Logging on the Niobrara

Nebraska is hardly known as a lumberman’s paradise, but that didn’t stop enterprising settlers

from giving logging a try. B. Y. Shelley was one such hearty soul. Seeking to generate

enthusiasm for running logs on the Niobrara in December of 1874, he recounted an earlier

attempt by would-be lumberjacks.

“Anyone acquainted with the peculiarities of the Running Water (Niobrara River), the

exceeding swiftness of the current, the frequent divisions of the channel would consider

rafting of logs very difficult if not impossible.” But fifteen years earlier, in 1859, “upward of

a dozen improvised lumbermen prepared to invade the solitudes of Long Pine Creek.” They

“struck out for the pinery and reached the destination in good time, good order, and good

condition.” Some 53 trees were felled and snaked to the creek by Teamster William Lamont.

The logs were floated down Long Pine Creek to the Running Water. But here the

lumberjacks met a snag. Twenty “rather cross Indians of the Two Kettle band of Sioux

claimed (the logs) as their own.” They had already taken possession of the party’s “luggage,

arms, &c,” although these were retrieved. Recognizing the futility of the project under such

circumstances, the party voted on a “masterly retreat.”

Shelley charged that persons in the detachment purposely gave an unfavorable report of the

effort, to keep knowledge “of the lately discovered pine forests from the general public.” He

remained convinced the scheme could work. “We found no difficulty navigating the Running

Water with the (light row boat) in our possession, except that occasioned by a dozen or more

sand bars. Below the Kehapaha we found only one of these obstructions, and we regarded

the Niobrara up to that point as navigable for light-drafts steamers–at least for four to six

weeks in the spring.”

Critics of the plan suggested that it might be better to float logs in the late fall when the sand

bars would be firmer and less likely to entrap logs. A group heeded Shelley’s call, and moved

up the Niobrara in December, 1874, but ran into frozen waters and gave up. Logging on the

Niobrara was another pioneer dream that came to naught.

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