The following was prepared by one of the oldest and most respected pioneers of Holt County, who is still living, (a/o 1882) and now resides in the town of Oregon:
During September, 1841, I left the State of Indiana, passed through Illinois, part of Iowa, and came to Andrew County, Missouri, where I remained about three weeks. When coming to Andrew County, I passed the cabin of Joseph Robidoux, which then occupied the spot where the city of St. Joseph now stands.
The first time I was in Holt. County, was in October, 1841, in company with three other persons. We were here on a hunting expedition and to look at the country. We crossed the Nodaway River, where Hollister's Mill was afterwards built. We (a young man and myself) had a little corn bread and some meat, a meal or so, but no blankets or overcoats. I had a gun, a tomahawk and a large knife which I carried in my belt. John had a gun.
We started in a northwesterly direction through the Nodaway bluffs, towards Nickol's Grove, and when passing through the grove, we heard a rumbling, as if machinery was in motion. Upon our arrival at the spot, we saw a small grist mill, run by a small pair of burrs, and turned by the waters of Nickol's Creek. Here we saw Robert Nickol, the proprietor of the mill. We continued our course until we reached the Ellington Ferry road, leading to Council Bluffs. Here we paused upon the high bluffs which overlook the Missouri River, and viewed the beautiful landscape which was then spread out before us, as it came from the hand of nature. After descending into the Great Bottom, we were within three miles (southeast) of the present site of Mound City. Continuing our course, we passed a double log house on the south side of Davis Creek, where a man by the name of Ferguson lived. This was near a point afterwards called North Point, and still later, Jackson's Point. After proceeding a short distance further, up a small branch, we camped for the night near the cabin where old man Dodge lived.
We started early next morning, still following the Council Bluffs road, under the bluffs. We stopped a few moments at a spring, where we found a woman washing. Her name was Nancy McCoy, and was the first woman we had seen in Holt County. About one o'clock P. M. we passed through the southwest part of Sharp's Grove. Adam and Claiborne Sharp settled therein June, 1841. We left the higher ground at this point and descended again into the Missouri bottom. We soon reached Daniel Durbins, at the crossing of the Big Tarkio.
Here was being built a ferry boat. Two yoke of oxen were chained to a tree and were used in pulling emigrant wagons over the Tarkio, which was a muddy creek. I went into a log cabin, very low roofed, with chimney constructed of sod, or sticks and mud, and spoke for dinner. After we had eaten we went out to get directions about going into the great Rush Bottom, fifteen miles south, and on the west side of the Tarkio. Mr. Durbin said that three men, with forty head of cattle and one wagon,. had crossed that morning and had gone south, through the high grass, to the Rush Bottom, on the Big Lake, or Tarkio Slough, and we could follow their wagon track. We crossed in a canoe and about dusk we neared the Big Tarkio, where we found high weeds, vines and grass. Here I began to make a fire, with steel and flint, powder and tow. John asked me what I was doing ? I told him we would camp here for the night, when he asked me if I was not afraid ? I answered that we could not "do any better and that we could not follow a wagon track in the night. Just at this time our ears were saluted with the howling of prairie wolves near by. John moved nearer to me, with dilating eyes, and gazed upon the setting sun in a wistful, longing manner, as though he dreaded the darkness, which, would so soon gather around us. Mr. Durbin had told John, while we were at dinner, that there were white bear and other dangerous animals on the Big Tarkio, hence his present trepidation. I did what I could to convince him that these stories were untrue, and think I succeeded as I heard nothing more from him upon the subject. We had neither supper nor breakfast and started next morning, following the wagon track.
