Cutler's Park





Oto Indians  Forced LDS to Leave  Cutler’s Park, Nebraska’s First Civically Organized Community

Cutler’s Park, east of today’s Mormon Bridge Road and north of Young Street, was selected in August, 1846 to be a winter quarters for about 2,500 Mormon (Latter-day Saints) refugees.  It was named for Alpheus Cutler, one of the master builders of the Nauvoo Temple, who found the site. Cutler’s Park was about nine miles north of Cold Spring Camp, first LDS camp west of the Missouri River.  Both were about three miles west of the river.  Cold Spring Camp, though abandoned, was still on the road from Cutler’s Park to the Middle Mormon Ferry over the Missouri River to Iowa.  There travelers to and from Iowa could water their animals and rest.

At Cutler’s Park a speaker’s stand, benches shaded by leafy arbor work from the hot August sun – temperatures hit 100 degrees several days in a row -- and a New England style meeting were arranged.   The Twelve called Alpheus Cutler, presiding, Winslow Farr, Ezra Chase, Jedediah M. Grant, Albert P. Rockwood, Benjamin L. Clapp, Samuel Russell, Andrew Cahoon, Cornelius P. Lott, Daniel Russell, Elnathan Eldredge, and Thomas Grover as a Municipal High Council. 

Elijah Averett, John Pack, and Henry Harriman returned from the Elkhorn River, 20 miles west, and reported where they had put in piers and abutments for a bridge.  They would wait the next spring before completing the bridge to see what the spring rise would do to the waters of the Elkhorn River.

Church services were held in Cutler’s Park Sunday, August 9 in the public square, shaded by the arbor work.  In the afternoon, men and women held up their hands to accept their new High Council.  They also sustained Horace S. Eldredge as City Marshal.  Twenty four police and fire guards would be hired later at 75 cents per day.

A letter to be sent to President James K. Polk was read from the public stand.  It informed the President some refugees headed to the Great Salt Lake or Bear River Valley had crossed over the Missouri River into Indian Country.  Perhaps as justification the letter told how the Mormon Battalion had been recruited and sent off promptly, leaving hundreds of wagons on Iowa prairies with little supplies or protection for the families of the Battalion volunteers.  It noted, also, that Capt. James Allen, now Lt. Col. James Allen as a result of the successful recruitment, said some of the Latter-day Saints might cross the river to stay while waiting to migrate on to the Rocky Mountains.

The letter to Polk petitioned:  1) the Latter-day Saints might have a brighter day under the Polk administration;  2) that President Polk be thanked for providing a means of financing the move west by calling up the Mormon Battalion;  3) the Latter-day Saints wished to locate in the United States but retreat to deserts or mountain caves rather than be ruled by governors whose “hands are drenched in the blood of (innocents)”;  4) Latter-day Saints cannot live with former governor Boggs of Missouri whereas it is said his friends are trying to get him appointed governor of California;  5) as soon as settled in the Great Basin, the Latter-day Saints would petition for a territorial government;  6) the Latter-day Saints had confidence in Polk as President and prayed for him.

Nebraska’s first anti-pollution ordinance was passed with a raise of hands:  No cooking fire would be allowed without that family first building a sod fireplace with sod chimney to keep smoke and sparks out of the neighbors’ tents and wagons.

Monday, another hot day, brought Amasa Lyman’s company to Cutler’s Park.  Lyman’s group camped between that of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.  The Twelve and the Municipal High Council met to discuss the work of settling in:  building corrals for livestock; preparing walks to and from the springs; and cutting hay.  It was agreed no buildings would be constructed until men and boys had put up 800 tons of hay to winter their livestock.  Crews broke sod and planted beets and buckwheat – in August!  But the haymakers were not to be outdone, they put up between l,500 and 2,000 tons of hay.

