William Wallace Cox.

History of Seward County, Nebraska, and reminiscenses of territorial history online

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Online LibraryWilliam Wallace CoxHistory of Seward County, Nebraska, and reminiscenses of territorial history → online text (page 1 of 57)
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Author of " Northern Eyes in Dixie," " Pape>-s on Labor and Caphal," " History

and Resources of the United States of Venzuela," "Glimpses of

the Rockies and California as seen in 1902."


Jason L. Claflin

University Place, Nebraska



To the ever kind and loving companion that walked
hand in hand with me nearly forty -four years of life's
journey, sharing all the privations of frontier life, and lend-
ing cheer in all the dark hours and performing so nobly all
the duties incumbent on her as w^ife and mother, as neigh-
bor and friend, ever ready to lend a helping hand in matters
of charity or public enterprise — she that walked so faith-
fully in the service of her Divine Master over half a century
and when her work was all well done passed over the dark
river to dwell in the heavenly home — is this book lovingly
dedicated as a memorial, to Rebecca Sampson Cox.

; The Author.



The author kindly asks the reader of this volume to be
considerate in measuring the value of the work.

All historical works are subject to criticism, and we are
sure this can not hope to be an exception. Many incidents
herein related were obtained from people now living and
memory at best is defective.

In many instances authorities conflict and the worst
thing the author has had to contend with was, so many of
the early records are lost or destroyed. We have searched
diligently through the vaults of the county clerk's office for
old records that should be there but seem to be lost in the
shuffle, also in the county judge's office, where valuable rec-
ords of the early days should be found, but they are

But with material at command, with the help of many
old time citizens and a personal knowledge, coming of forty
years residence, we have measureably succeeded in giving
the reader the essential facts of county history and trust we
have been able to give a true pen picture of frontier life and
also of our achievements through the passing years.

We cannot say that we are entirely satisfied and yet we
feel a degree of pride in having established many landmarks
of history for the future historian, and being able to give
the reader an intelligent idea of the country as it existed in
its primeval state and the growth and progress to the pres-
ent time.

We cheerfully acknowledge our obligations to the good
people who have assisted by valuable historic letters, and to


editors for the use of their files, etc., and last but not least
to the host of patrons who have met us so cheerfully and
been so very liberal with us.

We must say in all parts of the county we have met
the most cordial welcome, and our labor among the people
has been like a friendly visit.




Nebraska Territory — Date Organio Act— Boundaries— Area— Possibilities
-A Great Epoch in History— Slave Clause— Political Storm— Strife
in Kansas— Nebraska Dominated by Southern Office Holders— First
Newspapers — Squatter Claims— Mormon Exodus — California Trail
— Mormon War^Freighting— First Settlement — Old Block-House
and Ferry — Elections and Candidates — No Money to Get Back —
Wouldn't Raise White Beans— Villages— Legislature of 1854-1855 —
Panic — Gold Discovered at Cherry Creek — A Little Story.

May 30th, 1854, the organic act creating the Territory
of Nebraska was approved by President Frankhn Pierce.

It comprised the land within the following limits: com-
mencing at the center of the channel of the Missouri river
on the fortieth parallel of North Latitude and thence run-
ning west along said parallel to the summit of the Rocky
mountains to the eastern border of Utah Territory, thence
north to the forty-ninth parallel of North Latitude to the
British possession, thence east to the west line of the terri-
tory of Minnesota, thence southward on said boundry to the
channel of the Missouri river, thence down the said main
channel to the place of beginning.

If the reader will turn to a map of the United States and
trace these lines and note that this vast domain includes the
present state of Nebraska, North and South Dakotas, one-
fourth of Colorado, nearly all of both Wyoming and Mon-
tana, making in the aggregate nearly one-half million square
miles of territory or about the same area as England, Scot-
land, France and all Germany combined. In regard to the
vast possibilities of this empire, we note that the present


population of these countries at this time reaches one hun
dred and twenty miUions. According to that reckoning,
when Nebraska, with the present area, becomes as well set-
tled as these countries in Europe, it will contain eighteen
and one-half millions and should it bear the same population
that England now contains per square mile; it will reach the
stupenduous number of thirty-eight and one-half millions of
people. Should it ever bear as dense a population as Rhode
Island with all her rocky hills, it will have over twenty-six
millions and Rhode Island is yet increasing rapidly.

