This town near the Missouri River has long been an important site for westward migration in the U.S. It was the location of many Native American powwows, and in 1804, explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark met with representatives of two tribes in the area. This "council" gave the city its name (though it took place 15 mi/25 km north of the where Council Bluffs is now located). Later, a large Mormon community settled there until most members of the religious group departed for Utah. Council Bluffs subsequently became a supply center for wagon trains headed west and eventually evolved into a major railroad hub.
The town's history is on display at a number of attractions. The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in the former Carnegie Library in Council Bluffs. The museum contains plenty of railway memorabilia as well as Union Pacific's signature buffalo, affectionately called "Eugene." You can also visit the restored home of the man who directed the west-bound construction of the first transcontinental railroad. The General Dodge House, which was built in 1869 by Grenville Mellen Dodge, is now a National Historic Landmark that has been lavishly decorated with original furnishings. Dodge's wife Ruth Anne is buried in Fairview Cemetery. Her grave is notable for the bronze sculpture, called the Black Angel, that adorns it. The angel was created by Daniel Chester French, who also designed the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The town's Mormon period is commemorated at the Kanesville Tabernacle, a replica of a log building used by members of the Latter-Day Saints in the mid-1800s.
Another local landmark is the Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail, an unusually designed "lazy Susan" prison built in 1885 that consists of a rotating drum containing wedge-shaped cells. To gain access to one of the chambers, the jailer turns a crank to align the cell with an outer doorway. The RailsWest Railroad Museum contains train memorabilia, historic rail cars and a very large model-train layout.
Gambling is possible in several places in Council Bluffs. Bluffs Run is a pari-mutuel greyhound track and casino where you can wager on the dogs or slot machines. Or try your luck at Ameristar Casino or Harrah's Council Bluffs Casino.
Omaha, Nebraska, is just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. About 30 mi/48 km up the river is the De Soto Bend National Wildlife Refuge (Missouri Valley), a stop for migrating ducks and geese (peak viewing months are March-April and October-November). Bald eagles are sometimes sighted at the refuge. Council Bluffs is 130 mi/210 km west of Des Moines.
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