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Moses Merrill Mission

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Moses Merrill Mission
Location: La Platte, NE
Built/Founded: 1855
Governing body: Private
Added to NRHP: 1972

Tribal territory of the Otoe

The Moses Merrill Mission, also known as the Oto Mission, was located about eight miles west of Bellevue, Nebraska. It was built and occupied by Moses and Eliza Wilcox Merrill, the first missionaries resident in Nebraska. The first building was part of facilities built in 1835 when the United States Government removed the Oto about eight miles southwest of Bellevue.[1] Merrill's goal was to convert the local Otoe tribe to Christianity. The first log cabin had to be replaced after it burned.

As of 2005, the only remainders of the second and larger mission building are the original chimney and the cottonwood trees planted by Eliza Merrill. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The Oto Mission was also recognized by the state with a highway historical marker nearby.[2]


The Reverend Moses Merrill was from Sedgwick, Maine, where his father Daniel was a minister. He went to the Michigan Territory and through friends met Eliza Wilcox from Albany, New York. They married and, after receiving training as missionaries for the Baptist Church, they arrived in Bellevue, Nebraska in 1833. The Indian agent offered them space in the former trading post called Fontenelle's, then part of buildings used by the Bellevue Indian Agency. Merrill immediately took up studying the Otoe language and later translated parts of the Bible and some hymns into Otoe.

When the US Government removed the Oto to a location southwest of Bellevue near the mouth of the Platte River, the Merrills followed to remain with them. They first used a log cabin provided by the government.[3] In 1835 they quickly established a school and church for the Otoe tribe, whose nearest village and cemetery lay a quarter of a mile directly southeast.

A year after the move, the Merrills' first mission cabin burned down. They built a larger house to replace it, where they also ran a school. Soon after, Merrill encouraged the Oto to move from their long-occupied village near Yutan to his mission. The Merrills established a school for Oto children and held church services there. [4]

Merrill made a lasting contribution by translating the Bible and other works into Otoe. The missionary work was arduous as the couple tried to protect the Oto from mercenary traders and unsympathetic settlers, as well as competing Indian factions. Merrill traveled frequently as the Oto territory extended to the Elkhorn River. In 1839 he contracted tuberculosis, from which he died in 1840. The Otoe left the mission and moved to a new village.[5]

Eliza Merrill left Nebraska soon after the death of her husband to return with their son to Albany, where she established an orphanage. Settlers used the old mission for many years after the death of Merrill. Church services were held there into the 1860s and later. [6]


The first mission building was a simple shack made of local woods. The second mission building was built after the first one burned down in 1836 or 1837. The new facility included a schoolroom for Otoe children and living quarters, including two bedrooms on the second story. A porch ran across the front of the building between the two end rooms and faced south. It is believed that Mrs. Merrill planted at least three of the giant cottonwood trees standing on the site today, which range from 25 to 30 feet in circumference.[7]

The structure was made from poplar logs, squared and closely notched at the corners. Lime plaster was poured between the log walls and the thin sheathing of planed boards on the interior. A large chimney built of native limestone was "plastered with lime almost as hard as the stone itself," and was located in the center of the building. It was 25 feet tall with a five foot square base.[8]

See also


  1. Federal Writers Project. (1939) Nebraska: A guide to the Cornhusker state. Nebraska State Historical Society. p 268.
  2. (nd) National Register of Historic Places - Sarpy County, Nebraska. Retrieved 7/13/07.
  3. "Moses Merrill, 1803-1840, papers", Nebraska State Historical Society, 17 May 2008, accessed 9 Aug 2008
  4. Federal Writers' Project Staff (1939) Nebraska: A guide to the Cornhusker state. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Nebraska. p. 268.
  5. (2007) "Nebraska National Register Sites in Sarpy County". Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 7/13/07.
  6. (1927) "Nebraska Oldest Church is Fast Going to Ruin," Omaha World Herald, Magazine Section, 10/16/27.
  7. Federal Writers' Project Staff (1939) Nebraska: A guide to the Cornhusker state. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Nebraska. p. 269.
  8. McCoy, K. K. (1922) "Moses Merill Mission." Sarpy County Historical Museum.

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