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Throwback Thursday - Wagon trains, river boats lead exodus to Cedar County

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Pages Of History 

An exodus from Iowa to Nebraska was described May 8, 1858 in the S.C. Eagle:

Teams drawn by three, four, or five yoke of cattle; wagons full of farming implements and household goods, with chicken coops behind, and a sprinkling of little human bipeds inside; the head of the family with his trusty gun across his shoulder; trotting a little in advance, a faithful canine, which now and then turns his head to see that everything is all right, are not an uncommon sight on the streets these days.

Some of the emigrants bound for Cedar County may have taken the Pacific Wagon Road. The building of the road was described in a letter published in the Sioux City Eagle:

Niobrara, Nebraska Territory, Oct. 17, 1857 — The wagon road from Omaha via Dakota City to this place is being pushed forward with abundant energy. Mr. Waldo, in charge of Col. Site’s party, arrived here. The original appropriation will probably be insufficient to complete the road. There will probably be an appropriation to complete the work already started and it is hoped an amount sufficient to extend it farther west. The public wants a road from the mouth of the Running Water to Ft. Laramie and the South Pass. In five years it will become one of the greatest thoroughfares in Nebraska.

The South Pass was located in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. On the other side of the pass, the wagon road was supposed to link up with the Oregon and California Trails. Unfortunately money ran out and Nebraska’s first “interterritory highway” was never completed.

A Cedar County historical map published in 1967 noted ruts of the old road still were visible near the intersection of Highways 57 and 84 but no ruts could be seen by this writer in 1992.

For those wishing to come to Cedar County, a covered wagon wasn’t the only way to fly (and flies were plentiful behind four yoke of oxen).

Many of the early settlers of Cedar County traveled by steamboat. The St. Louis Republican of April 24, 1858 reported: “The few boats that have already arrived from the Ohio River have been crowded with emigrants for Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska.”

In 1857 a group of settlers from Minnesota claimed land about six miles west of St. James. Another townsite was christened St. Helena.

According to a history of St. Helena written for the town’s centennial in 1958, Carl C.P. Meyer, who claimed to be the leader of the group, left several men to hold the claim while he and his brother traveled to St. Louis to purchase the makings of a city.

Besides the usual equipment, the Meyer brothers bought a used steamboat. Before returning to St. Helena, they took the steamer on a junket to New Orleans.

In the course of their trip, the boys managed to get so far in debt the boat and most of the supplies had to be sold to pay their bills. In the spring of 1858 Meyer’s group returned to St. Helena on the steamer Omaha.