History of Niobrara


Niobrara's beginning can be traced  back to the year of 1856, when a group of men headed by a Dr. Benneville Yeakel Shelly marked their claim to an area on the banks of the Missouri. They build a log garrison of cottonwood, which later became known as "Old Cabin". The company, founded by Shelly and others, was called L'eau Qui Court Company.
The L'eau Qui Court Company failed and the Niobrara Township Company was organized. The new town was eventually called "Niobrara", an Indian word for "running water".
On June 29th, 1857, a steam sawmill was brought to Niobrara from St. Louis by the steamer "Omaha" and was immediately put into operation sawing lumber for the building of the new town. In spite of early hardships, the new town continued to grow and the 1881 population was said to be about 500.
Just as the Missouri River was responsible for the original settlement of Niobrara, it was also responsible for the first move. In March of 1881 the spring thaw produced one of the largest Missouri River floods on record. After the danger of flooding Mother nature and the mighty Missouri again invaded Niobrara in April of 1952 and much of the town and the surrounding area was flooded. This record flow came shortly before the completion of the Missouri River dams, citizens were relieved that flooding along the Missouri would be a thing of the past and life could continue at a more or less routine pace.
A big event of the 1950's was the Centennial Celebration of June 16 - 17, 1956. There were many events leading up to the two day celebration which was attended by an estimated 20,000 people. 
Later, in the 1950's and in the 1960's, it became apparent that the mighty Missouri would, again, influence Niobrara history. Silt from the Niobrara River, which began to accumulate in the river bed, raised the ground water level in Niobrara and the surrounding area. Many basements became flooded requiring constant pumping and it was apparent that the problem would continue to intensify. By 1969, community officials began to look for solutions. The US Army Corps of having seemingly passed, on March 28, 1881, an ice gorge broke and Niobrara residents were greeted by a surge of muddy water. The water continued to overflow until most of the town was covered, forcing people and animals alike to seek the safety of higher ground. Fortunately, no lives were lost but this disastrous flood influenced the citizens of Niobrara to pick up and move to a new town site west and south of the old site. The town grew and flourished at the new location providing most of the goods and services required by a rural Nebraska community of that era. 
Noteworthy events of the era included the first school house in 1886, the first waterworks system which was supplied by an artesian well completed in 1892, the construction of an electric light plant in 1899 and the coming of the railroad in 1902. 1902 also marked the moving of the county seat from Niobrara to a new central location in the newly formed town of Center.
Through most of Niobrara's history, ferry boats have provided an important transportation link with South Dakota. The first ferry boat began operation in about 1860 and was operated by horses walking on a treadmill.
1910 marked the grand opening of the Niobrara Island Park. The land on which the park was built was given to the village for a park in 1881 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The village operated the park until approximately 1930 when it was given to the State of Nebraska and was added to the Nebraska Park System. Engineers became involved and eventually suggested three solutions. These included abandonment of the town, an elaborate dike and pumping system, or relocation to a new site. 
Niobrara citizens accepted the challenge of, once again, moving Niobrara and the site selection process followed. Funds were appropriated by Congress to pay a sizable portion of the cost of the move. 
Site preparation began in September of 1973 and was completed in April of 1974. Next came the water, sewer, storm sewer, paving, water wells and water storage tank. The sale of residential lots followed  in the summer of 1974 and residential construction moved forward at a fast pace. By the end of 1977, the move was nearly completed. The 1980 census showed 420 and 213 homes in Niobrara. 
1981 marked the 112th anniversary of the original settlement and was celebrated with a historical pageant, parade and other activities
Through volunteer efforts, a nine-hole grass greens golf course was completed on the old town site. The Niobrara State Park was relocated, suffering the same fate as the old town. 
Niobrara's history can best be summarized as being destined by the mighty Missouri on whose banks it was founded and from whose reach it has continuously tried to escape. 



