A Note from Cottonwood Corners

“Le Compte Island” was an island on the Charles Mix side of the river between Campbell Creek and Benge Creek.  “Le Compte” was a name frequently found in the records of the early fur trade; however, the specific connection to the island cannot be determined.  No other information on the island is available.

“Whetstone Island” was located on the Gregory County side of the river about two miles above the mouth of Whetstone Creek.  It was sometimes referred to as “Black Dave’s Island.”  “Black Dave,” a Negro from Louisiana whose real name was Jacques Desire, was a co-pilot with Joseph La Barge on the Steamboat Omega.  This was the boat which conveyed James Audubon upstream in 1843.

Captain Clark in his diary for September 9, 1804 wrote:  “Came too and Camped on a Sand bar.”  This was opposite Stony Point.  The exact site where they camped that evening is difficult to determine.  Some authorities have them spending the night on Whetstone Island, one puts them at the mouth of Whetstone Creek, and Clark reported that they camped on a sand bar.

“Little Cedar Island” was located about three miles above Mulehead Point.  It was about one and one-half miles long and was located in Gregory County.  According to the 1912 Gregory County Map, the lower half of the island was owned by R. J. Walters and the upper half by Arthur Larson.

On September 18, 1794, Trudeau, the first white man in this area, camped at this “Isle of Cedars, twenty leagues above the Niobrara River.”

At this location on September 10, 1804, Lewis and Clark found “an island extending for two miles in the middle of the river, covered with red cedar, from which it derives its name Cedar Island.  Just below this island, on a hill to the south, is the backbone of a fish . . . on both sides of the river are high dark-colored bluffs.”

The Norfolk Weekly News-Journal of February 10, 1905 reported:  “Henry Storm of Spencer, Nebr. found this fish and, at a great expense, had it moved into the town of Spencer where it was wondered at for several years by new arrivals.  Finally it was broken into bits and used as a foundation for a building.”

On May 29, 1811, the fur-trading party of Manuel Lisa, in hot pursuit of the rival Astorian party, reached this “beautiful island, called Little Cedar Island, on which grows fine cedar, the trees uncommonly large . . . it may contain about 3,000 acres.”

Before Gregory County was created, Jack Sully apparently made his residence on “Little Cedar Island.”  It was here that he could carry on his operations and be out of the jurisdiction of the state authorities of Charles Mix County.

At that time, the country west of the Missouri was unorganized, and although the state had jurisdiction to punish crimes committed there, it was extremely difficult to convict cattle rustlers.  Sully succeed in evading the law until his tragic death near his home on Sully Flats on the Rosebud Reservation.

In July of 1865 the steamer Bertha landed at the island “to put some soldiers off who came to take possession of the island.”  These men were however picked up again on the downriver trip in August.  Just what the military was up to at that time is not known.

Steamers often stopped at Little Cedar Island to gather cedar wood, which steamboat crews preferred over the softer cottonwood.  Cedar burned hotter than cottonwood.  Thus, it generated a greater head of steam to thwart the Missouri’s onrushing currents.

“Cottonwood Island” was attached to the left bank on the Charles Mix side of the river.  It was less than one mile above Little Cedar Island.  No additional information is available on this island.

“Hamilton Island” was two miles long and was located near the mouth of Platte Creek.    It was named for Joseph V. Hamilton who settled on Platte Creek in Charles Mix County.  The 1906 map of the county lists no one as owning any part of this map.  It is illustrated as being completely covered with trees.

“Toehead Island,” two miles in length, was located two miles above Hamilton Island on the Gregory side of the river.  It was also known as Pocahontas Island, Toe-Head Island, and Tow-Head Island.

A “tow-head” in Missouri River steamboat parlance was a slightly submerged sand-bar or island which was a menace to navigation.  Pocohontas No. 2 was a sidewheeler steamboat engaged in the Fort Benton (Montana) trade which was snagged and sunk at this island on August 10, 1866.  The steamboat Nellie Peck was winter-bound here in 1868-69.

An early settler on Pocahontas Island was Jack Sully, a reputed rustler, who was shot by a U. S. Marshall’s posse in 1904.  The Mitchell Capital of March 20, 1903, had the following headline on page one:  “Jack Sully is Hovering Around — Noted Cattle Rustler is in the Hands of Fiends Near His Old Haunts.”

The paper reported that Jack Sully had been seen the past two weeks in Gregory County, on Whetstone Creek.  It was reported that about February 27 Al Fulwider and Harry Hamm “saw Sully at Pocahontas Island.”




Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on July 28, 2021

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