Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Summer 2014 issue.
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The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard ∙ Thomas R. Buecker
During the nineteenth century enterprising businessmen, land agents, developers, and other entrepreneurs swarmed into the territories and new states of the trans-Mississippi West. Most sought opportunities for fortunes and empires in new regions opened for settlement. In Nebraska, one of the most successful and influential such individuals was Thomas Perkins Kennard, a dapper yet shrewd businessman and politician. During his lifetime he was celebrated as the father of Lincoln, but today is mostly remembered as the namesake of the home he built, the Kennard House, the oldest remaining structure in the city’s original plat. As both Lincoln and Nebraska approach sesquicentennial milestones, the time is right for us to look back on his remarkable career.
Thomas P. Kennard came from a Quaker background. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, was formed in England by George Fox in 1651. Quakers believed that religious comfort and inspiration came by the voice of God speaking to each soul without an earthly mediator. Under the leadership of William Penn, Pennsylvania became a refuge for Friends as well as all other creeds. Quakers favored plain ways, governed by “The Discipline,” rules set to establish and reinforce Quaker beliefs and lifestyles. Worship was held several times a week in local homes or meeting houses. Monthly meetings were held to admit and transfer memberships, record births, marriages and deaths, and enforce discipline and disownment for violations among members.
Even though Kennard grew to maturity in the company of his parents and other relatives, in later years he admitted, “I have comparatively no knowledge of my father’s and mother’s family back of themselves.” According to family record, the father of John Kennard, the second great-grandfather of Thomas P., may have come over from England on the same ship as William Penn and settled near Philadelphia. For several decades his family remained as farmers near Cheltenham, a small village just north of Philadelphia. In the 1730s John relocated his family to a Friends area in nearby Bucks County. Later, Thomas Kennard, the father of Thomas P., was born at Cheltenham in 1786.
About 1790 Levi Kennard, Thomas’s father, moved his family from Pennsylvania to Maryland, where they joined the Deer Creek Monthly Meeting, at the village of Darlington in northeastern Harford County. While the family remained at Deer Creek, Thomas married Elisabeth Metcalf in December 1813. A man with a somewhat restless nature, Thomas moved his family the next year to Belmont County in eastern Ohio, an area long settled by Quaker farmers. There in October 1814, a son was born; six weeks later, his first wife died. In 1815 Thomas remarried to Elisabeth Jenkins; nine children (eight sons and one daughter) were born to the union, including the seventh son, Thomas Perkins, born December 13, 1828.
While in Ohio the Kennard family lived on a ninety-six acre farm three miles north and east of St. Clairsville, the county seat situated on the National Road. Over the ensuing years, the family belonged to the Short Creek, Plainfield, and Flushing monthly meetings. Thomas Perkins’ birth was duly reported in the Plainfield record. Thomas Sr. had a typical frontier farm, with two to three horses and three head of cattle. By 1830 he had reduced his farmland one-third to become co-owner and operator of a water-powered grist mill.
During the early 1830s, Thomas wanted to move further west, this time into central Indiana. In the fall of 1833 he made a trip to Henry County, an area of Quaker settlement some thirty-five miles east of Indianapolis. After purchasing land near Greensboro, he returned to Belmont County and sold his land and mill interests. The next year the Kennard family journeyed west via the National Road into Henry County. In 1836 Thomas Sr. purchased (and moved his family to) a partially cleared 160-acre farmstead one mile north of Greensboro. There he finally settled down. The family transferred their membership to the Milford Meeting house in Wayne County, and later to the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting in nearby Madison County.
As a boy Thomas P. worked on the farm and had little time for formal schooling. By his own account, when sixteen years old he had only one year of schooling. About this time he determined to seek other means of making a living rather than farming, and took up an apprenticeship at the local woolen mill southeast of Greensboro. With his older brother Jenkins, he spent four years learning the woolen trade. Then Kennard spent two years traveling and working at other mills to gain further knowledge of the cloth making craft. In 1850 Thomas returned, and with Jenkins bought the Springdale Mill, and jointly operated it for the next several years.
About this time Thomas P. made two decisions that shaped his future. First, he decided to become a lawyer, not seen as an ideal career choice by his fellow Quakers. Friends were advised to avoid lawyers as “law suits against fellow Quakers were strictly forbidden along with the oaths that might be required in a court of law.” Not to be deterred, Kennard made an agreement with a prominent law firm in New Castle, the county seat, to borrow law books, which he read in evenings after the mill closed. Every other Saturday afternoon he returned to New Castle to be quizzed and assigned further readings.