The younger readers may not have noticed that this or-
ganic act was a most peculiar and we might say the most,
important epoch since the revolutionary war up to the war
of the rebellion. The magnitude of the territories of Ne-
braska and Kansas was lost sight of, but all interest cen-
tered in one part of a sentence in the organic act, which we
quote as follows: "And when admitted as a state, or states,
the said territory, or any portion of the same, shall be re-
ceived into the Union with or without slavery." Senator
Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois championed the measure in
the Congress. It raised a storm in political circles such as
had never been seen before. The whole country was agi-
tated from center to circumference. It caused the total dis-
ruption of the great Whig party and it rent the great Dem-
ocratic party in twain.. The people south of what is known
as Mason and Dixon's line were favorably to the act, while
the people of the North were appalled at the attempt to
fasten slavery upon the virgin soil that had been by solemn
compact dedicated to freedom. The people became aroused
as never before on the slavery question. Under the admin-
istration of Pierce the territories were furnished with a full
complement of officers in close sympathy with Southern sen-

The Southern people w^ere determined to grasp the prize
in sight and urged the occupation at once and many took
their human chattels to Kansas and a few of them had the
hardihood to invade Nebraska. The northern people or-
ganized for resistance and urged emigrants to the territories
and were equally determined to save this new land to free-
dom. On the great plains of Kansas there was bloody war


to the knife and knife to the hilt. There were many scenes
of ravage and plunder that were sickening. The struggle
was desperate and bloody. Kansas was so situated beside
slave territory of Missouri and Arkansas that the friends of
slavery had great advantage but the free state men swarmed
to the territories in great numbers and were led by men of
tact and courage that they were enabled to defy all attempts
to fasten slavery there. Nebraska, just beside loyal Iowa,
gave the free state men a greater advantage, and the south-
ern men soon gave up the idea of ever making it a slave
state, and our people were comparatively free from the
bloody struggles of that eventful period prior to the Rebell-
ion. Our emigrants were mostly from the northern states
and although dominated for seven years by pro-slavery dem-
ocratic territorial officers it was seen from the first that Ne-
braska could never be made a slave state. There was not
the rush to Nebraska from either south or north for th^e
simple reason that the South could entertain no hope here,
and that Kansas must be the battle grounds and where the
bone of contention was, there the mass of emigrants came to
take a hand in the settlement of the matter. The simple
fact that Kansas was the scene of the principal strife, we
attribute the fact that she secured the larger share of emi-
grants that were seeking homes in the new land.

Nebraska had been traversed by tens of thousands of
people long before the organic act. The Morman exodus
had been across this land and many of the Pilgrims seeking
a home in the desert wilds of Utah had crossed these fertile
fields, but their eyes were fixed upon that far off desert
home by the dead sea. They could not see the beauties
of this land of transcendent natural wealth. Then great
swarms of men and women of good sense, too passed up
the Platte valley on their way to far off Oregon and could
not see ought but miriage and desert wastes in this land of
corn and wine. And again thousands more crossed this
wilderness on their way to the gold fields of California. It
is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of white people
traversed this goodly land from the river to our western
boundary without any of them making the discovery that
this was naturally one of the richest and grandest por-


tions of God's green earth. It was a true demonstration of
the ringing words of the Master when He said, "Having eyes
they see not." Of course there was no opportunity to make
permanent settlement here until the organic act had become
a law, and until the Indian titles had been secured by the
Government for some of the lands.

A few Indian traders and a few ferrymen were about all
the white settlers of the Territory at the beginning of 1854.
There had been a government fort at Calhoun as early as 1819
under the name of Port Atkinson. This old fort, now long
since in ruins, was sixteen miles north of Omaha. A man
named Cabanne had a trading post ten miles north of Omaha
and Manual Kisa also had a trading post one mile north of
Cabanne's. The fort was built on the spot where Lewis
and Clark held the council at the time of their visit to the
northwest in 1804.

In about 1827 this fort was abandoned and the garrison
moved down the river and took up quarters on Caro Island
which later received the name of Port Cragan. About the
spring of 1828, after being flooded out, the garrison moved
down the river and established Port Leavenworth.

