Logan Fontenelle

Logan Fontenelle
Logan Fontenelle
In office
Preceded by Big Elk
Succeeded by Iron Eye
Personal details
Born July 16,1825
Fort Atkinson
Died July 16, 1855
Boone County, Nebraska
Residence Nebraska Territory
Profession Chief, interpreter
Religion Omaha

Logan Fontenelle (1825 – July 16, 1855), also known as Shon-ga-ska (White Horse), was a trader of French and Omaha ancestry, who served for years as an interpreter to the US Indian agent at the Bellevue Agency in Nebraska. He was especially important during the negotiations with Omaha leaders in 1853-1854 about ceding land to the United States. His mother was a daughter of Big Elk, the principal chief, and his father was a respected French-American fur trader.

European Americans thought Fontenelle was a chief, but he was never adopted into the tribe. According to tribal practices at the time, because of his white father, adoption would have been the only way he could have advanced to chief.[1] The Omaha considered him a half-breed and a "white man."[1] He lived on the reservation and died young at the age of 30, killed with five Omaha by an enemy band of Sioux while on the tribal summer buffalo hunting trip.

Fontenelle acted as an interpreter in Omaha negotiations during 1853-1854 for land cessions, first in Nebraska, with 60 Omaha men and the US Indian agent Gatewood; they came to agreement in January 1854. Later that year, Fontenelle accompanied a delegation of seven gente chiefs of the Omaha who went to Washington, DC for further talks. Fontenelle was one of the signatories of the treaty. The Omaha were forced to accept changes to the treaty, but signed on that trip to cede 4,000,000 acres (16,000 km2) of Omaha land to the United States. Within a couple of years, the Omaha removed to a reservation in northeast Nebraska in the Blackbird Hills, essentially present-day Thurston County.



Early years

Logan Fontenelle was born at Fort Atkinson, Nebraska Territory in 1825.[2] He was the oldest son of four born to Me-um-bane, a daughter of the Omaha principal chief Big Elk (1770-1846/1853), and her husband the French Creole fur trader Lucien Fontenelle from New Orleans. They also had a daughter. The senior Fontenelle sent his sons to St. Louis, Missouri for their schooling. His daughter was educated at home with her mother and family.

In 1828, Lucien Fontenelle purchased the former Pilcher's Post, becoming the agent at what became known as Fontenelle's Post, representing the American Fur Company on the Missouri River in later Bellevue, Sarpy County, Nebraska. In 1832, with the fur trade declining sharply, Fontenelle sold the post to the US government. It used the post for the headquarters of the regional Indian agency, called the Upper Missouri Indian Agency or Bellevue Agency, which administered relations with the Omaha and other regional tribes. In the following decades, the Indian agent had the lead for negotiating with regional tribes for land cessions for sale to American settlers.

Return to Nebraska

After his father died in 1840, the 15-year-old Logan Fontenelle returned from St. Louis to Nebraska, where he began to work as an interpreter for the US Indian Agent at the Bellevue Agency. He also worked as a trader. Fontenelle was present as interpreter in August 1846 when Big Elk signed an illegal treaty with Brigham Young to allow the Mormon pioneers to create a settlement on Omaha territorial lands. Without guns, the tribal leaders were seeking aid from the Mormons for protection from the Sioux, who had been raiding them. They likely thought it a bad deal, as the Mormons consumed many of their local resources and did little to protect them.[3]

Fontenelle allied with the future Omaha chief Joseph La Flesche, a Métis fur trader who had been adopted into the tribe. About 1848, the Omaha removed to the Bellevue Agency. By that time designated by the chief Big Elk as his successor, LaFlesche brought his family to settle with the tribe.

About this time, LaFlesche and Fontenelle established a ferry over the Platte River near the present-day site of Columbus, Nebraska to accommodate increasing migrant traffic. Later, they started another ferry over the Elkhorn River near Fremont, Nebraska. After making a profit, they sold the ferries to English immigrants.[4]

Treaty negotiations

The US Indian Agent James M. Gatewood had been under pressure by the government to gain a land cession from the Omaha. In turn, they wanted protection from the US government against the Sioux and means to ensure their future.[5] In January 1854, 60 Omaha met in council to discuss the treaty; they were reluctant to delegate so important a matter even to their gente chiefs. Together, the large group of men negotiated a treaty with the US Indian Agent Gatewood. Fontenelle acted as the interpreter. It included provision for payments of tribal debts to the traders Fontenelle, Louis Saunsouci, and Peter Sarpy.[6]

The Omaha finally designated seven chiefs: Joseph LaFlesche (Iron Eye), Two Grizzly Bears, Standing Hawk, Little Chief, Village Maker, Noise, and Yellow Smoke to represent them and accompany Gatewood to Washington to conclude the negotiations, but authorized little room for changes.[7] Fontenelle and Saunsouci went with the chiefs as interpreters.[1][8] Joseph LaFlesche had been designated by Big Elk as his successor and had become chief of the Wezhinshte gens in 1853.[1] Both he and Fontenelle signed the Treaty of 1854, together with five gente chiefs, whereby the tribe sold nearly all its land to the government.[9]

The reservation was established on land in the Blackbird Hills, comprising present-day Thurston County. The terms were changed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be less favorable than those negotiated by Gatewood and the 60 Omaha in Nebraska.[10] Among the changes: Omaha were to receive considerably less money for their land, and the President was to have the discretion to distribute the annuities in cash or goods, rather than all in cash.[11] Payments were to be made until 1895.