Some time during the forenoon, we came in sight of the covered wagon, and thought that we would soon have something to eat. We neared the camp and saw a large bull dog walking around the wagon and no man in sight. We passed on to the right of the wagon and went up the shore of the lake, where we found some black pawpaws hanging on the bushes. On these we made two or three meals. About sundown, we were startled by the sharp report of a gun, on the bank of the lake, and walking in this direction, we saw a white man who had killed a loon. He asked me if I were a good hand with a canoe, and upon my answering him in the affirmative, he desired me to bring the loon out of the lake, as he said he did not know how to work the canoe himself. I laid my weapons off, and he showed me a very small Indian canoe in the willows. I got into, one end of it and pushed loose,and as soon as I did this the canoe turned over, dropping me into the water. I got into the canoe again, this time about midway of the craft, and succeeded in bringing the waterfowl to the shore. We then accompanied the man to his camp, and soon after our arrival there, the other two men came in. They had been looking for a site upon which to build a cabin. They were brothers. We told them that we came to look at the Missouri bottom, and that we would like to stay at their fire over night, and get something to eat, to which they kindly assented. That night, Abraham Sharp and Presley Hayes, from Sharp's Grove, came to the camp, looking for their cattle.
The three brothers were named Higgins. That night the geese, cranes, swans, loons, ducks and owls, made so much noise that we scarcely slept. There appeared to be millions of them. We found a place to build a cabin. That night while in camp, the eldest of the brothers told me if I would come back* after returning from Andrew County, he and his brothers would build me a cabin. We remained and assisted them to raise their cabins and then returned to Andrew County, going by the way of where Bigelow and Mound City are now standing. We crossed the Big Tarkio, two miles east, below Dodge's shanty. Some one had cut and filled a large Cottonwood tree across the creek, which was used for crossing. When we arrived at the stream, the water was high, covering the log about a foot ; we however waded across on the log and wended our way toward the Little Tarkio, being compelled to wade sloughs waist deep, and suffering with hunger.
I shot a rabbit and roasted it in the willows, eating it without bread or salt. About dark we reached John Hughes' place, on Squaw Creek, and stayed all night at Ferguson's, who was from Iowa to Missouri. We crossed the Nodaway at Ellington's ferry, passed west and south of where Fillmore now stands, in Andrew County, and stopped at James Bradford's, where I had stayed three weeks, and where I had left my things. Here John and I parted, never to meet again.
The next day I started back to Nodaway County, reached the Big Tarkio and found its banks full. I made a raft principally out of sycamore logs and crossed the stream, and arrived at the cabin about dark, where I found the three brothers enjoying a good fire, in their new house. After supper they told me that they had concluded to go to Platte County after more cattle, and requested me to remain at their cabin and take care of things while they were gone. Soon after their departure, about sixty Indians camped near me. I was out hunting one day, and came in late and found six Indians standing near the cabin. One of them came running up to me with his tomakawk raised, and thrust his hand into my shot pouch. I asked him what he wanted, when he put his finger on the flint in my gun, and smiled. I gave him two or three flints, when the other Indians came up and shook hands. We had no matches in those days. These Indians came into the cabin that evening, but I could understand but little they said. Among them was an old chief—Monocahavvk by name. They left about bed time, and went to their wigwams. They were a small band of the Iowas, Sacs and Foxes. I could tell the different tribes by their wigwams, as each built them in a different manner.
I hunted a day or two with Monocahawk, when I became better acquainted with him ; went to his wigwam, where he tried to tell me of his relations ; saw him play with his children, with whom he seemed to enjoy himself, as any fond father does with his children. I was always well treated by him and the Indians generally. They gave me the best they had to eat, and among other things, salt; this they did not use themselves. Their winter wigwams were made of elk or buffalo skins stretched over poles set in the ground, and fastened down all round, leaving a small hole in the top, for the smoke to pass out. They put grass and leaves in the inside, except in the center, where they build a small fire. They then spread robes and blankets over the leaves and grass, making it warm and pleasant. The squaws were busy in making moccasins and working into them, porcupine quills. I saw them teaching their children to stand alone. They did this by using a stick about two feet in length, the child holding to one end while the other end was on the ground. Their children are taught to be quiet. I noticed in some of these wigwams polecats cleaned and dressed as we do hogs. They make a choice dish among the Indians. We often saw deer, turkeys, coons and prairie chickens lying around the tents, the result of a day's hunt. In going along in company with Monocahawk, when we would pass through good, walnut timbered land, he would say, " Very good, chemuckman," meaning the whites liked this kind of land, and when we entered marshy land he would say, " Pishconica," meaning not good ; when we crossed a small stream of water he would say, "Petite Missouri," meaning "Little Missouri."
