Sunday, June 11, 2017

Niobrara, Nebraska

June 5 - 7, 2017:

Another short 50 mile jaunt on the Outlaw Trail - scenic route 12 through beautiful rolling hill country. I can’t get over the beauty of this part of Nebraska, who would have thought ?  It’s not immense mountains and deep canyon views of the major tourist areas, but more of a symmetrical, rolling, hilly, quilt block tapestry that is very pleasing to the eye.


Niobrara State Park entrance

The Niobrara State Park is a couple miles outside of Niobrara, Nebraska.  It is a Ponca Indian word meaning “Running Water” and very appropriate as it sits on the confluence of the Missouri and the Niobrara Rivers.  This park is huge and beautiful with a scenic overlook over the Missouri River, rental cabins, campground, picnic areas, equestrian area, swimming pool and hiking trails.



Hillside adjacent to the State park

Horses are loving the grass

Missouri River from the Lodge viewing deck

Typical view in this State Park


The river system here is even more confusing than the normal meandering Missouri River. As you travel from Niobrara to the State Park you go over a long bridge for the Niobrara River which is now dry, you go a couple hundred feet further and cross the Mormon Canal which is filled to the brim.  It seems that the Niobrara River has left its normal channel for about a mile and now follows this Mormon Canal.  The Mormon Canal is also sort of a mystery, by some accounts the wintering Mormon settlers in 1846 dug this to redirect river water to a mill to power a grist wheel for grinding wheat.
   

The Niobrara River now flowing through the Mormon Canal


The Ponca Indian Tribe lived here for centuries prior to the coming of the white settlers.  Once this area became part of the United States and was opened for settlement the Ponca were removed and sent to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Somehow, as the Ponca tribe was removed, the Sioux tribe was relocated to the Poncas former territory.  This was crazy as the Ponca were peaceful farmers who were working hard to become "Americanized", the Sioux were, well not so much.  Several important people came to the aid of the Ponca tribe culminating in an important legal case, Running Bear vs. Crook.  This case was ruled in favor of Running Bear which determined that an Indian is a person within the meaning of the law and protected by the Constitution.  Things were righted somewhat in 1990 when the Ponca Tribe was federally recognized and granted a reservation in their original area.

  
Ponca welcome sign at their Pow-Wow grounds and cultural Center

Sculpture on the trail

There were several such animal sculptures
that I'm sure have meaning in their culture

They hold a large Pow-Wow each year attended by many tribes

One of many excellent informative panels, this one
explaining the gift of the Buffalo and corn to their lifestyle

They lived in large Earth Lodges like this ordinarily and only
used Tepees when going on periodic Buffalo hunts


Niobrara, population 370, was settled in 1856 and was likely a much more lively town during the riverboat era.  It seems that the early settlers didn’t understand the characteristics of the Missouri River to flood and change its course as about every town we have been to in the last month has been flooded and forced to move uphill.  Niobrara was heavily damaged during an 1881 flood at which time the town was relocated to higher ground.  The town was then forced to move a second time in 1977 after new dams on the Missouri River caused the river level to rise.  As a result, there aren’t any old historic buildings in town, or much of a downtown at all, it’s mostly all residential.  The Lewis and Clark expedition camped nearby in 1804 and met members of the Ponca tribe.


This Sportsmen's Bar and Restaurant was reconstructed in the new
townsite in 1977, it was beautiful inside and the food was good.  

Large mural on the Museum building

The other half of the mural 

Memorial in downtown for three Sage brothers
who entered service together and tragically
were all killed in1969 in a ship collision during

manuvers on the South China Sea 


 A group of Mormons, 65 families, fleeing persecution from Illinois to Salt Lake City in 1846 were forced to winter at Niobrara.  By some accounts they all died from pneumonia, by other accounts their leader and about 10 others died and the rest survived.  We need to get "myth busters" on this case to straighten it all out.  A nice monument was erected years ago at the site, listing 11 names,  to commemorate them.  Regardless of how many died, it is kind of erie to stand on this spot and think about what they must have endured.


The monument is in good condition and with a nice view


We hiked a trail from the bluff top at the Park Interpretive Center down to an area near the confluence of the Niobrara River and the Missouri River.  This trail along the river was formerly the route of the Chicago & North Western Railroad.  The trail crosses the Niobrara River over an historic steel railroad bridge built in 1929.  The marshy area on the other side was great for wildlife, especially bird viewing.  We then walked in the opposite direction along the Missouri River with beautiful river views, wildflowers and trees.  Also way too many mosquitos, but Twinkles was prepared with a bottle of repellant.


Had to climb to an adjacent hillside to get this view of the bridge

Trail going over the bridge

Marshy area on other side of the bridge

Niobrara River with exposed chalk bluff on side

Meadow Anemones were all over

Missouri River view

 I visited the adjacent towns of Santee Sioux and Verdigre, Nebraska.  Santee Sioux is the reservation of the Santee Sioux Tribe and it’s mostly depressing.  They have a very historic old church, built in 1866, that is on the National register of historic places which is looking pretty poor from a lack of maintenance.  I had hoped to see something of a positive nature taking place here, but I couldn’t find it.
On the other hand, the small town of Verdigre is doing very well, Main Street has a nice looking cafe, a library, a bakery, a real nice market, a bank, a hardware store, two bars  and several small shops.  I can only surmise that it has something to do with it’s Czech heritage and work ethic.
  

A scenic view off the road to Santee Sioux

Historic Church built in 1866

Impressive brick building in Verdigre

Czech cutouts in park to pose behind

Mural on downtown building

Antique shop window display

The tractor came roaring down the street, the man climbed
out and went into the food market

There are many dirt secondary roads here and the locals tear down these roads spewing long contrails of dust.  I always tell Twinkles that’s how you have to drive on dirt, fast so you float over the rough stuff, otherwise you shake your brain and that’s not good.  She doesn’t want to hear it and actually just hates going on these roads with me.  The Jeep is not the best vehicle for these hard bumpy surface roads as it rides so stiff, you feel every bump.  

The next and final stop along the Outlaw Trail is Valentine, Nebraska,
Twinkles and Slick

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