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.
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.
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.