The three brothers returned from Platte County about the 20th of November, 1841. Indians were still camped all through the Missouri bottom. On the 25th of November, 1841, snow fell to the depth of fifteen inches, and the weather was very cold for three days, moderating some the third day. On that evening I killed a deer and Monocahawk came over to the camp for the head, with which he made soup. After this snow melted there was no more all winter, at least but very little. The lake froze and the fowls generally left. When shot at in the morning they would rise and fly and make a noise like thunder with their wings, and scream and pipe and shriek. Among these water fowl was one bird which had no tongue, and is known as the Pelican. This bird has a pouch under his bill, in which he can carry provisions enough to do him nearly a week. I have taken out of this pouch five or six fish, from three to six inches in length. The swans made a trumpet-like noise and were white, with black tips to their wings, and were not quite as large as the pelican.
One day a man came from the bluffs, telling that the owners of cattle in the Great Rush Bottom were going to meet at our cabin on a certain day to organize a company to drive the Indians across the Missouri River. On the day named the bluff men came riding on their mustang saddles, with rope stirrups, to the number of twenty-one. Some of these cattle men made me think of the cow-skin clad shepherds on the Nile. Some of them had buck-hide pants, coon-skin caps (tail and all), and flax shirts. A cow had been killed and eaten by some person or persons, we could not tell whether by the whites or Indians, but supposed it to have been done by the Indians. We fell into line and filed down the north bank of the lake, and were soon near enough to the Indians to throw out advanced skirmishers, who returned and reported that the Indians were out on a hunt. I felt better. When we surrounded the encampment, an old man (Indian) came out, in company with a young man, and told us that the warriors were all on a hunt.
The Indians were given three days in which to leave. At the end of three days, I was sent out to see if they had gone. I found that they had all gone. They, however, returned occasionally on hunting expeditions. In December, 1841, we were out hunting bees, and hearing the sound of an ax, we went in that direction. We saw two squaws chopping a small honey locust for honey, and got down to help myself to the honey. The weather was warm for December, and the bees were buzzing around the squaws in great numbers. I made a motion giving them to understand that I would cut the tree and take the honey out for them. They gave me an ax, and I cut the tree down. They produced a dressed deer skin, which looked like a jar when filled with honey, and which was handy for carrying. While assisting these squaws, I heard a noise in the bush near, and looking around, saw an Indian warrior well armed. He looked sullen, thinking we were perhaps taking the honey from the squaws. I took a piece of nice honey and gave it to him. At this he smiled and tried to talk. We mounted our horses and left, and never saw them any more.
Lewis and Clark say there were no bees above the mouth of the Osage River in 1804. They say, also, that a part of the Missouri River had its channel then where the Higgins Lake is, at the mouth of the Big Tarkio, making a large island, called St. Joseph's Island, the channel of which has since filled up. One evening, before Monocahawk and party were ordered away, he came to our cabin, in company with five other Indians, and gave us to understand, by signs, that some cattle were fast in the mud and mire of the lake. The next morning the Indians met us and helped to get the cattle released from the slough. We did not know, at the time, to whom the cattle belonged, but, in a few days, a man came from Durbin's and brought us five or six plugs of tobacco, which had been sent us by Durbin, for caring for his cattle.
One morning I was riding through the country and fell in company with a French Indian trader. I asked him why the Indians called the Nishnebotna, Big and Little Tarkio, by those names? He said that in the Indian tongue, Nishnabotna meant a river where boats were built, or a boat building stream, and that Tarkio meant walnut, or a stream on which there were many walnuts. This Indian trader pointed to a streak of cotton-wood timber, just below Hemme's Landing, on the Missouri River, and said that several years before the settlement of the Platte Purchase there came a cold winter, which froze the Big Tarkio, except about a rod in the middle of the stream.
