April 24, 1847
Summary: Very detailed description of Pawnee Indian dwellings, and some fishing experiences.
Journal entry: SATURDAY. Arose soon after 5:00. Morning fine. but cool. One of Phineas Young's horses was choked to death last night. It appears he was tied to a stake with a chain near a steep hole in the ravine, and either stepped back or lay down and rolled over into the hole, and the chain being short he was choked to death. having no power to extricate himself. This is a grievous loss for there are no more teams in the camp than what are absolutely necessary, and in fact there are hardly enough to get along very comfortably.
By request of Brother Kimball, I went up to the old Indian village immediately after breakfast to take a view of it, and write a description as near as circumstances would permit which is as follows:
This village is situated on the north bank of the Loop Fork of the Nebraska or Platte river, about four miles southwest of the mission station on Plumb creek and 138 miles from Winter Quarters. The Pawnee nation is divided into four bands. The names of the bands are the Grand Pawnee, the Loop, the Tappas, and the Republican. When the nation settled in this region the Grand Pawnees and the Tappas located on the west bank of Plumb creek and the Loops located on this spot and were afterwards joined by the Republicans.
When the Sioux made war on the Indians at the first settlement and destroyed their village, the Grand Chief saw that his party were unable to cope with their hostile foes alone, and it was concluded that the four bands should locate together on this spot, but notwithstanding this, the Sioux succeeded in burning this village last summer during the absence of the Pawnees when on their hunt.
They rebuilt most of it again, but last fall the Sioux made another attack and burned the whole village except one dwelling or lodge, which is not harmed. There are three or four others but partially destroyed, the rest are entirely demolished and leveled with the ground, The Pawnees then moved to the place where we passed them a few days ago, and are dwelling in their lodges made of hides, etc.
The name of the Grand Chief is Shefmolan, who is also the superior chief of the Pawnee band. All documents or treaties made by the nation are signed by this chief and the nation is then bound by them. The head chief of the Loup band is named Sicatup, the other chiefs, father Case did not recollect their names. From him I obtained this information.
There is a part of the Loup band on the main Platte, some distance from here, who have never yielded to the government treaties, but stand out from the rest of the nation and spend their time mostly in plundering other tribes as well as travelers. They frequently go as far as the Cherokee nation to rob and plunder. All the Pawnee nation are noted for their love of plundering travelers of their horses and mules, but not often anything else.
On the east and west of the village is a beautiful level bench of prairie extending many miles, and to the ridge of bluffs which run east and west touching within a mile of the village. On the top of the bluffs can be seen a number of Indian graves. To the northwest about a mile distant, and at the foot of the bluffs is an extensive corn field, the stalks still standing.
On the south is a beautiful view of the nice level prairie extending to the main branch of the Platte, the timber on the banks can be faintly, but plainly seen.
The Loup Fork is probably about 400 yards wide at this place and very shoal, except a narrow channel near the shore on this side which is probably three feet deep. The bottom is mostly quicksand and not safe fording. About half the surface from bank to bank is sand bars which appear above the surface of the water mostly on the south side. There are several small islands and a little timber to the right or west.
The village occupies a space of about 40 acres of land, and is mostly enclosed by a ditch about five feet wide, and a bank inside the ditch about four feet high, running from the bank of the river around the village till it again strikes the bank, and when perfect, has formed a good fortification. A number of lodges are built outside the ditch on the cast and on account of want of room inside when the bands from the other village joined them. The village is composed of about 200 houses or lodges varying in size but all similarly constructed, as appears from the remnants of some left standing.
While I take this sketch, I sit in the one left unharmed, which it is said was owned by the chief Siscatup, and as the lodge are all constructed in the same manner, only differing in size, I will endeavor to describe the way in which this is built. In the first place, the earth is dug out a little, slanting to the depth of about 18 inches in the form of a perfect circle about 44 feet in diameter. This forms the floor of the dwelling.
Then there are 17 crotch posts let into the floor in a direction slanting outward so that the top of the crotch is about perpendicular with the outside of the circle, the foot being set about 18 or 20 inches front the base of the circle. These posts are arranged at about equal distances from each other around the circle. In the crotches, poles are laid across from crotch to crotch, and are sufficiently high for the tallest man to stand upright tinder them.
At the distance of 18 or 20 inches from the outside of the circle are many smaller poles let into the surface of the ground, on an average of about a foot apart and leaning inward so that the top of the poles rest on the cross pieces which are supported by the crotcres. The space between the foot of these poles and the edge of the circle forms a bench for seats entirely, around the house, and there is room sufficient for more than a hundred men to seat themselves on it very comfortably.
On the outside of these last mentioned poles are laid a number of still smaller poles horizontally from bottom to top from about 9 inches to a foot apart, these are lashed fast to the upright poles by strings made of bark. On the outside of these is laid a thick layer of long prairie grass and occasionally lashed through to the upright poles also. The whole is then covered with earth about two feet in thickness at the bottom and gradually thinner towards the top. This forms an enclosure when completed around the whole area about seven feet high, a place being left sufficiently large for the door.
The next process is to place erect ten upright poles or crotches, very stout, being about a foot in diameter about seven feet nearer the center of the circle than the first crotches. These are set perpendicular, deep in the ground and also arranged at about equal distances from each other, and form a strong foundation which is the design and use to which they are appropriated. On the top of these pillars are also horizontal poles laid strong and firm, the top of the pillars being about eeven or twelve feet above the floor. Long small poles are then laid from the outside horizontal poles over the inner ones and sufficiently long to meet at the top within about two feet of each other, forming a hole for the smoke from the fire to ascend through. These long poles are laid pretty close together all around the building, and across them smaller ones are lashed with bark as in the first instance, only they are much closer together. The operation of lashing on a layer of long grass and finally covering the whole with earth, completes the roof of the building.
