps, Snowden said.

One of the first tributary waterways draining into the running water was Deer Creek, flowing in from the hills to the south.

The expeditionary party then camped on September 23rd and 24th at a different waterway flowing in from the northwest, and which a route map indicated was designated as Omaha creek. This waterway is now known as Rush Creek on modern era map at its place northward north of Deer Creek.

Antelope Creek was then another known place. Its original attribution was apparently in reference to the obvious herds comprised of many of these animals. Mr. Snowden wrote many words associated with this day’s journey. His report conveyed that some members of the expedition had travelled to the Snake River, and met with traders of the American Fur Company.

On the 24th, tribal leader Standing Elk accompanied the government expedition for a time during the morning. His words were that “country through which we were travelling belongs to the ‘Great Father’ but that the game, grass, wood, etc. all was the property of the Brule Indians,” Snowden wrote. An annotation for this entry was: “and if we had any powder and ‘bulls’ to spare he would be very thankful for it.” Perhaps the bulls notation referred to bullets.

On one day, the party remained in camp to allow one man to backtrack to search for a mule which was located at a native camp. The mule was retrieved, while the Indians kept a colt and a pistol.

Snowden and a Samuel Moffitt travelled eight miles along this waterway of antelopes, and discovered that open water gave out within a few miles, with water still present in “holes.” This valley with “good grass” was “filled with herds of antelope and the water holes covered with flocks of small teal ducks,” Snowden observed and then denoted in his travelogue.

Soon after leaving camp on the 27th, another stream entering flowing from the north was discovered. The men could see a “long distance” up the valley. No wood was seen but there was good grass. The waters’ depth was 18 inches.

“Large flocks of cranes passed over our camp this evening, travelling south,” Snowden wrote in his journal on the 27th.

This locality seems to be Hay Creek of modern denotion.

“The river as yesterday was inclosed between high steep banks, the ravines filled to some with pine not however in sufficient quality to be of any importance. Considerable growth of ash, cottonwood and grape vines plum & cherry bushes flourish on the bottom.” … “Two lodges of Brules” were camped eastward on the river, on the southern bank of the river, and they camp to the government camp, offering to sell fresh meat, as a buffalo had been killed. The autumn color of the foliage was notable by Snowden.

During this day, an expedition sortie returned after travelling from the mouth of the Snake river and riding along the south side of the L’eau qui Court, and had been “with some of the American Fur Co’s traders, and they travelled with carts – he says the road on that side of the river is very good and so appears so from this, and yet the main lodge trail is on this. It would be impossible to cross the river however with wagons.”

In the evening “large flocks of cranes passed over our camp … traveling south,” Snowden recorded. This is an indication of the autumn migration of prominent Sandhill Crane.

After a “very tortuous and fatiguing march” along the running water valley during another autumn day, the expedition continued to have frontier experiences. There was a greater extent of pine as they moved further along. Game was scarce for a time.

Sketch of expedition route showing primary land features

After a reconnoiter of discovery, two men returned with meat of a freshly-killed buffalo, having also found a “very good place” to camp three and a half miles down the rapid river, that became a camping place on September 30th. The creek was 18 inches to two feet deep, and about four feet wide, according to the Snowden journal. The Indian attribution was “Maca sca Wakpa,” with one English name of White Earth creek. A map of the era shows it as “Clay” creek.

Two weeks – from September 30th to October 13th - were spent at this camp at this tributary where it met with the larger running water. This waterway is currently known as Leander creek, apparently after a homesteader.

During one day’s outing, Snowden rode “down” to a small creek, known as “(Macu seu w)” which was about 6 ft. wide with clear running water 18 in to 2 ft. deep,” Snowden wrote. The “w” would have referred to wakpa, or river in tribal language. This may have been the creek where medicinal plants were collected along its banks.

On October 1st, Snowden noted: “Many signs of elk in the vicinity and several were seen.”