The Ponca Tribe, numbering approximately 700 during the 1800's were forced by the Sioux to relocate from Lake Winnipeg to the west bank of the Missouri River in the early 1700's. 
In 1858 the Ponca signed a treaty nullifying their title to all their lands, except for a small portion on which to colonize or domesticate them. In 1865 they signed a treaty which ceded an additional 30,000 acres of their reserved land. This final treaty provided for a reservation of 96,000 acres in the present day Nebraska counties of Knox and Boyd. 
The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 established the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation which included the 96,000 acres of land that was the Ponca Reservation. The Ponca became trespassers in their own aboriginal homeland. 
In 1876, the government formulated a policy to consolidate as many tribes as possible in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The government offered to take the Ponca chiefs to Oklahoma to look over several sites, promising the chiefs that if they didn't like what they saw, they could return to their Nebraska homeland.
Upon making the journey the chiefs decided that the land was barren and unsuitable for agriculture. The chiefs agreed not to exchange their land but instead return home, refusing to relinquish their Nebraska homeland despite the government agents threats to withdraw all money and support including the interpreter who accompanied them. The Ponca chiefs, some of whom where advanced in years and ill, were forced to make the journey in the middle of winter without money, food or an interpreter. 
Because Indians were not to leave their reservation without permission, Chief Standing Bear and his followers were labeled as a renegade band. The Army advanced and took them into custody and were prepared to escort them back to their reservation in Indian Territory. The Omaha Daily Herald publicized the plight of the Ponca and two prominent Omaha attorneys decided that a writ of habeas corpus could prevent the Ponca from being forcibly returned  to their reservation in Indian Territory. The government disputed the right of Standing Bear to obtain a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that an Indian was not a "person" under the meaning of the law. 
The case of Standing Bear vs. Crook was brought before Judge Elmer S. Dundy in U.S. District Court on April 30, 1879. On May 12, 1879 Judge Elmer S. Dundy filed in favor of Standing Bear. The government appealed Dundy's decision, but on June 5, 1880 the Supreme Court of the United States dismissed the case leaving Standing Bear and his followers free, they had no home to return to. 
In August of 1881 26,236 acres in Knox County, Nebraska were returned to the Ponca. Although a portion of their Nebraska homeland was reinstated, only half of the tribe returned to their previous home. Poverty and disease would continue to take their toll over the years.
In 1945 the government formulated a policy which called for the termination of Indian Tribes. In 1962 the Congress of the United States decided that the Northern Ponca Tribe should be Fifty days later, near starvation, the Ponca chiefs reached the Oto Reservation along the Kansas-Nebraska border. The Oto's provided them with enough food and ponies to make their way back to Niobrara.
When the chiefs reached home, they found their people already preparing for the move. Federal troops were called in to enforce the removal orders. The long march took a heavy toll on the tribe, over half of whom were women and children. Storms and poor road and traveling conditions greatly impeded their journey, causing much suffering and death. Standing Bear's daughter was among those who died along the way.
In the summer of 1878 the Ponca arrived in the Indian Territory. They were quartered in tents they had brought. Discouraged, homesick and hopeless, the Ponca found themselves on the lands of strangers, in the middle of a hot summer, with no crops nor prospects for any. Having been on the move throughout the summer o 1877 and 1878 they suffered greatly from malaria. As the Ponca had come from their northern home where such ills were little known, the disease was peculiarly fatal to them, and many died of it after they reached the Indian Territory. In fact, since the tribe had left Nebraska one-third had died and nearly all the survivors were sick or disabled. 
Finally the death of Chief Standing Bear's eldest son set in motion events which were to bring a measure of justice and worldwide fame to the chief and his tribe. Unwilling to bury his child in the strange country, Standing Bear gathered a few members of his tribe and started  for the Ponca burial ground in the north. In 1966 the Northern Ponca's were completely terminated and all of their land and tribal holdings were dissolved. This termination removed 442 Ponca from the tribal rolls, dispossessing them of 834 acres and began the process of tribal decline.
During the 1970's members of the Ponca Tribe, unwilling to accept their status as a terminated tribe, initiated the process of restoration to federal recognition. In 1986 representatives from the Native American Community Development Corporation of Omaha, Inc., Lincoln Indian Center, Sequoyah, Inc. National Indian Lutheran Board and Ponca Tribe met to discuss what they needed to do to once again become a federally recognized tribe. In the spring of 1987, the Northern Ponca Restoration Committee, Inc., was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Nebraska and was the base for the federal recognition effort. 
In April of 1988 the Nebraska Unicameral passed Legislative Resolution #128 giving state recognition to the Ponca Tribe and their members. The Ponca Restoration Bill was introduced in the United States Senate on October 11, 1989 by Senators James. J. Exon and J. Robert Kerry. The Senate passed the Ponca Restoration Act by unanimous consent on July 18, 1990. The bill was signed into law on October 31, 1990 by President Bush.
Today the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska headquarters is located in Niobrara, Nebraska. The Ponca Tribe is once again rebuilding it's traditional culture and their land base on the aboriginal homeland.




L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery History 
Copied from Original Deed

"June 19, 1874, at a public sale of Common School Lands of the State of Nebraska, to L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery Company, for the sum of $280.00 N. E. Quarter of S.W. Quarter of section 16, township 32, North of Range 6, west of the 6th P.M., containing 40 Acres, more or less.

