Fontanelle Township, Washington County, Nebraska
Fontanelle Township and village of this county is the background
for much pioneer history and personal experience had by men and
women who must have possessed iron constitutions and hearts of
steel, yet full of human kindness. In order to be correct the
writer has consulted the relatives of old Indian Chief, Logan
Fontenelle, and learned that the name was spelled Fontenelle,
and not with an "a" Fontanelle, as so many Nebraska historians,
even historical societies of the state, insist on spelling the
name of the old honored chief for whom this township and village
were named back in the '50s. Fontanelle Township is situated on
the west side of Washington County, and is eight miles from
north and south by five miles from east and west. It is bounded
on the north by Sheridan Township, on the east by Grant and
Lincoln townships, on the south by Arlington Township and a
small portion by Dodge County. On its west it is bounded by
Dodge County of which it was once a part.
The streams coursing through this township include Bell's Creek,
Brown's Creek, and the Elkhorn River, with many smaller streams.
This part of the county is one of Nature's real garden spots and
man has made it one of beauty and intrinsic value by tilling its
fertile soil, erecting its many handsome farm houses and
constructing its scores and hundreds of wagon-bridges and
culverts after modern specifications. To be a landowner in this
township is to be known as an independent, contented and happy
person who should be thankful that his lot was cast in such a
In 1890 this township had a population of 803; in 1900 it was
759 and in 1910 it was only 766. The returns for the present
(1920) enumeration have not as yet been made public by the
department at Washington.
The account given of the first settlement of the Village of
Fontanelle, in 1854, by the Quincy (III.) Colony, is in fact the
history of the pioneer settlement in Fontanelle Township, as
will be discovered by the following account of that event:
|The colony organized at Quincy,
Illinois, in 1854 was for the purpose of securing for
its members, homes for themselves and their families in
the then new Territory of Nebraska. The style of the
company was "The Nebraska Colonization Company." In July
that year. Rev. W. W. Keep, Jonathan Smith, J. W.
Richardson, Jared Blanset, C. Bernard, William Flach and
James A. Bell (the father of the John T. Bell who wrote
the small, but reliable history of Washington County in
1876) came to Nebraska in order to "view the land," and
locate the colony on behalf of the company. They crossed
Iowa in wagons, as there was then not a foot of railway
track west of the Mississippi River. They camped out on
the way and in due time reached the small city of Omaha
which had then just been platted by the Nebraska &
Council Bluffs Ferry Company.
Historian Bell continues his narrative as follows: Passing
beyond the bluffs of the Missouri and its tributaries, the
Quincy pilgrims found a section of country which for
agricultural and grazing purposes has no superior on this
continent-or any other. Arriving in the vicinity of the Elkhorn,
in their northwesterly course, they came to a stream of
considerable size, over which it was necessary to throw a
temporary bridge, in order to cross it. To do this someone had
to "coon it" across the stream on a log, and this task was
undertaken by James A. Bell. Before reaching the other shore,
however, he heard something drop into the stream below, and was
surprised to find that it was himself. He was at once fished out
and spread on the grass to dry.
In consequence of this little episode the party immediately
christened the stream "Bell Creek," the name it still bears.
Crossing the creek the colonization party pursued their way to
the banks of the Elkhorn, and were so pleased with the
surrounding country that they decided to locate there, and the
townsite of Fontanelle was laid out claims made by the party,
etc., who then proceeded to the camp of the Omaha Indians, in
honor of whose chief. Logan Fontanelle, the town was named, and
held a grand pow-wow with the tribe for the purpose of securing
its good will. They also paid Fontanelle the sum of $10 each,
with the understanding that he was to protect their interests
until members of the company could be sent out and establish
their new town, and then return to Quincy.
I am unable to give the entire list of names belonging to this
colony, as it was formed in Illinois, but it is certain that
these were among the membership:
Jonathan Smith, president
Rev. W. W. Keep secretary
J. W. Richardson, treasurer
J. C. Bernard, treasurer
O. C. Bernard
H. G. Mauzey
|E. M. Davis
W. H. Davis
James A. Bell
In the fall of 1854, the company sent out Judge J. W. Richardson
as their agent, to occupy the town site on behalf of the
company. Judge Richardson was accompanied by his wife, later
Mrs. William Kline. At Council Bluffs they were joined by Col.