There was a large herd of elk, west on the prairie bottom, near that streak of timber, and immediately he saw emerging from the timber a great many Indians, all mounted on swift horses. They drove the elk in the direction of the Big Tarkio, some distance south of where he was at the time, and pursued them until they crowded into the stream by hundreds. Another party of Indians, previously stationed on the east side of the Big Tarkio, in the timber, joined in the chase. The elk plunged into the water, but could not cross, on account of the opening in the ice. About 500 of the elk were caught and killed, furnishing the Indians with an abundance of meat that winter.
May, 1842. The youngest brother went to the bluffs this morning, to ascertain the day of the week and to get some meal. I went out and killed a deer. Snapping turtles are. coming out of Impassable Lake, to lay their eggs. Two Indians came by, on their ponies, and after they passed I could hear them tomahawking the turtles on the banks of the lake. These they eat whenever they can get them. Some of the turtles in the Impassable Lake were as large round as a half bushel.
June, 1842, a steamboat is now lying at the mouth of the Nishnebotna, and destined for the Rocky Mountains, whither they go every season to bring down the furs purchased from the trappers and the Indians. This boat has broken her shaft and another is expected from St. Louis. Our boys have hired some of the boat hands to make rails while they are waiting for the shaft. Three weeks passed before the shaft was sent. It came to Weston, Platte County, by steamboat and was brought from that point in a Mackinaw boat. The steamer started but getting aground on a sandbar, as I afterwards learned, had to lay up all winter. It is still in June, and I have been around Irish Grove getting acquainted and eating wheat bread without its being bolted. Plenty of milk and honey. I think Moses missed a good country. One day I went to the Missouri River, where I saw a small, cleared field. I went through the high grass to look at the fence, to see what was planted, and, when reaching it, I saw on the inside of the field a monstrous looking dog barking at me. In the corner of the fence I saw a red Indian blanket spread out on the grass, and on it were two Indian babies, which appeared to be twins. At the far side of the field there was a man and woman planting corn. They looked as lonely as Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden. I passed on through the grass and found a cabin on the bank of the river. As I approached it all the dogs barked (those that were able, for they were very poor), and a tall slender white woman, fair complexioned, come out looking friendly and invited me to have a stool. She was quite talkative and told me of her husband and the settlers.
We built a cabin in section 18, township 63, range 40, now in Atchison County, near a spring at the foot of the bluffs, which was afterwards known as the " Bottom Farm." I went back to see the man in the cabin on the river bank and made arrangements with him to go over the Missouri River on a hunting expedition. The woman said she would be " darned " if she would stay at home alone. We were to start in a month. In the meantime I had agreed to cut and split two thousand rails for the boys for two two-year-old steers ; the rails at fifty cents per hundred, the steers to be taken at ten dollars each. My contract was performed, and in July, 1842, I was on the river bank ready to help make the canoes in which we were to cross to the western shore. Others had heard of our intended hunt, and joined us, some of them coming from Clay County. William Root and son came from Clay, and David Sempleton and son from Holt County. We were several days getting the canoes ready.
The men from Clay County rode mules and they had to be taken over the river. We placed the canoes in the river, seven or eight feet apart, and connected them by puncheons, which we fastened to each, and, when thus arranged, they would carry our guns, tubs, buckets, mules and ourselves (six or seven men), leaving about two inches above water. We reached the opposite shore in safety and all scattered, each taking his own course. I had not gone far in the hills before I saw a deer and killed it, and, while I was dragging the deer towards a bush, a bee flew by my face and disappeared in a hole in a tree near me. I found six bee trees that day. Sempleton and son hunted for about a week and left for home. There were then six of us. We went farther up the river and found bees in abundance, and had a "candy pulling" in the white settlement, the settlers being present, among them three women—all in the neighborhood. We went over the river again and took a hunt. I found thirty-two bee trees, and the others found about the same number. We had seven barrels of honey. It took eleven bee trees to make a barrel of strained honey. While I was hunting over the river I saw a bundle of something about twenty feet above the ground in a tree. I climbed the tree and raised some bark ; there were layers of flags tied together, such as the Indians use for wigwams in the summer. These flags were wrapped around something, which I found to be two nicely dressed buffalo skins. The skins I found enclosed the dead body of an Indian, having on his moccasins. Poles and bark were alternately laid over him, after wrapping him in the skin to prevent the buzzards from eating him.