The Cemetery Entrance

Signed Gov. J. W. Davis; Secretary of State E.R. Roggen".
Recorded August 9, 1884, in Deed Book E, Page 621
By Vac Randa, Co. Clerk.
$28.00 was paid the date of purchase, $25.00 a year interest was paid on the promissory note for the sum of $252.00. No record of when the principal was paid but probably by 1884 as the deed was recorded in that year. The last receipt for interest dated 1882.
Articles of Incorporation of L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery Company:
Know all men by these presents that we, John Pattee, Otto E.C. Knudsen, Herman Westerman, Thomas G. Hullihen, Christian G. Benner, Wm. Satleford, James H. Billings and Clinton Santee have this day associated ourselves together as a cemetery company to be known as the L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery Company. The object of this company is to lay out and establish a cemetery in the vicinity of the town of Niobrara, Knox Co., Nebraska, the principal place of doing business shall be Niobrara, county and state aforesaid. The amount of Capital Stock shall be Six Hundred  Dollars to be divided into eight equal shares and paid in as follows: Seven dollars per share upon the Signing of the Articles of Incorporation, and Five Dollars per share on the Fifteenth Day of December A.D., 1874, and the balance of the capital stock when ordered by the majority of the stockholders -- the Commencement of this Corporation shall date from the Fifteenth day of June, A.D.; 1874, and shall terminate on the First Day of January, A.D., 1900, - or when agreed upon by a majority of the Stockholders. The indebtedness of this corporation shall at no time exceed the Capital Stock. The officers of this Incorporation shall be a President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and Four Directors, who shall be elected annually by a majority of the stockholders or at such time as may be directed by the Company. In witness whereof we have hereunto annexed our hand and seal. Dated this Fifteenth Day of June, A.D. 1874.
Signed by Eight Memebers
President, John Pattee; Directors V. Pres. J.H. Billings, C.G. Benner Treasurer H. Westerman T.G. Hullihen Secretary; Clinton Santee, Wm. Satleford, Otto E.C. Knudsen. 
"Filed for Record this 19th day of June A.D.; 1874, and recorded in Book No. 1 page 11 Miscellaneous Records. -- Vac Randa, County Clerk, Knox County, Nebraska."



The Cemetery Co. has put heavy woven wire fence on the north and east sides of the cemetery.


No records have been found regarding the Cemetery from June 1874 to May 19, 1922, when the L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery Association was organized. The undertaker, Louis Dose, had all records in his possession and when the Opocensky Store burned in 1922 all the records, which were housed there, were destroyed. This new organization consisted of 61 members, each paying one dollar as membership dues, to be paid annually. The association to be perpetual or discontinued according to law. 
The first meeting of the Niobrara Cemetery Association Board of Directors was called May 19, 1922, with all board members present. The board consisted of Chairman, F. H. Lenger; 

Unusual Visitors in the Cemetery

Secretary, W.R. Pease; Treasurer, Mrs. Sophia D. Lutt; Vice Chairman, Mrs. H.J.J. Bayha; Comittee for improving and beautifying the cemetery, Mrs. Cora McGraw and Mrs. Almedia Roth. The board to consist of six members, appointed by the Village Board, two each year for a term of 3 years; two annual meetings to be held each year. The board (cemetery) to elect each year, their own officers. Lots to be sold for $25.00, half lots $15.00. A new plat was made, deeds recorded at Center for lots purchased were marked on the new plat and the Cemetery Board made a careful search of the cemetery grounds marking on the plat every known grave. 

In 1925 a well was dug at the cemetery for $113.33. June, 1936, city water was taken to the cemetery, W.P.A. Labor laying the pipes, 8 3/4" freezless hydrants were placed. Two rows of trees were planted from the highway to the cemetery gates, all of which died. The streets have been graveled. The west ten acres are rented out each year. In 1951 the cemetery's first Perpetual Care was sold at $50.00 for a lot already purchased; $25.00 for a half lot already purchased. Lot and Perpetual Care at $75.00; Half Lot and Perpetual Care at $40.00. 
L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery in 1958: Board members Ted Harrsch and F. H. Lenger passed away. Both have been faithful members many years, a new mower and fence improvement completed. In 1960, the Board voted to sell all lots with perpetual care 1/2 lots to be sold for $50.00 including perpetual care. 1963, the Village Board agreed to give 650.00 per year for maintenance and expenses. Wm. R. Pease, long-time member (1922-1961), passed away in 1968. Peter Dahlen took his place upon his death Marius Dahlen replaced him. Treasurer Karl Reid resigned in 1969 but had been treasurer many years. Secretary Mrs. Fred Hunt, since 1929, resigned in 1973. Other changes on the membership: Mrs. Ed Randa resigned in 1973. She had been a member since 1948; Roy Davis resigned as Chairman in 1974, a member and officer a number of years. The Board decided to raise price of lots in 1975 to $150.00 per full lot, $75.00 half lot, space less than one-half lot $30.00.
1976 Board Members are: Edward Ferguson, Chairman; LaReta Branstiter, Treasurer; Willa Dean Pease, Secretary and members Eda Foner, Marius Dahlen and Edward Tichy.
L'Eau Qui Court Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state which was duly and legally organized as a cemetery association. It should be revered and treated with great respect. With a beautiful view, it is the resting place for many of our war dead. There are plots where Civil War veterans are resting in final peace. There is the grave of the "Unknown Soldier, Known Only to God". Many pioneers and ones have returned to their native soil for their eternal resting place. Let us protect and respect this aged burial ground. 



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