Secondly, in January 1852 he was married to Livia E. Templeton by a local Baptist Elder. As Quaker records were kept in abbreviations, that September the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting simply recorded: “9-9-1852 Thomas [Kennard] Jr. dis for mcd” (dismissed for marriage contrary to discipline). He did not repent and “condemn” his misconduct, and was not again mentioned in the minutes. Even though Thomas P. was never again part of any organized religious affiliation, he maintained attributes of his Quaker upbringing.
The entire essay appears in the Summer 2014 issue.
The Death and Burial of Big Elk, the Great Omaha Chief ∙ John Ludwickson
One of Nebraska’s small, perplexing historical mysteries is the date of death of the famous Omaha chief Big Elk, Ong pa tonga in his native tongue. Born about 1770-75, he died and was buried at Bellevue, Nebraska, and apparently with a Christian service. Since, perhaps, the 1880s a date of 1846 has been used for this event, and since 1911 a particularly confusing date of 1853 has also been used. Neither is correct.
The former date (1846) is based on Henry Fontenelle’s “History of the Omaha Indians,” published by the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1885:
“They [the Omahas] . . . went back again to their former home on the Omaha creek, and lived there until A.D. 1845. Again, on account of their inveterate foes, the Sioux, making continual wars upon them, they moved down the river to a place four miles west of Bellevue. They lived there one year when their next great chief, Big Elk the First, died, and was given a Christian burial by the missionary at Bellevue, the Rev. Mr. McKinney, who preached the funeral sermon over the remains, and interpreted by Logan Fontenelle, U.S. Interpreter. He was buried on the spot where now stands the Presbyterian College.”
Thus Fontenelle indicates 1846, and that date has frequently been repeated since the early days. However, a number of documents prove that Big Elk survived the year 1846, and perhaps 1847.
The 1853 date for Big Elk’s death is based on “The Omaha Tribe” (1911) by Alice C. Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche. Other authorities have used this date for some years—for example, Norma Kidd Green’s 1969 book Iron Eye’s Family, page 12: “Sometime during 1853 he [Big Elk] became ill and died.”
Henry Fontenelle explained: “His son and successor, ‘Big Elk the Second,’ was a man of natural abilities, but took to dissipating, and died from the effects of [a] prolonged debauch at the foot of Blackbird hill, and was buried by the grave of Blackbird in 1852.”
The Mystery Solved
I have searched for some conclusive indication of Big Elk’s death in records of the Council Bluffs Indian Agency, Mormon diary entries, and in missionary records, and recently found a primary account of Big Elk’s death and burial. It was written by the Presbyterian missionary Edmund McKinney, and pins the events surrounding Big Elk’s death to the autumn of 1848.
The entire essay appears in the Summer 2014 issue.
The Long Journey of White Fox ∙ Dan Jibréus
Three unusual visitors arrived in Sweden in the summer of 1874. They were Pawnee Indians who had come to perform their native dances and customs for the public. Accompanying them were two Swedish American circus directors or impresarios. While in Sweden, one of the three Pawnees, White Fox, contracted an illness and died. Rather than allowing his two friends to bury him, a Swedish scientist laid claim to White Fox’s remains and dismembered the corpse, taking the skin off the head and torso and placing it on a plaster cast for public display at an exhibition. Not until the 1990s did Sweden return White Fox’s skin to the Pawnee nation.
Earlier researchers who wrote about White Fox emphasized the disposition of his remains. This is an important story to tell and I will do so here as well. But my main purpose is to paint a portrait, as far as possible, of the living man. White Fox (and his traveling Pawnee companions) were part of several important processes. His story was part of the greater tragedy of the Pawnee people and of the Indian wars on the American western plains; he was part of a pioneer group of entertainers, and can be considered one of the first Native American explorers of Northern Europe. I will also try to throw some light on the reasons why White Fox and his companions embarked on such an adventurous undertaking, and to examine the lives of the two Swedes in order to give a fuller picture of the context.
In the 1870s native North Americans were a great curiosity for the people of Scandinavia. Although many Swedes were aware of the ongoing struggle on the American frontier through newspaper reports and letters from emigrant relatives, most still held a very romantic idea of “Indians.” This view was formed mainly by fiction, especially through the works of American novelist James Fenimore Cooper, whose stories of forest-dwelling eastern peoples created a prevailing image that did not change until the late 1800s when it was replaced with the image of war bonnet-wearing peoples of the plains. Throughout the Pawnees’ stay, European newspapers often compared them to the Indians in Cooper’s novels.