William Kline and Colonel Doyle, of South Carolina, who had been
recently appointed marshal for the new territory. In December,
Dr. M. H. Clark was elected councilman, and Colonel Doyle and
Judge Richardson representatives to the Territorial Legislature,
from Dodge County, in which Fontanelle was the only settlement.
Fontanelle Wanted the Territorial Capital
Judge Richardson was instructed by members of the colony to put
forth every effort possible to insure the locating of the
capital of Nebraska Territory at Fontanelle. But Omaha won the
coveted prize. They did succeed, however, in getting a charter
to establish a college for Fontanelle; and to be run under the
auspices of the Baptist Church; also a town charter and a ferry
charter, the latter in favor of Colonel Kline.
The County of Dodge was organized and the county seat was
designated as Fontanelle. During the territorial session of that
winter a bill was introduced chartering the Platte Valley &
Pacific Railroad Company, and February 16, 1855, Doctor Clark,
chairman of the committee on corporations, submitted his report,
showing clearly the object of this railroad bill and during his
|"In view of the wonderful
changes that will result, your committee cannot believe
the period -remote when this work will be accomplished,
and with liberal encouragement to capital which your
committee are disposed to grant, it is their belief that
before Fifteen Years have transpired, the route to the
Indies will be opened and the way across this continent
will be the common highway of the world."
Fourteen years and three months from that day the golden spike
which completed the world's highway was driven on the summit of
Prior to the autumn of 1856 the following had become settlers in
Fontanelle, with those already mentioned:
|Judge and Mrs.
John W. Pattison
Chris Leiser and family
Samuel Whittier and family.
Rev. J. M. Taggart and family
Miss Ellen Griffith
Isaac Underwood and family
Mrs. Denslow and family
B. L. Keyes and family
William M. Saint
John Beaty and family
John Evans and family
Rufus Brown and family
John K. Cramer and family
Christy Archilles and family
Morris Wogan and family
Arthur Bloomer John Bloomer
Sam Francis and family
William H. Johnson
Henry C. Lemon and family
William Flach and Family
J. M. Hancock and family
Jacob Canaga and family
John Ray and family
Deacon Searle and family
John and Silas Seeley
Sam Williams and family
Hiram Ladd and family
Sumner D. Prescott
William R. Hamilton and family
Henry Brinkman and family
William Hecker Sr.
Orlando and Pierce Himebaugh
William C. Hecker
Julius Brainard and family
In 1856 a college building was erected by the Congregational
people, to whom the Baptists had assigned their charter
elsewhere named. A flourishing school was here kept alive a
number of years, Professor Burt being the first instructor. This
building was used for public meetings, lyceums, etc. Annual
festivals were held and bounteous suppers were held in the
college buildings about New Year's day, until the close of the
Civil war, to which festivals the settlers for many miles around
came regularly, bringing well-laden baskets and when the
contents of these baskets were distributed over the tables the
only reason they did not groan was because they were not of the
In the winter of 1858-59 Fontanelle became a part of Washington
County, in consequence of reorganization of county lines.
The first school was taught by Miss Emily Strickland in 1856-57.
The first stock of goods in the settlement was kept by William
H. Davis in 1855, he also had the first hotel, a double log,
called the Fontanelle House.
A town lot was offered by the company to the parents of the
first child born on the plat and much rivalry ensued, for it is
known that two children were born the same night, although
Mattie, daughter of Samuel Francis, born October 2, 1855, was by
a few hours the earlier.
Fontanelle of Today
After a wonderfully romantic and somewhat strange history, the
once flourishing Village of Fontanelle has dwindled down to a
few houses and the few inhabitants trade at a small store and
get mail from the little country route. The most of the village
platting is now doing good service as excellent farm land,
yielding up its annual harvest.
