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Reports of Superintendent George L. Sites upon the Platte river, Da
cota, and l'Eau qui Court wagon road, constructed under the direcrection of the Department of the Interior. 1857, 1858.
Dacota CITY, NEBRASKA TERRITORY,
July 10, 1857. DEAR SIR : Enclosed herewith please find my report of a reconnaissance from the Platte river to Dacota City, for the wagon road from the Platte via Omaha Reserve and Dacota City to Running Water river, accompanied by a map of the survey.
The report has been hastily prepared, entering only into such details as immediately appertain to the road, so as to enable the department to give me definite instructions for my future government.
Upon the completion of the location of the road a full and complete report will be submitted.
With the permission of the department I shall bend every energy towards a completion of the construction of the bridges by the time cold weather sets in.
When the construction of the bridges shall have commenced it would add much to the convenience of the disbursing officer to have a place of deposit established at Omaha City. This would enable the employés to obtain the constitutional currency for the checks of the superintendent. At present these checks can be disposed of to local banks, for which they can obtain only a paper currency, most of which is foreign to the territory and of very doubtful value. I would suggest that the receiver of the land office at Omaha City would be a proper person with whom to deposit the funds. I had the honor of addressing a letter to the department under date of 26th ultimo, asking for a modification of my instructions, to which I would ask, respectfully, the attention of the department. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. L. SITES, Superintendent wagon road from Platte to Running Water. Hon. JACOB THOMPSON,
Secretary of the Interior.
Dacota City, NEBRASKA TERRITORY,
July 10, 1857. SIR: In obedience to a clause in my instructions of the 15th of May, 1857, requiring the superintendent to "report to the department from Dacota City, upon the portion examined that far" of the route for the wagon road from the Platte river via Omaha Reserve and Dacota City to the Running Water river, I have the honor to submit the following report:
My instructions ordered me to "proceed at once to the Platte river, and with your (my) engineer make preparation for a rapid reconnaissance and survey of the proposed road, with a view to ascertain the
proper location, and to determine the amount of earth work to be done, tbe number and character of the bridges which will be required, and the facilities for ibe construction of the bridges, and such other information as will advise the department of the approximate cost of the road, and enable it to furnish you (me) with definite instructions for your (my) future government.
In reference to the character of this road my instructions say : “ It is presumed that Congress did not contemplate the construction of a road designed to be thoroughly graded and bridged, to be commenced with a view to future appropriations, but that a road to meet the immediate wants of the settlers in that region should at once be made from point to point; such a road as can be made throughout the entire distance for the sum appropriated for that purpose.
Under the clause last referred to I was induced to make an examination of that part of the Territory lying north of the Platte in which the settlers had located, and for whose “ immediate wants" I ordered to construct the road.
I found that the settlements in that portion of the Territory were confined, with but few exceptions, to the Missouri bottom and bench lands, the Platte valley, and upon the various streams whose waters flow into the Missouri or Platte. Upon the Missouri or Platte, they run back from the rivers respectively to a distance of about ten miles, meandering in most instances with the rivers until you approach the mouth of the Platte, when they extend to the valley of the Elkhorn, a distance of about twenty-five miles from the Missouri and about fifteen miles north of the north bend of the Platte. Upon the tributaries they are confined to the immediate valleys of the streams, running back from one to twenty miles, where they debouch from the bluffs or divides.
The timber is scarce and only found within the valleys of the Missouri and Platte, in close proximity with the water and upon the side of the bluffs next the river, and the ravines bordering upon the small streams, with here and there a few scattering groves of timber of from ten to two hundred acres. The timber in the bottoms consists of cottonwood, with some cedar, and upon the bluffs and in the ravines oak, walnut, elm, and hickory are found. The counties of Sarpy, Douglas, Washington, and Dacota, have the great body of the timber and at present contain about seven-eighths of the entire population north of the Platte. The country upon the divides between the Elkhorn and the Missouri is perfectly destitute of timber, so also is the Elkhorn valley north of Fontenelle, the county town of Dodge county.
I am also informed, by a gentleman of undoubted veracity, that there is no timber upon the small streams putting into the Elkhorn. If my information is correct, a road along this route would be impracticable, on account of the great expense that would attend the bridging of the several streams to be crossed; the timber for the construction of the bridges would have to be obtained from the Missouri.
There is another divide and which is one of the routes I have hereinafter proposed to examine on my return along which a trail is found, known as the “Poncas trail,” which winds with the ridges, very meandering, and along which wagons pass in time of a flood,
from Omaha City to Iowa creek, passing about fifteen miles from this place; its general direction being west of north. I am informed that, from its serpentine character, it increases the distance between thirtyfive and forty miles, and that no water is to be found upon or very near the route. No stream is upon this route for a distance of some eighty miles. The construction of a road upon this route would cost nothing, as there is already as good a road as could be made, without involving a heavy expenditure in grading. Of its character, however, I can speak definitely after reconnaissance.
