From Concile’ Banks to Council Bluffs in 100 Years of History

Lewis & Clark Monument in Council Bluffs (Council Bluffs City Photo)

The adjacent towns of Council Bluffs (Iowa) and Omaha (Nebraska) face each other on the riverbanks of the Missouri. The high banks/bluffs, commanding navigation, are the main geographic features of the site.

On dit que les chefs des tribus voisines tenaient leur Concile régulièrement à cet endroit facilement reconnaissable par ses promontoires égaux des deux côtés de la rivière, tel qu’illustré ci-contre par le monument dédié en 1936 au passage de Lewis et Clark à Council Bluffs.

Trading with the Omahas

Trading on the banks of Missouri (artist Z.S. Liang)

History tells us that French-speaking woodsmen traded here for nearly a century before the Lewis and Clark 1804 expedition. Knowing that the bluffs were a meeting place for Native American chiefs, the name “Concile’s Banks” was appropriately given to them by the French. The place was named long before the visit of Lewis and Clark whose entries into their annals use the expression “Concile Bluffs” and, separately, the English version “Council Bluffs” for clarified identification purposes only.

The first mention of the Omaha people appeared in the travel accounts of Pierre-Charles Le Sueur in 1700 where he describes a large Omaha village of about 4,000 inhabitants located at the confluence of the Rock River (now Big Sioux) and the Missouri, some 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of the present-day metropolis of Omaha. In the middle of the 18th century these people emigrated south to get closer to the Concile’s Banks, where French products, hunting rifles included, could be acquired in exchange for furs or horses.

Light show in River’s Edge Park at Council Bluffs in front of downtown Omaha (photo John Jenkinson)

Francophone traders did prefer to set up their merchandise for trade on the heights of the bluffs whose reputation was second to none among Native Americans and where there the breeze was refreshing. Although the Council of Chiefs is a thing of the past, today’s “Bluffs”, a large flat land surrounded by trees along the Missouri, are still a popular gathering place. Flaming light shows every half-hour after dark on a 20,000-square-foot lawn, serving as a canvas, give back to Council Bluffs its colorful reputation from early American history.