An important Native American leader is still honored today with a historical marker on Highway 14 in Boone County.
A Nebraska state historical marker stands on Highway 14 in Petersburg. It serves as a reminder about the life of an Omaha Indian named Logan Fontanelle, who was born in 1825. His father was a fur trader, and his mother was the daughter of Omaha chief Big Elk. Local expert Hank Thieman says Fontanelle was educated at boarding school. "He went to St. Louis, Missouri, got educated," Thieman said. "A Catholic Jesuit got him down there, and then he became an interpreter with the tribe."
It turns out that because of his education, he became an important leader in his tribe. Even though he was half-French, many accounts suggest Fontanelle was highly respected by the Indians. We are told he was a native of Bellevue. "You people that live in Bellevue, Nebraska, you realize there is a Fontanelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska. About a 1,400-acre forest as a matter of fact," Theiman said. "It's dedicated and honored because of Logan Fontanelle, who was a great hero in the sense that he was a guy who wanted to get along with both the government and the people."
Logan Fontanelle helped negotiate a treaty in 1853, giving Omaha land to the U.S. government. Some say his abilities as an interpreter and a negotiator helped his people get a better deal. "The government gave the tribe the land up in Thurston County then, and that's where the Omahas landed up in Decatur and up in that area," Theiman said.
While the tribe moved to the reservation, Fontanelle went on buffalo hunt near Petersburg, and his party was attacked by Sioux Indians. "This area was rich in buffalo and wildlife and furs, so he ended up out here, and the Sioux didn't think he should be here," Theiman said. Fontanelle was killed by the Sioux not far from modern-day Petersburg. He died at the age of 30.
Thieman says this promising Native American leader continues to be remembered in Petersburg. In fact, the Community Club put up a stone marker in the 1950s. It used to stand south of town about a mile and a half. After it suffered damage, it was moved to the park area of town. "After that, we talked to the Nebraska State Historical Society about Logan Fontanelle, and they saw fit to put up this nice marker that we have here today," Thieman said. "We constantly have visitors on Highway 14 here stopping, reading, and looking into the history of Logan Fontanelle."
Thieman points out the community is working to build a new veterans memorial next to the Fontanelle marker, giving visitors more to see and experience. "We also have a plaque down here where we honor all of our Eagle scouts, we have a totem pole, we are trying to collect all of the things we want to honor for our community," Thieman said.
The next time you are traveling on Highway 14 through Petersburg, be sure to pull over. Check out the local grocery store, maybe take some time to check out the businesses on main street, and be sure to immerse yourself in the history of Logan Fontanelle.