These considerations led me to make a reconnaissance first of a route for the road through the counties of Sarpy, Douglas, Washington, and Burt, via Omaha Reserve, which is eighteen miles from south to north, to Dacota City, in the county of Dacota, through and over what is called the bench-lands, or second bottom of the Missouri, and the ridges or divides through tracts of Sarpy and Douglas counties, and the entire width of the Omaha Reserve, at an average distance from the Missouri river of about five miles, with numerous streams, affording water at all seasons. Over this route a good road can be obtained, almost direct, with an easy grade; the only objection being the expenditure involved in the bridging of the numerous streams, the character and expense of which will be found in the Appendix marked A. We procured the field
notes of a survey of a territorial road from Cedar island, upon the Platte, about seven miles from its mouth, to Omaha City, and we made a survey with compass and chain, from a point on the Platte river, about three miles from its mouth, via Bellevue, to a point where it intersected a survey of a territorial road from Bellevue to Omaha City, notes of which we also procured.
By the kindness of one of the commissioners we were permitted to copy the bearings and distances of a territorial road surveyed from Omaha City to Dacota City.
We measured the distance upon the present travelled route from Omaha to Dacota with the odometer; and we noted the crossing of streams and the topography of the country over which we passed ; the routes, whether run by the compass or measured by the odometer, will be found upon a map which has been hastily but very accurately prepared, under the direction and supervision of my engineer, Mr. Smyth, by Mr. Snyder, a young gentleman who has proved himself very useful to our party, especially in assisting Mr. Smyth. The river was drawn from the United States surveys, so far as they have been made, and from the best authorities at our command. I believe you will find the Missouri river more accurately laid down in this than in any map extant.
We propose, unless otherwise directed by you, to so divide our party, upon our return from the l'Eau qui Court, that we may be enabled to take a rapid view of at least two additional routes between this place and Omaha City.
As at present advised, I cannot suggest the most proper route for the location of the road from the Platte to Omaha City ; the Platte river was in a very high stage of water, and our examinations, which occupied two days, did not satisfy us of the point where a safe and reliable ferry could be obtained.
The current is very swift, and at the point where we took its measurement we found it to be about 1,900 feet wide, varying in depth from one to ten feet-banks low, but not subject to overflow, and a quicksand bottom. I am informed its greatest rise does not exceed thirty inches, and from Fort Laramie to its mouth, a distance of about 850 miles, it maintains about the same width, with an average fall of six feet to the mile. We can somewhat imagine the velocity of its waters when we come to recollect that the Missouri river, the current of which is proverbial for swiftness, has, from Council Bluffs to St. Louis, but an average fall of six inches to the mile. Unless a more feasible route can be obtained upon the “ Poncas trail,” I am of the opinion that the proper route for the road from Omaha City to this place would be upon or near the route laid down on the map accompanying this report, as the survey of the territorial road.
Much improvement could be made upon that route when we come to locate ; and some of the streams, I am satisfied, can be avoided, or crossings can be obtained by cutting down the banks; this would materially lessen the expenditure. We can avoid grading upon the whole route from the Platte to this city, with the exception of crossing the bluffs about seven miles above Omaha City, and in the Omaha Reserve; and I am led to believe that but little grading will be found necessary, when a careful examination shall be made at the time of the location of the road.
By both the travelled and surveyed routes, the streams and the character of the bridges do not materially differ. We find that there will be twenty-four bridges to be constructed, varying from ten to seventyfive feet in length, at an estimate of $75 to $1,000; the estimate for the cost of construction being graduated according to the length of the bridges. The total estimate for the construction of the twenty-four bridges is $11,725. The grading is estimated in gross at $3,275— making a total of $15,000—for bridging and grading from the Platte to Dacota City, a distance of 104 miles. For the detail, in reference to the bridges, I beg to refer to the data furnished by my engineer, in Appendix A.
By winding with the ravines an easy grade can be found over the greater part of the route; the estimate therefore of the engineer for grading is only in a gross sum, without being able, from the rapidity of our reconnaissance, to obtain the proper data upon which to found even an approximate estimate. You will therefore exercise a great degree of allowance for any discrepancy that may occur between the present estimate and the actual cost of grading. The estimate for bridges, with the facilities for obtaining lumber, will more nearly approximate the actual cost.
By this route from the Platte to Omaha City it is about thirteen and one half miles, eight of which is upon the Platte river, Papillion creek, and Mud creek valleys, nearly level, and the remainder lies upon a high, rolling prairie.
From Omaha to Florence, a distance of five miles, it lies upon the level bench lands of the Missouri.
From Florence to Fort Calhoun, a distance of about nine miles, there is about four and one half miles over the bluffs somewhat rough, and the remainder upon high prairie, nearly level.