Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Stories: Early History - O'Fallons Bluff

Excerpted from the 1891-1991 Sutherland Centennial

O’Fallons Bluff was a famous landmark all of the travelers referred to. When they first encountered O’Fallons Bluff, the river ran along the base of the bluff. A horseman could hardly ride between the water and the steep face of the bluff. This was a dreaded place for travelers because it was the best place for Indians to hide. Wagons would converge on the area from along a fairly wide path, but then be forced to merge into one lane to get between the bluff and the river. Everything would get backed up, tempers would flare and drivers would be compared to their oxen.
O’Fallon’s Bluff was named for Benjamin O’Fallon. He was born in Kentucky in 1793 and was raised by his uncle, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expeditions. As an army major he assisted General Atkinson in negotiating the first treaty with the Indians west of the Mississippi river in 1819. During the summer of 1825, he was appointed by the President of the United States to serve as an Indian Agent. The Indians trusted him because he understood them and their problems. He resigned this post in 1827 and entered into fur trading. It was during this period of his life that he lived for a time in a cave in the Bluff and led several expeditions through this area.
Beginning in 1843, there were large numbers of travelers on the Oregon branch of the Oregon – California Trail. Many early travelers from Omaha or Council Bluffs took the “North Side Road”. In 1847, the Mormon Pioneers commenced using segments of this trail in their historic trek to the Great Salt Lake, and in 1848 there was a mass exodus of Mormons from the winter quarters near Omaha traveling along the North Platte River north of Sutherland where ruts can still be seen.
The year 1849 was the beginning of the California Gold Rush with would-be fortune seekers trekking through Nebraska either on the Oregon – California Trail or the Council Bluffs Road – Mormon Trail to the cut-offs further west. It is estimated that in the year 1849, 30,000 travelers passed through on these routes.

During its brief history (1860 – 1861) the Pony Express Route near Sutherland traversed basically the route of the Oregon-California Trail. A Pony Express station just west of O’Fallons Bluff is identified as Dorsey’s, Dansey’s, D’Orsay’s, Halfway House or Elkhorn Station. It is located at the headquarters of Seifer Farms Pasture Poultry.
During the years 1858 to 1860, in the area of O’Fallons Bluff there was a trading post, stage station and Post Office. There were a few cottonwood trees and two young men by the names of Moore and Grimes ran the west station. It was described as one of the best on the road. It had an abundance of hay for travelers and almost every article that would be required for the journey. Wood was also available here, being the last opportunity to get it for nearly 100 miles. The station was believed to have been started by Mr. I.P. Boyer.
In the winter of 1864-65, the stage station was burned along with other damage inflicted by the Indians. Stage drivers witnessed the burning of the Stations at O’Fallon’s Bluffs and Willow Island by the Indians and within twelve hours the burning of Butts and Alkali stations. In their raids a vast amount of property was destroyed and a great deal of stage stock stolen.

Henry Carlyle gave this account of an incident at the Bluffs: “… The coach was full of mail. As we came near to one of the road ranches in the vicinity of O’Fallons Bluff, some distance west of Cottonwood Springs, we found that the Indians had captured it, had rolled out a barrel of whiskey and knocked the head in, and were drinking it out of tin cups. The whole band were in the midst of a drunken revelry. The driver was greatly alarmed and suggested that we run by at full speed. But I said, ‘No! Nothing Doing. Do nothing unusual to attract their attention. You are in the habit of watering here. Drive right up at the regular gait and water as usual. Above all keep cool, keep your seat and have your team in hand. I will get down with the bucket and water the team.’ My last words before getting down from the box were to urge the importance of keeping cool. ‘If we are lucky enough to get away from here we will let the team out’ (meaning full steam ahead.). These Indians have been lying in the bluffs for days. They have watched the coaches come and go and know all the movements along the valley.” The whiskey and Carlyle’s tact and good judgment saved all from being horribly butchered.

In 1867, the O’Fallons railroad siding, depot and post office were built north of the river opposite the east part of the bluffs. It also included a trading post and saloon. 

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