Another day - October 6th - Snowden and a few others road away from the Niobrara valley, southward across the hills of sand to somewhere northward of what would have been Medicine creek. The name is derived from Indian language that refers to the medicinal plants present along the creek banks. They then continued a distance further southward to experience a northerly perspective of the Snake river. There was a “small band of buffalo north of the river,” according to the written recollections of Snowden.

Further details of significant history happened on the 11th of this autumnal month. “About 2 p.m. twenty-two Brule Indians crossed the river and charged into the camp with their bows strung and arrows in their hands. They said, they left Snake River this morning, where their village and chief ‘White Black Bird’ who was on his death bed, and who was sent – his paper, given him by Gen. Harney, by one of those present, who a tribal leader of the party. They said one of their young men who was out hunting had seen us on our road and supposing we were French traders they were going to take all our property away from us. They were very indignant at our going through their country and wanted us to pay for the privileged of passing. They said we were eating all their plums and wild fruit, and burning their wood, that our horses were eating destroying all the grass along the river, that were killing and carrying away all the game that they met – the buffalo and antelope flying from our approach 100 miles before they reached us ...”

Once the contingent of men riding horses or sitting upon seats of freight wagons filled with provisions, firearms and ammunition, and other essentials continued to move easterly, another southward flowing creek was realized within miles. The military force stayed here for a few days (the 13th to 19th) at the confluence of flowing waters designated as Reunion creek, in recognition of the place where the two, once separate government parties, gathered together to continue their exploration of the territory.

View of Niobrara Valley on October 14th.

”About 10 o’clock this morning we were all surprised by hearing a shot & whoop,” Snowden wrote. “On the hills shortly after a few of the Black – hill party accompanied by an Indian rode into the camp. He said Mr. Warren & party were close behind and in a few minutes they came defiling down the hill. Their long string of pack mules and the motley groups of men presenting quite a fantastic appearance. After the shaking of hands & congratulations were over, the rest of the day was spent in relating the different incidents & adventures which had happened to each since out separation…” During the 16th to 18th were spent “reorganizing the party” which included dividing provisions and the discharge of hired men that wanted to return to Laramie. The 17th was a snowy day with four inches on the ground the next morning.

During these days, messrs. Snowden, Dr. Moffett, as well as others got upon their horses in the morning as they took advantage of the sunlight of a day to explore the country, including nearby valleys and hills.

This locality was obviously in the vicinity - based upon geography and topography - of a Bear creek, the name that recognizes the place where Sioux hunters had killed bears, and along a stream within a canyon northward of the running water river. These were probably plains grizzly bears that found the valley to be haven of some sort. Bear in the Lakota language is “mato” as a noun, or matohota in reference to the grizzly bear, with particular inflections according to the Lakota dictionary done by general editor “Joseph S. Karol.”

Further along the readily indicated route along the river, other tribal members were met by the government men. Snowden says so on the pages of his journal that is an essential historic account. Reading the words of a government man, there was a bilateral presence of Indians and intrusionary government men.

There was then a “medicine creek” which was a place apparently known by some local tribal members in recognition of the medicinal plants growing along its banks. The names was associated with the personal – and somewhat shared – oral history that important medicinal plants grew along its banks.

Essential to the details of this Warren Expedition of 1857, are the hand-drawn maps giving details of its route along the Niobrara River. The original renditions are kept in official U.S.A. archives since they were drawn by topographic engineers that were government employees. For nearly every portion of the Niobrara traversed, there is a cartographic graphic that indicates prominent land features and places where the expedition camped.

There was a snowfall of six inches on the 18th, and more storms would ensue.

From October 20-22nd, the expedition camped at the mouth of a Little Rapid river, with an arrival date of the 19th after a “long distance into the prairie passing over low rolling ground,” Snowden wrote. Ravines were filled with vibrant pine. The creek was “3 yards wide and two feet deep, crooked and confined within.” There has high steep hills with pine and cedar on the hills and a fringe of elm, cottonwood and cherry. The waters flowed southward into the L’eau qui Court. When they wagons left camp, they travelled northward for a few miles and then went east through rolling land to avoid any difficulties that would have been incurred to traverse each “canon” or draw with steep topography and perhaps a rivulet that drained into the Niobrarah.