About 800 Omaha removed to the reservation, and their number increased over the following decades to 1100 in 1881.[12] Under the treaty terms, the Omaha tribe received "$40,000 per annum for three years from January 1, 1855; $30,000 per annum for the next succeeding ten years; $20,000 per annum for the next succeeding fifteen years; and $10,000 per annum for the next succeeding twelve years," to 1895.[12] The President of the United States, based on recommendations by the US Indian Office (and the agent in the field), was to determine the proportions of the annuity to be received in money and in goods.[12]


In 1855 Fontenelle and five of his party were killed and scalped by a band of Brulé Sioux, who attacked the men while on the Omaha were on the summer buffalo hunt, along Beaver Creek in present-day Boone County, Nebraska.[13] [14] John Bigelk, nephew of Big Elk, described the Sioux attack: "They killed the white man, the interpreter, who was with us."[1] As the historian Melvin Randolph Gilmore noted, Bigelk called Fontenelle "a white man because he had a white father. This was a common designation of half-breeds by full-bloods, just as a mulatto might commonly be called a [black] by white people, although as much white as black by race."[1]

Chiefdom dispute

Some historians contend that Fontenelle was made a chief of the Omaha in 1853 after the death of Big Elk. This assertion is contradicted by contemporary accounts that, while Fontenelle was respected, only the whites thought he was a chief and went so far as to commemorate him after his death.[1] It appears confusion arose because he accompanied the chiefs to Washington, DC as an interpreter. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also used Saunsouci as an interpreter. For some reason, the officials included Fontenelle's name as one of the seven chiefs on the treaty, which he signed, but the name of Two Grizzly Bears was not included, nor did he sign. Fontenelle was the only one of the group who was literate and could read what was on the treaty.[1] Boughter suggests that Gatewood may have represented him as a chief, or the Omaha did to increase his stature. He may have been recognized as a chief because of "charitable acts" and gifts to the tribe.[15]

An 1889 sketch of Joseph LaFlesche in the Bancroft Journal said he was the only chief of the Omaha to have had any European blood; as noted, he was adopted as a son by Big Elk, which was the way he fully entered the tribe.[4] Although A. T. Andreas called Fontenelle the "last great chief" of the Omaha in his 1882 history of Nebraska[12], the assertion of chieftainship is not supported by the details provided in 1919 by Melvin R. Gilmore, curator of the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the 20th-century historian Judith Boughter; it appears that only the whites thought Fontenelle was a chief in his own lifetime and during the decades after his death.[1]


Either because of sheer romanticization, or simply because the European Americans misunderstood Fontenelle's role in the land cession, as his name was listed first on the treaty, he was honored with several place names:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Melvin Randolph Gilmore, "The True Logan Fontenelle", Publications of the Nebraska State Historical Society, Vol. 19, edited by Albert Watkins, Nebraska State Historical Society, 1919, pp. 64-65, at GenNet, accessed 25 August 2011
  2. ^ Morton, J.S. and Watkins, A. "Chapter 2: Aboriginal Inhabitants." History of Nebraska; From the Earliest Explorations of the Trans-Mississippi Region. Lincoln, NE: Western Publishing and Engraving Company. p. 32.
  3. ^ Judith A. Boughter, Betraying the Omaha Nation, 1790-1916, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998, p. 49
  4. ^ a b "Joseph La Flesche: Sketch of the Life of the Head Chief of the Omaha", first published in the (Bancroft, Nebraska) Journal; reprinted in The Friend, 1889, Vol. 62, p. 274, accessed 23 August 2011
  5. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, pp. 61-62
  6. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, pp. 61-62
  7. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, pp. 61-62
  8. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, pp. 61-62
  9. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, p. 66
  10. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, p. 66
  11. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, p. 66
  12. ^ a b c d "Blackbird County", in A. T. Andreas, History of the State of Nebraska, Wm. G. Cutler, 1882, The Kansas Collection, accessed 20 August 2011
  13. ^ Hyde, G. (1988) The Pawnee Indians (Civilization of the American Indian Series). University of Oklahoma Press. p. 242
  14. ^ (nd) "Logan Fontenelle", Nebraska State Historical Society, Retrieved 6/22/07.
  15. ^ Boughter, Betraying the Omaha, p. 66
  16. ^ (nd) Logan Fontenelle. Nebraska Department of Education. Retrieved 6/22/07.[dead link]
  17. ^ (nd) "Petersburg, Nebraska" City website, Retrieved 6/22/07

Further reading

  • Barak, A. (2000) The Mongrel: A Story of Logan Fontenelle of the Omaha Indians, dramatized account of Fontenelle's life. iUniverse.

External links

  • "Treaty with the Omaha, 1854", in Indian Affairs: Treaties By United States, US Dept. of the Interior, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904, p. 611

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