Philadelphia lawyer Thomas L. Kane nicely described to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania the activities of the pioneers at Cutler’s Park: 

 “…with every day dawn brigades of mowers would take up the march to their positions in chosen meadows – a prettier sight than a charge of cavalry – as they laid their swaths, whole companies of scythes abreast.  Before this time the manliest, as well as the most general daily labor, was the herding of the cattle; the only wealth of the Mormons, and more and more cherished by them with the increasing pastoral character of their lives.  A camp could not be pitched in any spot without soon exhausting the freshness of the pasture around it; and it became an ever recurring task (of boys) to guide the cattle, in unbroken droves, to the nearest places where it was still fresh and fattening.  Sometimes it was necessary to go farther, to distant ranges which were known as feeding grounds of the buffalo.  About these there were sure to prowl parties of thievish Indians; and each drove therefore had its escort of mounted men and boys, who learned self-reliance and heroism while on night guard alone, among the silent hills.

“But generally the cattle were driven from the camp at the dawn of morning, and brought back thousands together in the evening, to be picketed in the great corral or enclosure, where beeves, bulls, cows, and oxen, with the horses, mules, hogs, calves, sheep and human beings, could all look together upon the red watch fires, with the feeling of security, when aroused by the Indian stampede, or the howlings of the prairie wolves at moonrise.

“When they set about building their winter houses, too, the Mormons went into quite considerable timbering operations, and performed desperate feats of carpentry.  They did not come, ornamental gentlemen or raw apprentices, to extemporize new versions of Robinson Crusoe.  It was a comfort to notice the readiness with which they turned their hands to wood craft; some of them, though I believe had generally been bred carpenters, wheelwrights, or more particularly boat builders, quite outdoing the most notable voyageurs in the use of the axe.  One of these would fell a tree, strip off its bark, cut and split up the trunk in piles of plank, scantling, or shingles; make posts, and pins, and pales – everything almost, of the branches; and treat his toil from first to last with more sportive flourish than a school-boy whittling his shingle.

"Inside the camp, the chief labors were assigned to the women.  From the moment, when after the halt, the (wagon parking) lines had been laid, the spring wells dug out, and the ovens and fire-places built, though the men still assumed to set the guards and enforce the regulations of the Police, the Empire of the Tented Town was with the better sex.  They were the chief comforters of the severest sufferers, the kind nurses who gave them in their sickness, those dear attentions, with which pauperism is hardly poor, and which the greatest wealth often fails to buy.  And they were a nation of wonderful managers.  They could hardly be called housewives in etymological strictness, but it was plain that they had once been such, and most distinguished ones…..”

“But the first duty of the Mormon women was, through all change of place and fortunes, to keep alive the altar fire of home.  Whatever their manifold labors for the day, it was their effort to complete them against the sacred hour of evening fall.  For by that time all the out-workers, scouts, ferrymen or bridgemen, roadmakers, herdsmen or haymakers, had finished their tasks  and come in to rest.  And before the last smoke of the supper fire curled up reddening in the glow of the sunset, a hundred chimes of cattle bells announced their looked-for approach across the open hills, and the women went out to meet them at the camp gates, and with their children in the laps sat by them at the cherished family meal, and talked over the events of the well-spent day.

“But every day closed as every day began, with an invocation of the Divine favor; without which, indeed, no Mormon seemed to dare to lay him down to rest.  With the first shining of the stars, laughter and loud talking hushed, the neighbor went his way, you heard the last hymn sung, and then the thousand-voiced murmur of prayer was heard like babbling water falling down the hills.

“There was no austerity, however, about the religion of Mormonism.  Their fasting and penance, it is not jest to say, was altogether involuntary.  They made no merit of that.  They kept the Sabbath with considerable strictness:  they were too close copyists of the wanderers of Israel in other respects not to have learned, like them, the value of this most admirable of the Egypto-Mosiaic institutions.  But the rest of the week, their religion was independent of ritual observance.”                                           

The defining moment of this first civically organized Nebraska community came August 27, 1846 when two delegations of Native Americans walked into Cutler’s Park.  Some say there were about 75 to 80 Omaha and an equal number of Oto.  Others say there were fewer of the Oto.  Both delegations wanted rent for use of the land occupied by the Latter-day Saint town.  It was agreed to meet with them the next morning.  Latter-day Saint leaders invited them to camp overnight at the top of the hill to the east in what now is Forest Lawn Cemetery.  The hill was a little south of today’s Young Street and a couple blocks east of the main gate into Forest Lawn Cemetery in northeast Omaha.