On subsequent days, further details written on pages of the Snowden journal, noted that on the 22nd, a Mr. Engel made a survey of the Snake river. There were “grassy islands” and “with a very rapid current,” Snowden wrote in his cursive script on a blank page of a notebook. The stream was “30 yds side at its mouth with high steep bluffs on either side & is well timbered with pine.”

Eastward of this place, the topographic map indicated a trader’s road to Fort Pierre crossed the L’Eau qui Court.

The group subsequently camped for a couple of days on the north side of the river, across from the confluence of a notable waterway. This creek was “about twenty feet wide two & half feet deep. Rapid current & very crooked. a tree here & there along the banks,” according to details written by Snowden.

From near the mouth of Gordon Creek, the entire bunch of governmental men, stock and wagons went northward along a decided route.

They reached the waterway known as the “Mini-Chaduza” on October 23rd, a creek about twenty feet wide two & half feet deep, rapid current very swift,” Snowden wrote, with the “Mini-Chadusa” shown on his map of the area. During the previous day, Hayden and some other men had “got lost” and “got separated in the night and the men are still missing.” All eventually returned to the camp.

The governmental force passed “7 lodges of Yankton Sioux” during the day.

Mini-chaduza has an indicated English rendition of rapid creek or little rapid river.

The current, modern name of Minnechaduza Creek is an alteration with a different spelling and as no longer hyphenated.

On October 23-24, the expedition party camped along the Niobrara, a couple of miles below the confluence of the Mini-Chaduza. The ravines were filled with scrub oak, Snowden wrote. This locality would have been in the vicinity of would eventually become known as falls at Fort Niobrara; a second spring just to its east was also indicated.

The travel route then moved easterly along the 25th. The ravines near camp were “filled with scrub oak, ash, a few, elm plum and cherry bushes in the beds, while their sides are covered by pines.” There was also some black walnut.

There were two other prominent waterways recognized as the expedition continued to the east. Shown on a map showing the route were Long Pine Creek visited two years previously by Lieut. Warren and then the Keya Paha river which was crossed on the 28th.

Keya Paha was indicated on the map as Turtle Hill river. A Lakota language dictionary also refers to Keya as turtle, with Paha meaning butte.

Both of these names remain to be the modern attribution.

The entire expedition having dealt with “four storms of rain and sleet” between October 18th and 30th, Warren said. The expedition eventually made their way, easterly, to a military fort on the Missouri river.

Notable Niobrara Valley Springs

Two especially notable springs are associated with the Niobrara valley between Antelope creek and what became known as McCann Canyon.

“Eden Springs was the early military name for Boiling Springs about eight miles southwest of Cody, Nebraska. It is the fortune of the editor to have homesteaded in 1887 in the country crossed by this military march and to have ridden horseback over the entire region. He confesses to regret that the early appropriate name of Eden Springs did not stick to the remarkable body of clear water which bursts from the foot of the high sand bluff on the Niobrara where it is now Boiling Springs Ranch. After a hard trip over hot sand hills the beautiful wooded flat with its extraordinary springs throwing up columns of clear water is quite enough to earn the title Eden from the traveler,” (Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days 4(2): 20). The 1857 Warren expedition travelled a couple of miles northward of the river valley on October 19th, but it is very likely that explorers or hunters may have noted the springs as they were riding away from the wagon train.

During the land office mapping of T32N R32W, the springs are indicated as a lake with a “fountain spring.” Subdivisions within the township were delineated in October 1882 by C.W. Dakin.

As for the currently designated Buckhorn Spring a short distance from the south bank of the Niobrara, no information has been discovered to indicate any place name from early history. There was a spring branch shown on the general land office map of T33N R32W though the spring is actually in T32N R32W. Its derivation seems to be associated with the horns of a buck deer.

