Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

August 6, 1873. Omaha Weekly Bee 2(45): 2.

Field Notes.

The Niobrara Regions -- Scenery, Soil, Timber and Relics.

  • (Correspondence of the Bee.)
  • Frenchtown, Neb., July 29.

The further up the Niobrara River we proceed and explore, the more romantic and interesting the scenery becomes. The timber becomes more plentiful, and of greater variety, the water more cool and clear, the surface of the country more broken near the banks of the river, and more gently rolling north and south, for about ten miles distant; and the grasses more luxuriant and of better quality. We have reached township 32, range 19 west, about 300 miles northwest of Omaha.

Pine Timber

Is making its appearance in large quantities in the canyons and ravines, sloping bluffs and bottomlands; mixed with cedar, elm, basswood, oak, butternut, walnut and ash. The fine trees seem to improve in quality as well as quantity as we proceed northwestward, up stream; and this region, in connection with the Loup Fork country, may well be designated as the Pineries of Nebraska. The islands of the Niobrara River, as well as the bottom-lands, in some places are thickly covered with a most luxuriant growth of all varieties of timber, shrubs, grasses, large and exuberant plants, vines, etc., that gives us the impression of

Nebraska Jungles,

Comparing favorably with descriptions in books and papers of those that exist in tropical climes, where lions, tigers and other ferocious beasts make their homes. These jungles, too, seem to furnish protection for elk, deer, beaver, bear, mink, panthers and wildcats, as is plainly evident from the numerous tracks in the soft earth. The foliage hides many pigeons and other birds, that make the air vibrate with their melody of cooing and twittering. Great difficulty is experienced in passing through these jungles, and experiments in making explorations here are rather to be avoided than sought.

The Scenery

is grand on the north side of the river, romantic in the extreme as it is viewed from the highest elevations on the south: the high, rugged bluffs rearing their crested peaks far up towards the clouds - some round like craters that have been spitting fire in times past, leaving them almost bare; excepting a spare growth of grass, sprinkled with small pieces of squarely broken pieces of limestone, and a formation of rock like lava, giving the appearance as though it had been showered down with the floods of fire and ashes that had been thrown up by volcanos; others are long like immense steep roofs, as seen in the most fantastic shapes imaginable; large boulders, laying on the very crest, or sticking out and over-hanging the almost perpendicular sides of some bluffs add grandeur and awe to their contemplative fascination. The close proximity of these bluffs to each other form deep

Ravines and Canyons,

where sparkling ice-cold water is dashing down in rippling streams, leaping in some places from precipices to rocks, or gravelly beds, pebbles, and large white sand that forms hard bottom. Crystal springs are seen bursting from the sides of canyons, adding their silvery drops to augment the flood. Caves in solid lime-stone rock are seen to some extent in different places, making a person feel how pleasant little rooms these would make in preference to the flighty canvas tents when the stormy elements are raging on elevated plains. Thick clusters of high, straight timber and sappling closely cover the bottoms, leaving a clear channel lower for the rushing waters. Pine, cedar, elm, and oak, interspersed with a great quantity of ironwood, form the principal varieties of timber. Some of these trees are so high that when standing on the bluffs the ravines and canyons do not appear very deep, but when we commence descending and having reached the place we surmised was near the bottom, looking down one can see as much further as before and no bottom is discovered yet, with almost perpendicular walls, and to make a further descent it becomes necessary to secure a strong hold on branches, trees, projecting rocks and vines; and when in some instances we discover the bottom still deeper down, it gives the impression and a peculiar sensation creeps over the mind and frame as though we were getting down very low in the world. Indeed very wicked persons might become frightened that they were going down to the infernal regions in descending one of these deep canyons if it was not for the cold temperature that exists. When succeeding in reaching the bottom safe and sound, though somewhat exhausted, then regaling your flagging spirits with a draught of cool water, and turning your eyes upward it becomes an important subject of thought how to reach the elevation again from whence you descended-climbing up is the only prerogative, and with a firm resolution, and after considerable sputtering, blowing and some exhausting exertion, the top is again reached, which affords considerable relief and a chance for a little rest. But should you wish to proceed a small distance further, only a few steps can be taken before another one of those delightful places of aired navigation stares you fully in the face. Perseverance and an extraordinary amount of exertion will, however, accomplish remarkable results, and our making use of considerable of both of these qualities succeeded so well that we astonished ourselves how few miles we had made during the day, measuring it as level distances, though making quite a large number of miles considering the "ups and downs."

The Flour de Canon,

of "Queen of Perfumes," as this name seems to be far more appropriate, grows along the sides of some of these canons in profusion; it being a beautiful round flower about as large as a common-sized marble, formed of fine round stems, like the petals of some other varieties of flowers, without leaves excepting on the vine-like stems, that are thickly covered with soft thorns and branches of leaves; rich in colors of a subdued pink hue of various shades, making them very attractive, and the fragrance produced by them is something very remarkable in strength and durability, pervading the air with the most indescribable pleasant perfumes, that cannot be equaled by any manufacturer or vender of toilet articles that has at this period been heard from. These flowers would make gems in gardens for beauty and choice perfumes.

Prairie Dogs

have built towns all along the northern high-bottom lands, where one town almost adjoining another, so that its denizens can easily exchange visits, if that is the custom among the tribes. As a town is approached, you can see at nearly every little mound, made by the earth dug out of the holes near by, a prairie dog chirping like a large red squirrel instead of barking as so many claim the noise they make to be, and their appearance is more like a large ground squirrel than any species of dogs. However, these points have probably been settled by profound scientific men, and my humble opinion would amount to very little in these discussions. One of these towns was at least three miles in circumference, and must have contained a large number of inhabitants, but as the census have not been taken, it is impossible to give the number. No rattlesnakes were seen by any of the party as we passed through these towns, nor the prairie owls that are said to live happily together to keep each other company.

The Indians have left numerous


scattered around that give evidence of their having roamed over this country in times past. Arrow-heads and camp-stakes, the bones of game, and now and then a board with nails in it that has been obtained from some boxes of the pale faces. At a place in township 31, range 18, where it seemed that the ground had been cultivated, a Frenchman of our party found an old-fashioned iron hoe and axe, that had a thick coating of rust, but their usefulness was not entirely spoiled. Also in township 19, range 20, at an old Indian camp, near a large creek, was found an officer's sword, with the point broken off and the blade somewhat rusted, the wood and leather on the handle crumbling from long exposure to the elements, and a good wood-axe, a few copper shells of rifle cartridges, that had been fired, were found under the stakes of one wigwam, and a tin box and small glass vial were discovered on a little bluff near at hand. One of these camping places was exceedingly large, in range 20, township 30, giving evidence of having accommodated quite a large number of savages, at least calculation, a thousand hunting-spirits.

No traces of Indians are seen that would give reason to believe that they had been in this part of the country very recently.

Underground Tenements

were discovered in range 18, township 32, that seemed to indicate that while men had been here in times past, either soldiers or trappers. One of these domiciles was dug straight into the ground near the Niobrara river, about 12x18 feet, and six feet deep, covered over with poles and a thick covering of sod thrown over them, leaving a hole in the center about four feet square as a door, which was open, and as we looked down into this opening we found the bottom of this little cavern nearly covered with snakes; this prevented us from making close and more minute observations. Another of these residences was dug into a clay bank, whose side was almost perpendicular, and facing south towards the river; the wall on the south side was then closed with timbers, etc., leaving a small place for a door. The cut wood, timber and stakes scattered around near these places, is almost clear evidence against there tenements being built and inhabited by Indians.