The Missouri River divides Nebraska and Iowa. Just across the Missouri River from where I live is the city we now know as Council Bluffs. Lewis and Clark first came through in 1804, but fur traders had already visited the outposts. During the 1830s, a path appeared where Indian Creek flowed out of the Loess Hills at Caldwell’s Potawatomi village and led west across the Eight-Mile Prairie. The Mormons arrived in 1846, and two years later named the settlement Kanesville in honor of Colonel Thomas Kane who befriended them when they were driven from Navoo, Illinois because of their religious beliefs. Brigham Young was inaugurated president of the Mormons along the path that had become known as Broadway.
When the Mormons deserted Kanesville in 1849, they left behind 80 – 100 log cabins and a post office. The cabins were sold cheap as the gold-seekers moved through. Tens of thousands of pioneers outfitted for the gold rush. It was reported that every available building was converted into a gambling and drinking hall. The resulting conditions were described as a very dirty, unhealthy place. One female settler passing through wrote that she got a taste of such profanity she’d had no idea was practiced in the world, while another claimed she had witnessed a drunken orgy. In 1853 a mayor was elected to deal with lawlessness and a land office opened. A city jail was established and a vigilance committee sanctioned to enforce order by any means necessary, including limiting sales of gunpowder. MARY CONNEALY HAS BLOGGED ON THE SQUIRREL CAGE JAIL
The city couldn’t tax squatter titles, so instead of property taxes, the city budget came from licensing all the saloons and gambling halls. (I find it interesting that Council Bluffs is once again relying on casinos for city profit. There are no casinos allowed in neighboring Nebraska.) So booze and gambling padded the city coffers.
In 1853 those remaining after the miners moved west renamed the town to Council Bluffs, commemorating the 1804 council between the Otoe Indians and Meriweather Lewis and Colonel William Clark. IN 1855 the Kansas-Nebraska act opened the territory west of the Missouri to settlement and fueled the sectional conflict between the North and South that would erupt into the Civil War less than a decade later.
The first immigrants lived in tents or dugouts in the hills and hollows between the bluffs while they built homes. The following year William Brown, who’d come west with the gold miners and stayed to prosper, sold shares in his Council Bluffs and Nebraska ferry company, The Lone Tree ferry, to former Virginian Samuel Bayless and others and together those men staked out a claim of 322 city blocks on the west bank of the river, laying the plans for the city of Omaha. A hotel was built and a Methodist church held service. Next came a sawmill.
After two fires, most Council Bluffs building were replaced with brick. Abraham Lincoln visited Council Bluffs to examine 160 acres of land he’d received as collateral on a defaulted loan, and he gave a speech at the concert hall. Three years later, Lincoln selected Council Bluffs as eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869 with General Grenville M. Dodge as chief construction engineer. Railcars were transported across the river by ferry until the completion of a railway bridge in 1873. By 1940 Council Bluffs had become the fifth largest rail center in the United States.
There are six historical districts, with many of the homes and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Registry of Local Landmarks and the National Historical Landmarks Registry.
The Black Angel – Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial
Ruth Anne Dodge, wife of General Grenville Dodge, had a dream or vision shortly before she died in 1916. This vision had an angel at the prow of a boat carrying a small bowl and extending her other arm toward Mrs. Dodge. The daughters of the Dodges commissioned a sculptor, Daniel Chester French, to design a monument based on this vision. French is best known as the designer of the seated Lincoln in the Memorial in Washington D. C.
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