Niobrara Expedition of 1873

Another unique name for a water feature in the Niobrara valley was noted during the Niobrara Expedition of Professor O.C. Marsh, from Yale. It was called Fossil Spring by Professor Marsh and Doctor Maghee while bone hunting: "It springs out of solid rock in a high bluff North bank of river about 19 miles below mouth of Antelope Creek. Stream 4 ft. wide 6 in. deep clear cold. A beautiful bottom of about 600 acres high rich protected from wind by hills warm; elegant,” wrote Dr. Thomas A. Maghee. It was June 30th. There was plenty of Indian sign having seen an Indian wicky across the Niobrarah.

Based upon the extensive bottomland, this may have been in the valley where Highway 61 now crosses the river, as this is the larger such land feature in the area approximately close to the distance indicated.

After departing from a camp three miles east of the mouth of the Snake river, the next camp on July 4th was at the “rapid (or Minichaduza) creek,” Maghee wrote. “This is a magnifficent Camp and the Rapid Creek is a swift clear stream about ten ft. wide 1 ft. deep. Wooded at its mouth.”

General Land Office Surveys

A couple of other creeks between the Snake and Minichaduza, were designated by a land survey party.

“Gordon Creek was named by Mr. Harvey, a surveyor, for a Mr. Gordon who ran a mule train from Sioux City to the Black Hills. The name was selected when Gordon crossed the creek a few days after being warned by the soldiers not to because of an Indian uprising” (February 14, 1929; Valentine Democrat 45(1): 3). John Gordon had originally passed through the area in October 1874, upon returning from the Black Hills, and having discovered gold. An effort to return to the Dakota country in April-May 1875 was violently thwarted by the U.S. Army, at a point along the Niobrara, near the confluence with Antelope creek. Wagons were destroyed and gold seekers were stopped in a “great burning” to make sure that there would be no illegal excursion into Indian territory in Dakota.

Primary land surveys of this land was done in June and July, 1875. “Gordons Creek is a fine stream rapid, a clear, below the beaver dams which lie in secs. 25, 26, 35 and 36,” according to written notes by the surveyors.

There is still another prominent waterway along the Niobrara a bit of ways eastward. This flow of water from the sandy hills likely had a tribal name, but its English name was designated by land surveyor Robert Harvey, in April, 1875. Upon seeing this waterway, a name came to mind, that of a land office clerk named “Schlegel” so it was named Schlegel’s Creek. A prominent falls were indicated in the northern extent of section 2, within T33N R28W, about three miles south of the creek confluence with the Niobrara.

“The stream called Schlegel's Creek in this township is a fine stream of pure cold water and helps make this township suited to grazing,” according to the survey notes.

This is a later news report: “Seeing the beautiful stream winding through the valley, he thought of a friend by the name of Schlagel, a clerk in the land office at Washington who was a beautiful penman. The creek was named for this man and for his fine penmanship. Mr. Harvey writing a letter to Mr. Schlagel at Washington, D.C. on birch bark, this letter now being on file in the land office at Lincoln,” according to an article in the Valentine Democrat newspaper.

Historic Postoffices

The Little Rapid River of the 1857 expedition flowed through what is now known as McCann Canyon. The attribution is based upon residency of Dwight J. McCann that supplied commodities to plains’ tribes in the late 1870s. There was legal action taken due to his business practices, as he was colloquially known as “Sugar McCann.” The McCann post-office was opened in 1880, within Cherry county.

This is no specific modern-era attribution for the creek within the canyon.

Placename Legacy

Each of the placename specifics indicated are minutiae derived from numerous documents of past times. Every delineation as written and denoted is the original name. There are others that have decided that some place names should conform to their perspective. Based upon known history, the homesteaders and settlers were indicative and had official government records as proof of their presence, and this often meant an adaptation in a place name.

Names are an important and prominent legacy, so it is essential that original names be known and understood to contribute to a better realization of the heritage of many people. Any first names - especially those of tribal attribution - as given within journals and upon maps need to be given proper recognition on modern-era maps.