There was great suffering in the Platte Purchase in the long winter of 1842-3. During that winter I grated a part of my corn for meal, and ate six or seven bushels of corn boiled and parched. I killed twentythree deer that winter, and killed a number of turkeys as they walked through my door yard. The pioneers generally grated their corn in the fall for the winter. One morning, in the winter of 1843, a young man stopped at the cabin to warm. I asked him where he lived? He said, "all around here." I knew then he was a preacher. I learned that his name was Marvin—afterwards Bishop Marvin. R. H. Russel stayed all winter at our cabin, in 1843.
April 1, 1843, I walked across Impassable lake on the ice, ice two feet thick and snow knee deep. The flood was coming. About the 10th of April, I got up one morning and saw that the lake looked muddy and had risen. It rained a great part of the time from April till July. This was the first overflow that we have any record of. I have seen the overflows of June, 1843, 1844 and 1881, and there was but little difference. After the overflow there was much sickness in the Missouri bottoms. In 1843, a man living on Mill Creek, under the bluffs, went up in the hills to cut a log, and while coming down the hill, carrying his ax on his shoulder, his foot caught in the weeds, he fell and cut the calf of his leg severely. The wound was bleeding profusely when an Indian came along, and after looking a moment at the wound, went and pulled off some stems and leaves of the weeds growing near, and after chewing them a moment applied them to the wound, when the blood ceased running, in. about two minutes. The Indian helped the man to his cabin, and after awhile went out on the prairie and got another and different weed, chewed it, and applied in the same manner. The Indian remained with him a day or two, until the man began to get well. The Indian showed me the weeds he used; they do not grow here now.
In January, 1843, I went up to the creek to look for a deer. In a very thick hazle thicket there lay a large log. It was no unusual thing to see turkeys on that log sunning themselves. Failing to get a deer that morning, I returned the same way on the opposite side of the thicket. Looking towards the log I saw, as I thought, three turkeys. I took my gun from my shoulder and aimed at the largest one. I could not see his neck, just as I wished, and hesitated about firing. At that moment an Indian raised his head, and I saw it was not a turkey. The Indians had just reached the spot, and was scraping off the snow preparatory to making a fire. I went up to them, when one of them handed me an old flint lock gun (all they had) and said to me by signs that the lock was "sick." I took the lock and found that the main-spring was out of trim. I arranged it for them, and it pleased them greatly. They made a fire and put their camp kettle on, and boiled a turkey. One of them took the entrails of the turkey, and after drawing them through his fingers, would put them into the kettle, and after boiling a few moments would take them out and eat them. I saw there was something in a man's raising, after all. I was at Oregon one day, when Frank Nickol and L. W. Jones had a difficulty about a claim in Nickol's Grove, where they both lived. They had agreed to settle the difficulty the first time they met in town. They met about where Niece's tin store now stands. We formed a ring around them by holding each others hands. Each of the men had a second. These brave fellows took off their coats and shirts and when ready, they advanced upon each other and began the battle. Jones finally shouted enough, when they were parted. Nickols, of course, got the claim.