The door or entrance is a long porch formed by placing in the earth four upright posts or crotches far enough apart to extend outwards from the circle, about 18 or 20 feet. There are four upright crotches on each side the porch and in the crotches, poles are laid horizontally as in the other parts of the building. The process of lashing sticks across, then a thick coat of long grass and lastly a stout coat of earth, is the same as the other parts of the building. The roof of the porch is flat and is about seven feet high and six feet wide.
The porch is dug down about half as deep as the main building, making a short step at the mouth of the porch and another one at the entrance into the house. The fire has been made in the center of the house directly under the hole in the roof.
At the farther side of the building, exactly opposite the porch, is a projection of sod left about a foot from the outside of the circle which is said to have been the seat of the chief, and over which hung his medicine bag and other implements.
The crotches are arranged so that there is a free passage to the center of the hall from the porch one standing on each side at the entrance about six feet apart and the others appear to be arranged from them.
The smaller houses have not so many pillars as this one. Some have eight in the center and sixteen outside the circle. Others have four in the center and ten outside. The entrances are also smaller in proportion, but all are constructed on the same principle. It looks a little singular to note that nearly all the entrances to these lodges front to the southeast, except in one or two instances where they front in other directions for lack of room. It is probable that this is done to avoid the effects of the severe cold northwest winds so prevalent in winter.
Adjacent to each lodge is a stable or pen, which has been designed for keeping horses in. These are mostly left unharmed. They are constructed by placing poles upright in the ground from two to three inches in diameter as close together as possible and about ten feet high. About five or six feet above the ground cross poles are laid horizontally, and each of the upright poles are firmly lashed to the cross poles by strips of bark, so as to make them firm and secure them from being moved out of their place.
The stables are mostly built square, with a door left on one side sufficiently large to admit a horse. There are some circular stables but not so many as the square ones. The horses appear to have been penned in by placing loose poles across the doorway, for there is no other sign of a door visible.
Around each lodge there are also several cachets where corn and other necessities are deposited. The cachets are large holes dug in the ground, or rather under the ground, the entrance being only just large enough to admit a common sized man. They are made pretty much after the shape of a large demijon.
The cachets are generally about six feet high inside and about fifteen feet in diameter; there is a gradual slope from the mouth to the extreme corner and a little bowing, which forms the roof. The surface of the earth above, at the mouth, is about two and a half or three feet deep. Some of these are said to be capable of holding a hundred bushels of corn, and when filled there is a thick coat of grass laid on the top and the mouth then filled up nicely with earth, and - when finished a stranger would not have the least suspicion that there was a storehouse full of corn under his feet.
I finished taking the foregoing sketch soon after noon, and then had intended to go on the bluffs and examine the Indian graves, but it being very warm, and perceiving the teams crossing the river very rapidly, I returned, and found most of the teams over.
They commenced crossing about eight o'clock. Some unloaded their goods on the bank which were carried in the boat to the sand bar, the teams going down to the ferry to cross. After a few wagons had gone over, it was perceived that they went over with less difficulty, and by doubling teams they soon took over the loaded wagons without much difficulty.
I prepared to wade over the river, inasmuch as the wagon I am with was gone over. and in fact, all Heber's wagons were over except one, but Jackson Reddin brought me Porter Rockwell's horse to ride over, and I mounted and proceeded. I found the current strong indeed, and about as much as a horse could do to ford it without a load. I soon got over safe and wet only my feet.
At 3:00 p.m. the last wagon was over on the solid sand bar, and about four o'clock all the wagons and teams were safely landed on the bank on the South Side of the Loop Fork without any loss or accident, which made the brethren feel thankful indeed.
A little before four, the wagons started on to find a better place to camp and food for our teams, where we can stay comfortable until Monday and give the teams a chance to rest, for they as well as the men, are very tired by wading against the strong current on the quicksand. The bottom land on this side is more sandy than on the other side, but the grass appears higher but not so thick on the ground.
The bluffs on the other side look beautiful from here, and the Indian graves show very plain. We went on about three miles and camped beside a small take near the river. I traveled this on foot.
Soon as we arrived, Porter Rockwell discovered that there were many sun fish in the lake. I took a couple of hooks and lines, handed some to him, and went to fishing myself with the others and we had some fine sport, I caught a nice mess which Brother Egan cooked for supper, and although they were small they made a good dish. Many of the brethren caught a good mess each. Brother Higbee came down with the seine and made two hauls but caught none on account of the grass in the bottom of the lake.
We have good reasons to suspect that we are watched by the Indians as their footsteps have been seen on the bluffs south, apparently very fresh, hot the guard are faithful and we have no fear. The cannon was prepared again so as to be ready in case there should be all attack.
Evening I walked over to Orson Piatt's wagon, and through his telescope saw Jupiter's four moons very distinctly never having seen them before. I went over to my wagon and looked through my glass and could see them with it, but not so distinct as with Orson's. The evening was very fine and pleasant. About tell o'clock retired to rest in good health and spirits, thankful for the mercies of the day that is past.
Source: William Clayton's Journal
Published by the Clayton Family Association, and edited by Lawrence Clayton. To the best of our research, this contents of this book are no longer under copyright.