Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

1. The Villasur Expedition

The land that would become Nebraska is a dynamic place. Many peoples have lived in the land of the flat water, Nebraska, an Otoe word that has been adopted to designate the state. Indeed, Otoes themselves were relatively recent immigrants to Nebraska, certainly compared to their indigenous neighbors, the Pawnees. The Otoes arrived in Nebraska around 1700 and resided near the flat water, the Platte River, while Pawnees and their descendants had made Nebraska their homeland as early as 900. It would be the Pawnees and Otoes who together would meet a large Spanish expedition led by the colony of New Mexico’s lieutenant governor, Pedro de Villasur. On August 13, 1720, near where the Loup River intersects with the Platte, these Native Nebraskans defeated the Europeans in a momentous battle that would have profound ramifications for all of Nebraska and North America.

No doubt the Otoes were surprised to find these odd interlopers in their vicinity. Siouan-speaking peoples, the Otoes had recently immigrated to the eastern Plains. Their original homelands were near the Great Lakes, but in the sixteenth century, more aggressive neighbors with superior arms forced them westward. By 1700 Otoes had constructed villages on the east bank of the Missouri River in what would become Iowa, and a French explorer and trader—Etienne Veniard, sieur de Bourgmont—recorded visiting a village of Otoes in 1714 on Salt Creek, a tributary of the Platte. Otoes lived near the mouth of the Platte throughout the eighteenth century. A small tribe of several thousand, they welcomed their relatives, the Missouria, who joined them in Nebraska in 1798. Together they constructed joint communities.

Otoes found themselves residing close to the Pawnees, a large Caddoanspeaking nation of the central Plains. The Pawnees were divided into

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