As this tribe was described as “friendly” and was situated on the banks of the Missouri, they came into a lot of contact with whites even in the very early days of trade on the river. According to Boughter, they had a good relationship with the French fur traders (4). In a 1794 account by French trader Jean Baptiste Truteau, the Omaha “were in a position to control all trade that passed by their village” (Riddington and Hastings 59). They were led by a great chief, Blackbird, described by Truteau as “a man who by his wit and his cunning has raised himself to the highest place of authority in his nation and who has no parallel among all the savage nations of this continent” (qtd. in Riddington and Hastings 59). This strength put them in a position to “define the terms of their own trade, as well as the trade of tribes further upstream” (Boughter 4). Chief Blackbird was also strong enough to stave off the incessant attacks from the Sioux to their north. Sadly, after a smallpox epidemic in 1800 claimed his and hundreds of other lives, “the tribe’s influence and population quickly waned” (Boughter 5).
Figure 1 : “Waschinga Sahba’s Grave on Blackbird Hills” Karl Bodmer (1809 – 1893). Blackbird’s grave is the little pinnacle at the very center of the picture, on the crest of the distant bluff (Discovering Lewis and Clark).
The Mormons, led by Brigham Young on their way to Utah in 1846, squatted illegally on Omaha lands for two years, their well-known “winter quarters.” Though visiting The Mormon Trail Center –ks starved or froze to death,r) on the riverat Historic Winter Quarters in north Omaha will give the visitor a good feeling for the tough times the Mormons faced, the museum gives almost no insight into the dire straits in which the Mormons left the Omaha. Several thousand Mormons used all available firewood and shot all the small game. The Omaha made an illegal treaty with the Mormons, letting them stay in return for armed protection from the Sioux. However, protection was rarely enough, and as the Omaha were “unsuccessful in recent hunts and unskilled as farmers . . . [they] either stole or starved” (Boughter 51). Loss of