A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Oshkosh Nebraska’

Lewellen, Nebraska (and the nearby Sandhills)

Posted by graywacke on December 5, 2014

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now more-or-less a once or twice a week blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2137; A Landing A Day blog post number 565.

Dan:  The March of the OSers continues (we’re up to seven in a row and counting) . . . NE; 59/54; 2/10; 3; 148.5.  Just for the record, I had seven OSers in a row not too long ago (January 2014).  Checking further back, I had eight OSers in a row in July 2010. . . .

Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

And my local landing map:

 landing 2a

My watershed map shows that I landed in the Blue Creek watershed; on to the North Platte River (28th hit); on to the Platte (61st hit):

 landing 3

Of course, the Platte makes its way to the Missouri (388th hit) and then to the MM (838th hit).

Here’s a Google Earth (GE) Street View shot of Blue Creek, south of my landing just upstream from the North Platte:

 GE SV Blue Ck @ Lewellen

Speaking of the North Platte, here’s a Street View shot of the North Platte (just south of Oshkosh):

 GE SV n platte @ oshkosh

This neck of the woods seemed familiar as I zoomed out my landing map.  I quickly remembered why, as I saw (only 50 miles away) my landing from just a couple of weeks ago (landing 2134, my “Rocks” post):

 landing 2b

Here’s my Google Earth trip from outer space:


Hmmm.  Peculiar-looking landscape, eh?  Here’s a zoomed back GE shot:

 GE 1

It turns out that I landed on the south edge of the Nebraska Sandhills.  Even though I’ve landed in and near the Sandhills before, I’ve never featured them.  So here goes. 

First (of course), I need a map:


From TheNebraskaSandHills.com (with some geological edits by yours truly):

The Nebraska Sandhills is [are?] one of the most unique areas in the world. Spanning almost 20,000 square miles (one-fourth the area of Nebraska), it is the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere.

At the end of the last ice age, massive floods of glacial meltwater flowed eastward away from the Rockies.  This meltwater flood carried and then deposited immense volumes of sand over wide areas.  The wind took hold of the loose sand, blowing it into vast dunes that stretched across western Nebraska and neighboring southern South Dakota.  Precipitation and a more temperate climate allowed grassland plants to take root in the shifting sand, eventually stabilizing the dunes and holding them in place.

Throughout the history of the Sandhills, major droughts have occurred several times, resulting in less plant life and more exposure of the sands to the wind. Consequently, various dune areas have shifted during the past several thousand years. In more recent times, the Sandhills have been carefully managed by cattle ranchers in order to preserve the stability of the dunes so that they do not revert back to a desert-like state.

As you might imagine, when it rains (or when the snow melts) on these very sandy soils, most of the water soaks in and feeds the groundwater system.  That’s why there are almost no creeks or rivers in the Sandhills.  Rather, the water simply soaks in the ground and supplies water to underground aquifers. 

Here’s a cross-section of a portion of the Sandhills (from U of Nebraska – Lincoln), showing that wetlands / lakes exist where the topography is lower than the water table.  The wetlands & lakes are labeled “subirrigated meadow” for some obscure geologic reason.  It also shows infiltrating water “recharging” deeper aquifers.  (And it’s very important to recharge those deep aquifers because that’s where a lot of water comes from for crop irrigation). 

sandhills cross section university of Neb - omaha

The wetlands and lakes make the Sandhills a critical habitat for migrating water birds.  But hey – I’m a geologist (and I featured ducks not so long ago) – so, I’ll stick with geology.  The NebraskaSandhills.com website had a section on blowouts.  What’s a blowout, one might ask . . .

Blowouts are sandy areas where rapid wind erosion literally “blows out” a hole in the surface of the landscape. Blowouts are found scattered throughout all of the Sandhills and vary in size. They may be anywhere from a few feet in circumference to a few hundred feet.

Blowouts occur in areas where plants and their stabilizing roots become depleted, exposing the sandy soil to the wind. A particular grass species (Sandhill Muhly) typically can stabilize a blow-out, although the process of stabilization may take many years.

From the same website, here a couple of blowout pictures:



I know, I know.  You could build a golf course and not spend much on sand traps . . .

Anyway, here are a couple of Sandhills pictures (not all that close to my landing, but cool shots).  I’ll start with a classic Wiki shot:

 Nebraska_Sandhills wiki

And then this, from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where you can really see the dunes:

 university of nebraska at lincoln

Of course, I Googled Oshkosh & Lewellen.  I couldn’t find anything about Oshkosh, but for Lewellen, Wiki mentioned a nearby Indian battle.  A little research revealed a nasty battle along the North Platte, near the Blue Creek confluence.  The battle is known as the Battle of Ash Hollow, or the Battle of Blue Water Creek.  From Wiki:

The events were catalyzed by a Mormon emigrant’s losing a cow while traveling with his party on the Oregon Trail; the animal wandered into a Brulé Lakota camp. A Sioux named High Forehead killed the cow for food. The Mormon farmer reported the cow as stolen to Army officers at Fort Laramie.

The fort’s commander sent out an inexperienced officer, Lieutenant John Lawrence Grattan, said to be contemptuous of the Indians, to arrest High Forehead, although such matters related to livestock and relations with settlers were supposed to be handled by the Indian Agent. Grattan vowed to take the wanted Indian “at all hazards” and took along thirty men and artillery.

Grattan pressed the chief to surrender the Sioux man. One of his soldiers shot the chief Conquering Bear in the back and killed him. In the ensuing battle, the Sioux killed Grattan and twenty-nine of his men.

President Franklin Pierce vowed to avenge the Grattan Massacre, as it was called by the press. The War Department appointed Harney in command with instructions to “whip the Indians.”

Harney’s expedition set out in August 1855. On September 1, 1855, the expedition caught up with a Sioux encampment along the North Platte River in a place known as Blue Waters [along Blue Creek near Lewellen]. Harney sent a regiment in a long night flanking maneuver to set up a blocking position against which he would drive the Sioux. The flanking maneuver was led by Lieutenant Colonel Philip Cooke.

Harney moved up in the morning to drive the Sioux against Cooke, although he first attempted to parlay with the Sioux. However, his demands to hand over the men responsible for the Grattan attack were rebuffed. The Sioux felt justified in having killed Grattan and his men as they had shot first.  During the parlay, several Sioux braves discovered Cooke’s men.

Upon the Sioux discovery of Cooke’s men, Harney opened the fight by attacking the Sioux camp. Some of the Sioux took refuge in caves along the river. Harney had his men fire into the caves, where they killed many women and children.

Among other American participants of the battle was Gouverneur K. Warren, who noted in his diary the horror of killing women and children.

Here’s a little more, from a book entitled The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis & Clark to Wounded Knee, by Jeffrey Ostler:

 indian battle from book

As has happened many times before while researching Indian history at my various landings, I find my self at a loss for words . . .

As I mentioned above, the battle is sometimes referred as the Battle of Ash Hollow.  There’s a state park there with two attractions.  One is a hillside down to the North Platte Valley, known as Windlass Hill.  The Oregon Trail made it’s way down the hill, and to this day, you can still see the trail ruts!  Here’s a Wiki pic:

 CC-24therd-Windless Hill-WestNebraska.com wagon ruts

And then there are some cool rock formations (including the caves where the Indians hid and a cave with evidence of very old Native American habitation).  Anyway, here’s an Ash Hollow shot from Wiki:


I’ll close with this great shot of an old bridge over the North Platte (from Wiki):


That’ll do it.




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