Oto leaders privately asked if they could camp amongst the Mormon wagon squares and tents.  They said they feared the Omaha might otherwise fall upon and murder them in the night.  Permission was granted.

A large double tent was set up on the hill where the Omaha camped overnight and both the Omaha and the Oto were invited in at 9:30 a.m. to talk with Brigham Young and other Latter-day Saint leaders.  The Oto refused to participate while the Omaha were in the double tent.

Brigham Young presided at the meeting.  Logan Fontenelle interpreted for the Omaha.

Young explained why the Latter-day Saints were there and needed to stay a year or two.  He said the Latter-day Saints would compensate the Native Americans by repairing their guns, making a farm for the tribe, and hire some of their young men to look after the Latter-day Saint livestock.  Young said:

“We are your friends and friends to all mankind.  We wish to do you good and will give you food, if you need it.  We are acting in accordance with the instructions of government, and we wish you to give us a writing, stating what you are willing to do, and if you wish, we will prepare to have schools kept among you.”  A clerk then read Lt. Col. James Allen’s permit for the Latter-day Saints to camp west of the Missouri River.

Chief Big Elk, bowed with age and nearly blind, arose and spoke: 

“I am an old man and will have to call you all sons.  I am willing you should stop in my country, but I am afraid of my great Father at Washington.  I would like to know what the Oto say; if they claim this land, you can stay where you please.  If they do not, I am willing you should stay.  One half of the Oto (in villages south the the Platte River) are willing the Omaha should have these lands…I hope you will not kill our game.  I will notify my young men not to trouble your cattle.”

With a sense of understanding and humor which had long since won him wide recognition among whites and Native Americans, Big Elk added:

“If you cut down all our trees, I will be the only tree left.  We have been oppressed by other (Dakota Sioux) tribes because we were weak.  We have been like the hungry dog which runs through camp in search of something to eat and meets with enemies on every side….Many times we could have defended ourselves, but our Great Father told us not to fight with any tribe unless they came to our village to destroy us.  We heard you were a good people; we are glad to have you come and keep a store where we can buy things cheap.  You can stay with us while we hold these lands, but we expect to sell as our Grandfather will buy.  We will likely remove northward.  While you are among us as brethren, we will be brethren to you.  I like my son, what you have said very well; it could have been said no better by anybody.”

After the meeting the Latter-day Saints agreed to go north 10 miles beyond the ruins of Fort Atkinson and consider building their winter quarters there on traditionally Omaha lands.  The Omaha filed out of the tent in good spirits and the Oto cautiously entered.  Brigham Young repeated what he had told the Omaha and offered the same forms of compensation. Then an Oto chief stood and asked what the Latter-day Saints had offered the Omaha.  He was told the same offer was made to the Omaha as to the Oto. 

The second meeting broke up in tumult and the Oto stormed out of the tent threatening war – against the Omaha. Latter-day Saint leaders tried to calm them, but to no avail.  The Oto felt the Omaha, who had fled here in 1845 from Dakota Sioux attacks, deserved no such treatment.

The Oto had crossed into Nebraska from southwestern Iowa or what became northwestern Missouri about 1700 A.D.  They had hunted these very grounds since that time.  Later, two Latter-day Saint envoys were sent to the Oto village north of the Platte River to negotiate a peace between the Oto and the Omaha.  All such talk failed.

Scouting parties were sent out in various directions looking for a new winter quarters, including the traditional Omaha lands north of old Fort Atkinson, where Fort Calhoun, Nebraska is today.  Finally, the Latter-day Saints moved three miles east to Winter Quarters overlooking the Missouri River.  That ended any talk of Oto war against the Omaha.  It is assumed the Oto reckoned the Missouri River was a highway for all travelers, and therefore not to be taxed.  The Latter-day Saints promised to leave all buildings to the Oto.

By Gail Holmes September 2006



This site is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Early Latter-day Saint Database is a project of the
Nauvoo Land and Records Office and
The Pioneer Research Group of the "Winter Quarters" Nebraska area.