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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Lewis and Clark
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

historic site Blackbird Hill

Location: Thurston County, on the Winnebago-Omaha Indian Reservation, about 7 miles north of Decatur, along an unimproved road about 1 mile east of U.S. 73 at a point some 3 miles south of the hamlet of Macy. Make local inquiry.

This 300-foot-high promontory on the west side of the Missouri River in present northeastern Nebraska was once a prominent river landmark. Obscured by timber growth, today it is all but forgotten and difficult to locate, though it is the highest point along the stream for many miles.

On August 11, 1804, Lewis and Clark and 10 men climbed the hill to visit the well-marked grave of Omaha Chief Blackbird, who had been buried there 4 years earlier when he died during a smallpox epidemic that decimated his once-powerful tribe. His ruthlessness with other Indians and traders from St. Louis had gained him wide spread notoriety. Many 19th-century travelers visited the grave, including artist George Catlin, who in 1832 painted the hill.

Blackbird Hill
Blackbird Hill is the high point of the river bluff in the middle distance about 3 miles away to the south. The Missouri River bottom land is at the left. (National Park Service (Mattison, 1953).)

No road markers in the vicinity point to the location of Blackbird Hill and the gravesite, both of which are unmarked. An airplane beacon is situated on the grass-covered crest, which is privately owned and surrounded by cornfields. Heavy timber and scrub growth that drops off toward the river from the point of the bluff and replaces the semi-open grass slopes depicted in Catlin's painting have obscured the once-magnificent view up and down the river and at the same time rendered the hill invisible from it. The only views of the promontory in the area are at a high point on U.S. 73 about 2 miles north of Macy, and from an unimproved road along the bottom land in the network east and south of the village.

The great village of the Omahas was located about 20 miles north of Blackbird Hill in the broad and fertile valley where Omaha Creek joined the Missouri from the west and where the river bluff almost receded from view. This site is now either skirted or traversed by U.S. 87 about 1 mile north of Homer, Nebr., and 6-1/2 miles south of Dakota City.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004