The Passing of Chief Logan Fontenelle
No more appropriate farewell can be given to the reader of this
chapter than to give what S. T. Bangs of Sarpy County said in
his Centennial History of Sarpy County in 1876:
|Logan Fontenelle was a
half-breed, his father being French. He was educated in
St. Louis; spoke English fluently and was at this time
about thirty years of age, of medium height, swarthy
complexion, black hair and dark piercing eyes. In the
middle of the summer of 1855, a procession might have
been seen wending its way toward the old home of Logan
Fontenelle on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River
and above the stone quarries of Bellevue. It moved
slowly along, led by Louis San-so-see, who was driving a
team with a wagon in which was wrapped in blankets and
buffalo robes all that was mortal of Logan Fontenelle,
the chief of the Omahas. On either side was Indian
chiefs and braves mounted on their ponies, with the
squaws and relatives of the deceased showing their grief
in mournful outcries. His remains were taken to the
house he had left a short time before and now desolate
and afflicted they related the incidents of his death.
He had been killed by the Sioux on the Loup Fork
thirteen days before, while on a hunt with the Omahas.
Having left the main body with San-so-see in pursuit of
game and while in a ravine that hid them from the sight
of the Omahas, they came in contact with a band of Sioux
on the warpath who attacked them. San-so-see escaped in
some thick underbrush while Fontenelle stood his ground
fighting desperately and killing three of his
adversaries, when he fell pierced with fourteen arrows
and the prized scalp-lock was taken by his enemies. The
Omahas did not recover his body until the next day.
It was the wish of Colonel Sarpy to have him interred on the
bluffs fronting the house in which he had lived and a coffin was
made which proved to be too small without unfolding the blankets
which had enveloped him, and as he had been dead so long this
was a disagreeable task. After putting him in the coffin his
wives who witnessed the scene uttered the most piteous cries,
cutting their ankles until the blood ran in streams. An old
Indian woman who looked like a witch of Endor, standing between
the house and the grave, lifted her arms to heaven and shrieked
her maledictions upon the head of his murderers. Colonel Sarpy,
Stephen Decatur, Mrs. Sloan, an Otoe half-breed, and others,
stood over his grave where his body was being lowered, and while
Decatur was reading the impressive funeral service of the
Episcopal Church, he was interrupted by Mrs. Sloan, who stood by
his side, and in a loud tone told him that "a man of his
character ought to be ashamed of himself to make a mockery of
the Christian religion by reading the solemn services of the
church." He proceeded, however, until the end. After the whites,
headed by Colonel Sarpy, had paid their last respects, the
Indians filed around the grave and made a few demonstrations of
sorrow. The whites dispersed to their homes and the Indians to
recite their own exploits and the daring of their dead chief,
Another History of Fontanelle
A few years since, Mrs. Eda Mead, in "Nebraska Pioneers," wrote
the interesting story of the rise and fall of the Village of
Fontanelle, Nebraska. These facts, as she avers, are largely
from her own observation and memory, she having been reared in
the vicinity herself. It is believed that no better account of
this defunct village can be given at this time than the one .she
gives, and from which we take the liberty to quote freely, that
the story may be preserved in the annals of the county:
When Nebraska was first organized as a territory, a party of
people in Quincy, Illinois, conceived the idea of starting a
city in the new territory and thus making their fortune. They
accordingly sent out a party of men to select a site.
These men reached Omaha in 1854. There they met Logan
Fontenelle, chief of the Omahas, who held the land along the
Platte and Elkhorn rivers. He agreed to direct them to a place
favorable for a town. Upon reaching the spot, where the present
village is now situated, they were so pleased that they did not
look further, but paid the chief $100 for the right to claim and
locate twenty square miles of land. This consisted of land
adjoining the Elkhorn River, then ascending a high bluff, a
tableland ideal for the location of a town.
These men thought the Elkhorn navigable and that they could ship
their goods from Quincy by the way of the Missouri River, Platte
River and the Elkhorn.
Early in the spring of 1855 a number of the colonists, bringing
their household goods, left Quincy on a small boat, the "Mary
Cole," expecting to reach Fontanelle by the way of the Elkhorn;
and then use the boat as a packet to points on the Platte and
But the boat struck a snag in the Missouri River and, with a
part of the cargo, was lost. The colonists then took what was
saved overland to Fontanelle.
