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 game and firewood meant many Omaha either stole Mormon cattle or starved or froze to death—that is, if they weren’t killed by raiding Sioux (Boughter 52).
Interestingly, however, the Mormons left something that has become a positive force among the Omaha—their faith. Many Omaha, including Elsie Harlan Clark, relish the spiritual faith and direction provided by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
In 1854, the Omaha “ceded to the United States their extensive hunting grounds” (Fletcher and La Flesche 33) and reluctantly moved north, closer to the feared Sioux, with promises of military protection that never came. Then in 1865, they were forced to sell “half of [their] reservation to the Winnebago” (Indian Relief Council 1). Land predations did not end here. Boughter describes their predicament:
White settlers and speculators resented Indian ownership of fertile northeastern Nebraska lands and, beginning in the early 1850s, used every means at their disposal to separate the Omahas from their real estate. Unfortunately, Nebraska senators and congressmen worked closely with land speculators to promote special legislation that – little by little, law by unfair law– encouraged Indians to lease and eventually sell most of their land. (3-4)