Swedish audiences were curious about the unfamiliar “other.” Painter George Catlin had exhibited Iowas and Ojibwas in Europe as early as the 1840s. In a similar way Saami people from the north of Sweden and Norway had been exhibited throughout Europe and by the 1870s the number of touring Saami had risen substantially. There was a widespread sense of wonder, not necessarily in a good way, when faced with “strange” things, and European audiences not only wanted to see trapeze artists, trick-riders, bearded ladies, and so on, but also people from distant lands. They also genuinely wished to understand and place the peoples of earth in a larger context. Educated Europeans and Euroamericans felt this was an opportunity to see representatives of vanishing peoples before they were obliterated by the “inevitable” triumph of European civilization. They considered White Fox, Red Fox, and White Eagle as “Indians” first and as Pawnees second.
In 1874 the four bands of the Pawnees (Chaui, Pitahauerat, Kitkahahki and Skidi [Skiri]) lived in semipermanent earthlodge villages in present-day Nebraska. Here they cultivated corn, beans, and squash. They complemented this subsistence economy with two great buffalo hunts, one in the summer and one in the winter. On these hunts the horse was indispensable. The horse was among the most valued possessions to the Pawnees, as it was to all the Plains peoples, and a man’s wealth was measured by how many horses he owned. Successful horse-stealing raids elevated a man’s rank.
The Pawnees were in a state of war with most of their nomadic neighbors, especially the Sioux, the Cheyenne and Arapaho in the north and west, and the Kiowa and Comanche in the south. The Pawnees were fairly numerous and powerful until the 1830s, when diseases introduced by Euroamericans, such as smallpox and cholera, began to reduce their numbers severely, making them more vulnerable to enemy attacks. With enemy pressure increasing, the situation for the tribe became more and more critical in the 1860s and 1870s.
Making matters worse, pressure also increased from American authorities, military, and settlers. In 1859 the Pawnees accepted a small reservation, but the influx of Euroamerican settlers seemed never-ending. The settlers stole timber on reservation land, forcing the Pawnees to leave behind guards during the semiannual buffalo hunts. Dishonest Indian agents enriched themselves at Pawnee expense. Under President Grant’s peace policy these corrupt agents were replaced by honest Quaker agents who, sadly, had no understanding of Pawnee culture and traditions. Quaker agents considered traditional practices barbaric and evil, and treated the Pawnees under their care as “children.”
In response to harassment by their enemies, many Pawnees enlisted in Maj. Frank North’s “Pawnee Battalion” in the 1860s. Military service provided an opportunity to get back at their old enemies and also to preserve the warrior tradition. The Pawnee Scouts served honorably in 1865, 1867-70, and finally in 1876-77. White Fox, Red Fox, and White Eagle were among those who enlisted. Although military service allowed the Pawnees to earn a badly needed income as well as an opportunity to march against their enemies, pressure from Quaker agents caused the U.S. Army to discontinue the Pawnee Battalion in 1870.
As a result of overhunting by American intruders, diminishing buffalo herds made Pawnee hunts increasingly difficult and also more dangerous because of Sioux competition. To avoid hunger and poverty, the Pawnees asked their agent’s permission to go on these hunts. The agents denied their requests in 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872 until it became obvious that the Pawnees would starve unless they could hunt. A government official accompanied them during the last hunts, and in 1872, in what would turn out to be the last successful hunt, George Bird Grinnell, accompanied by Luther North, came along as a guest.
On the winter hunt that year they lost a hundred horses to the Sioux, but this blow was light compared to what happened on the summer hunt near the Republican River in 1873. Led by Sky Chief and as usual accompanied by an official (in this case an inexperienced young man named John W. Williamson), the hunting party of 700, half of which consisted of women and children, was attacked by a war party of about 1,000 Sioux. As many as 150 Pawnees were killed in a place since known as Massacre Canyon. Destitute, the survivors returned to the reservation.
The Pawnees had long been under pressure from the U.S. authorities to leave their reservation so that it could be opened to settlers. An area in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) had been set aside for them; the people moved there in three shifts in 1873, 1874, and 1875.
These were called “the scary years” in Pawnee traditions recorded by historian Martha Royce Blaine. It is hardly surprising that people sought new ways of survival. In 1874 three men opted to try their chances elsewhere.
The entire essay appears in the Summer 2014 issue.
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