By the first of May, 1855, there were sufficient colonists on
the site to hold two claims. Then each of the fifty members drew
by lot for the eighteen lots each were to hold. The first choice
fell on W. H. Davis. He chose the land along the river, fully
convinced of its superior situation as a steamboat landing. The
colonists then built houses of cottonwood timber, and a store
and a hotel were started. Thus the little town of about 200
inhabitants was started with great hopes of soon becoming a
Land on the edge of the bluff had been set aside for a college
building. This was called College view. Here a building was
begun in 1856 and completed in 1859. This was the first advanced
educational institution west of the Missouri River.
In 1865 the building was burned. Another building was
immediately erected, but after a few years' struggle for
patronage, they found it was doomed to die, so negotiated with
the people of Crete, Nebraska, and the Congregational
organizations (for it was built by the Congregationalists) in
Nebraska. It therefore became the nucleus of what is now Doane
College. The bell of the old church is still in use in the
little village. The first religious services were held by the
Congregationalists. The church was organized by Rev. Reuben
Gaylord, who also organized the first Congregational Church in
In Fontanelle the Congregationalists did not have a building but
worshiped in the college. This church has long since ceased to
exist, but strange as it may appear, after so many years, the
last regular pastor was the same man. Rev. Reuben Gaylord, who
organized the church.
There was a little band of Methodists, about fifteen in all, who
formed the Fontanelle Mission. In 1857 an evangelist, Jerome
Spillman, was sent to take charge of this little mission. He
soon had a membership of about threescore people. A church was
organized, a church and parsonage built. This prospered with the
town, but as the town began to lose ground the church was doomed
to die. The building stood vacant for a number of years but was
finally moved to Arlington.
The settlers found the first winter of 1855-56 mild and
agreeable. They thought this was a sample of the regular winter
climate; so when the cold, blizzardy, deep snow winter of
1856-57 came, it found the majority illy prepared. Many were
living in log cabins which had been built only for temporary
use. The roofs were full of holes and just the dirt for floors.
On awakening in the morning after the first blizzard, many found
their homes drifted full of snow; even the beds were covered.
The snow laid four or five feet on the level and the temperature
was far below zero.
Most of the settlers lost their stock. Food was scarce, but wild
game plentiful. Mr. Samuel Francis would take his horse and gun
and hunt along the river. The settlers say he might have been
seen many times that winter coming into the village with two
deer tied to his horse's tail trailing in the snow. By this
means, he saved many of the colonists from starvation.
Provisions were very high priced. Potatoes brought four or five
dollars a bushel; bacon and pork could not be had at any price.
One settler is said to have sold a small hog for $45; with this
he bought eighty acres of land, which is today worth $300 per
acre. A sack of flour then cost from $10 to $15.
At this time many who had come just for speculation left, thus
only the home-builders or those who had spent their all and
could not return remained.
Then came trouble with the Indians
In the year 1859 the Pawnees were not paid by the Government,
for some reason. They became desperate and began stealing cattle
from the settlers along the Elkhorn around Fontanelle. The
settlers of Fontanelle formed a company known as the "Fontenelle
Mounted Rangers," and together with a company sent out by
Governor Blac^c from Omaha with one piece of light artillery,
started after the Pawnees who were traveling west and north.
They captured six persons and held them bound. While they were
camped for rest, a squaw in some way gave a knife to one of the
prisoners. He pretended to kill himself by cutting his breast
and mouth so that he bled freely. He then dropped as if dead.
Amidst the confusion the other five, whose ropes had been cut by
this same squaw, supposedly, escaped.
As the settlers were breaking camp to still pursue the fleeing
tribe, they wondered what to do with the dead Indian. Someone
expressed doubt as to his being dead. Then one of the settlers
raised his gun and said he would make sure. No sooner had the
gun been aimed than the Indian jumped to his feet and said, "Whoof!
Me no sick!" They then journeyed on to attack the main tribe.
When near their camp the settlers formed a semicircle on a hill,
with the artillery in the center.