1844. After three of us had graduated on the tributaries of the Impassable Lake, we concluded to go east. I told the boys I had been seeing steamboats ever since I recollected, but had never traveled on them. We accordingly got ready and walked to Weston, Platte County, making the trip in two and a half days. After our arrival, we went to a house of entertainment, and while eating dinner, we heard a sharp, powerful scream, something like the scream of a panther. The landlord seeing I was very much alarmed, said the boat was coming. I asked him what kind of a boat? He said steamboat. We told him we wanted to go down the river, and asked him how they (the boats) made that noise? (I had never heard a steamboat whistle). He said one or two steamboats on the western waters had whistles. We asked him if the boat whistled often? He said only when she landed, left a port, or met another boat. One of our party said he had traveled to New Orleans several times, and knew all about boats. This relieved me greatly, as I was totally ignorant of this mode of traveling. I imitated this comrade as closely as I could, at the hotel. We walked out in town and a Jew came out of his store and took hold of my friend, and tried to induce him to go into his store and buy something. He jerked himself loose, and told the importunate vender of cheap clothing to go to h—-l. I thought this a little rough, but said nothing, as I had not been in cities long enough to understand the habits and customs of the people, and did not know but that it was all right. My comrade's name was Halloway. He was a scientific coon and muskrat hunter, and had very active, black eyes.
Soon a man stepped up to me, and asked me where I was going? I told him we were going down the Missouri River, if we could strike a steamboat that would take us according to our money. He said he would like to go with us and in our mess. I said all right. As we walked towards the boat he said he had been in town a day or two, waiting for a boat, and in traveling around town that day had cheated some fellow out of seventy-five cents. I thought him a little fast, as I had never seen him before, but as I had not traveled any in boats I did not say anything. Halloway and William Buffinbaugh were my comrades, and this strange man remained close to me all the time. We reached the boat, and out came the clerk, a little red-headed, neatly dressed man. When I saw who he was, I rushed up to him, putting my hand on his shoulder, my comrades and the by-standers all gazing in wonder, when he looked around and instantly took my hand, and said: " Where in the d— have you been so long?" I asked him where he had been so long, since we boarded together at a country tavern, east of the Black Swamps, in Indiana? He said: "Steamboating." His name was Charles Mulford. He was then on a new boat, built at Pittsburg. This was her second or third trip. He told me that there were but two boats running on the western rivers that had whistles, and this boat was the first. He said steamboats had them on the eastern waters. I asked him when the boat would leave ? He said at daylight in the morning, to the minute. I asked him what we could get to St. Louis for? He said we could go for $3.50 each, deck passage, and help wood, or $4 and not help. I told him we could not pay that, and asked him if he had ever seen this river rafted? He said no, and took me up in the boat and showed me a printed contract that all the boat hands had agreed to, and assured us that if we waited for the next boat we could do no better. I asked permission to remain on the boat (lower deck) till next morning. I told him I would vouch for my companions. He said all right.
We concluded we would go up in town and buy an outfit and wait and try the next boat. We started and this stranger still kept close to me. The other two went together. We bought a few tin cups, a coffee pot, tin plates, a ham of meat, some bread, etc. I told this stranger to pay for some of the things and when we got on the boat we would make it all right, and when the other boys came we would know each one's share. The stranger slept on the boat and left his clothes and things up in town. He had overpaid, more than one dollar, his share. On the lower deck the rooms for deck passengers were at the rear end of the boat. Just after we had got into our bunks, as they called them, the clerk rapped on mine, and whispered to me that we could go down for $2.50 each and help wood. I said to him all right. I told my companions what the clerk had said, and that the boat would leave the next morning. Just before day I saw the stranger walking about. I supposed he was going up in town after his clothes, but I never saw him afterward, and do not know whether he took anything or whether he was too slow in returning before the boat left. I was not far from the whistle, when all at once, the whistle sounded with such an unearthly shriek, that I came very near jumping into the river. Our boat started, and when we reached Blue Mills, an old Spaniard put $150,000 on the boat, in silver and gold. He was going to purchase goods. His money was in small, square boxes, encased in rawhide, and placed in the captain's quarters. We changed boats at St. Louis. We went through the canal at Louisville, Kentucky. While there, the boys went up to see the giant, Porter. They got off the boat in Kentucky, and I went on to Cincinnati.
Source: History of Holt and Atchinson Counties, 1882