Ricker, Eli S.

In the early 1900s Eli S. Ricker began gathering data for a book he planned to call The Final Conflict Between the Red Men and the Palefaces. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not see the advance of Europeans across the American continent as a glorious conquest of the wilderness. Instead, Ricker recognized the terrible consequences for the Native Americans who faced this avalanche in their homeland. Ricker had the audacity to suggest that history as seen from a Native American point of view was as valid as the white man’s history. In the course of his research he interviewed at least fifty Native Americans about conditions and battles on the Plains in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Ricker was born in rural Maine in September 1843 and was raised in Oneida, Illinois. During the Civil War he served with the 102nd Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. After his discharge in June 1865, he returned to his Illinois home and began farming. Ricker worked hard, but money was in short supply, and in 1866 he journeyed with friends into Kansas, where he apparently took a land claim before returning to Oneida. In 1867 he married the girl, Mary A. Smith, with whom he had corresponded since 1863. Ricker had always had a desire to obtain more education, and his family lived frugally as he worked his way through two years of college. In 1882 he took his wife and children to Brooklyn, Iowa, where he read law in the office of John T. Scott and was admitted to the bar in 1884.

In 1885 the family moved to Dawes County, Nebraska, where Ricker entered law practice. In 1890 he affiliated himself with the Populist movement and was elected to the first of three terms as county judge. He then retired briefly before becoming editor of the Chadron Times, from January 1903 to February 1905. After 1905 he devoted his remaining years to research on the book he hoped to write, to be entitled The Final Conflict Between the Red Man and the Pale Faces. The book was never written because Ricker became engrossed in his research. He spent years in the archives of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs and the War Depart-ment, and collected originals and copies of letters, reports, and official documents from many sources. Mechanical recording devices were available when Ricker was taking the depositions of Indians, soldiers, settlers, traders, and other witnesses of frontier history, but unfortunately, they were beyond his means. He relied instead on note pads and pencils to record the interviews.

Ricker died at Grand Junction, Colorado, in 1926. His notebooks and other data pertaining to his research on the Indian wars, as well as voluminous family correspondence, were afterward donated by his family to the Nebraska State Historical Society. The published interviews, Voices of the American West, edited by Richard E. Jensen, are now available in two volumes: The Indian Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919; and the Settler and Soldier Interviews of Eli S. Ricker, 1903-1919.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.