As soon as the Indians saw the settlers they came riding as
swiftly as possible to make an attack, but when within a short
distance and before the leader of the settlers could call
"Fire!" they retreated. They advanced and retreated this way
three times. The settlers were at a loss to understand just what
the Indians intended to do; but decided they did not know of the
artillery until near enough to see it, then were afraid to make
the attack, so tried to scare the settlers, but failing to do
so, they finally advanced with a white rag tied to a stick.
The Indians agreed to be peaceable and stop their thieving if
the settlers would pay for a pony accidentally killed, and give
them medicine for the sick and wounded.
Some of the men who took part in this fight say that if the
leader had ordered the settlers to fire on the first advance of
the Indians every settler would have been killed. There were
twice as many Indians in the first place and the settlers
afterwards found that not more than one-third of their guns
would work; and after they had fired once, while they were
reloading, the Indians with their bows and arrows would have
exterminated them. They consider that it was the one piece of
light artillery that saved them, as the Indians were very much
afraid of a cannon. Thus ended any serious Indian trouble, but
the housewives had ever to be on the alert for many years.
Each spring either the Pawnees or Omahas passed through the
village on their way to visit some other tribe, and then
returned in the fall. Then through the winter stray bands would
appear who had been hunting or fishing along the river.
As they were seen approaching everything that could be put under
lock and key was made secure. The doors of the houses were also
made secure. The Indians would wash and comb their hair at the
water troughs, then gather everything about the yard that took
their fancy. If by any chance they got into a house they would
help themselves to eatables and if they could not find enough
they would demand more.
They made a queer procession as they passed along the street.
The bucks on the horses or ponies led the way, then would follow
the pack ponies, with long poles fastened to each other's sides
and trailing along behind loaded with the baggage came the
squaws with their babies fastened to their backs, trudging along
One of the early settlers tells of her first experience with the
Indians. She had just come from the far east, and was all alone
in the house, when the door opened and three Indians walked in,
a buck and two squaws. They closed the door and placed their
guns behind it, to show her that they would not harm her. Then
they went to the stove and seated themselves, making signs to
her that they wanted more fire. She made a very hot fire in the
The old fellow examined the stove until he found the oven door;
this he opened and took three frozen fish from under his blanket
and placed them upon the grate. While the fish were cooking he
made signs for something to eat. The lady said she had only
bread and sorghum in the house. This she gave them, but the
Indian was not satisfied: he made a fuss until she finally found
that he wanted butter on his bread. She had to show him that
sorghum was all she had. They then took up the fish and went out
of doors by the side of the house to eat it. She said they must
have eaten every bit of the fish except the bones in the head,
all else was eaten up.
Among the first settlers who came in 1855 was a young German who
was an orphan and had had a hard life in America up to this
time. He took a claim and worked hard for a number of years. He
then went back to Ouincy and persuaded a number of his
countrymen to come out to this new place and take claims, he
helping them out, but they were to pay him back as they could.
Years passed; they each and all prospered wonderfully well. The
early settlers moved away one by one; as they left he would buy
their homes. The houses were torn down or moved away; the trees
and shrubs were uprooted, until now this one man, or his heirs,
for he has gone to his reward, own almost all of the once
prosperous little village, and vast fields of grain have taken
the place of the homes and the streets. It is hard to stand in
the streets of the little village which now has about 150
inhabitants and believe that at one time it was the county seat
of Dodge County, and that it lacked but one single vote of
becoming the capital of Nebraska. There are left only two or
three of the original buildings. A short distance south of this
village, on a high bluff overlooking the river valley, and
covered with oaks and evergreens, these early pioneers started a
city which has grown for many years, and which will continue to
grow for years to come. In this "city of the dead" we find many
people who did much for the little city which failed, but who
have taken up their abode in this beautiful spot, there to
remain until the end of time.
The story of Fontanelle has been gathered from my early
recollections of the place and what I have learned through
grandparents, parents and other relatives and friends.
My mother was raised in Fontanelle, coming there with her
parents in 1856. She received her education in that first
college. My father was the son of one of the first
Congregational missionaries to be sent there. I received my
first schooling in the little village school.
Dodge County |
History of Dodge and Washington Counties, Nebraska, Rev. William
H. Buss and Thomas T. Osterman, Volume 1, The American
Historical Society, Chicago, 1921.
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