Our Historical Markers across Nebraska highlight fascinating moments and places in our state’s past. Today we highlight the Calamus Valley, once a hunting ground of the Pawnee, Sioux, and Omaha, but later the site of conflict.
Dam Rd, Burwell, Garfield County, Nebraska
View this marker’s location 41.839298, -99.20543
The source of the Calamus River is spring-fed Moon Lake, 60 miles northwest of here. The river was named after a common marsh plant eaten by muskrats. Archeological evidence indicates that prehistoric Indians camped in the valley as early as 3,000 years ago. During historic times it was the hunting ground of the Pawnee, Sioux, and Omaha. The first European to visit the region was explorer James Mackay in 1796. Mackay struck the Calamus near its source and followed it downstream to its confluence with the Loup River. The coming of settlers to the valley in the 1870s sparked occasional conflict with Indians. The last skirmish, the “Battle of the Blowout,” occurred just north of here in 1876. Sergeant William Dougherty of the 23rd Infantry and one Indian were killed in the fight. Lieutenant Charles Heyl and Corparals Patrick Leonard and Jeptha Lytton received Congressional Medals of Honor for bravery. These soldiers were from Fort Hartsuff, located on the Loup River 15 miles to the southeast. The Fort’s active period (1874-1881) marked the beginning of the modern era of settlement and development in the Calamus Valley.