There was an Indian trader by name of T. B. Range on
the site of Omaha as early as 1825. Peter A. Sarpie located
a trading post at Belevue in 1822 and was a familiar figure at
the time settlement began in 1854.

Old Port Kearney at Nebraska City was established
about 1847 and about the same time Port Laramie was es-
tablished on the North Platte river just near the eastern
boundary of Wyoming. About the same time John Bolware
established a ferry at Nebraska City. The exact dates of
the fort and ferry yre unattainable. We are indebted for
what we learn of the dates of old Port Kearney and the ferry
to the diligent researches of Prof. Geo. E. Howard of our
State University.

In the conversation with Col. Bolware in the winter of
1859 and 1860, at Nebraska City, he told the writer that he
established the ferry twelve years previous and that corres-
ponds well with Prof. Howard's researches. We have many
times had the pleasure of seeing the old block house of old
Fort Kearney. Col. Bolware claims that he first settled at


Fort Atkinson and that next to Sarpie he was the first man to
make permanent settlement in Nebraska. When we saw the
okl man last in 1865 he looked as if he had been here a long
time. In the early summer of 1854 settlements began in
earnest at Omaha, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, Brownville,
Rulo and Belevue, and some other points.

It is a mere matter of conjecture or guess work as to liow
many people made settlements in 1H54. There were quite a
number that came as adventurers, without any intention of
making it their permament home. The towns were purely
speculative. Scores of paper towns were boomed for "all
there was in it. " The agricultural possibilities of the country
were scarcely thought of. Of course claims were located
near the towns by what was known as squatters right, wliich
by a "law all their own" were permitted to consist of a half
section of land. Very few, indeed, thought of cultivating
the soil, or trying to make permament homes.

Every fellow was on the speculate, designing to make
their pile, then go home to '"America," as they used to say.
Many of such went home to "America" but they went dead
broke. Some got so desperately hard up that they were
forced to stay, as their "wife's relation" could not or would
not send them money to pay their way back. To some this
was a "God-send." They just had to stay and they began to
stir themselves and accomplish something, and such can
usually get a foothold. A few came for business from the
start. They got a claim and went to work in dead earnest
and although these had much to contend with and oftimes
had a desperate struggle to "keep the wolf from the door,"
they finally made it win and in time secured a competency.

In this eventful year, 1S54, Wednesday, November loth,
the newspaper had invaded the wilderness and at Belevue the
Palladium was issued. That day the first stick of type was
set, at the McKinney house (a log cabin). Three printers
from three states, Thos. Morton from Columbus, Ohio, fore-
man; A. D. Long, compositor, from Virginia, and Henry M.
Reed, from Massachusetts, an apprentice. The paper had
been born at St. Mary, in Mills County, Iowa.

The first words of this issue reads as follows: "Owing


to our removal of the office we hope our readers will excuse
the late appearance of this number. " This number notes the
arrival to the Territory of J. Sterling Morton on the 13th
inst. , from Michigan.

One prominent paragraph of this issue is under the head-
ing "Agriculture," as follows:

"He that by the plow would thrive
Himself must either hold or drive. "

On the 6th of December the Palladium contains a list of
the voting precincts of the Territory, viz : Richardson county,
two; Nemaha county, one. This was then known as Forney
county. Pierce (now Otoe), one; Cass, two; Washington,
one; Burt, two; Dodge, one. Douglas is omitted. One
voting place, Nebraska City, was at the house of Major H.
p. Downs. He, who being asked by a stranger of Nebraska's
possibilities as an agricultural country tersely remarked with
his stentorian voice: "Ten miles west of the valley they
can't raise white beans," yet that old soldier had resided here
since 1847, as commander of the post.

The Palladium did not winter kill because it lived till
April 11, 1855, when it passed into history and gave up the
ghost. The paper that came to stay was the Nebraska City
News. It also had its birth place on Iowa soil, at Sydney,
and was issued there first November 14th, 1854, with Henry
Bradford as editor, but in the spring of 1855 the Nebraska City
Town Site Co. employed J. Sterling Morton to take the sole
management of the office and it was moved over home and
was printed in the old block house April 12th, 1855. So on
the twelfth of April, 1905, it will have rounded out a full
half century, being, we believe, the oldest newspaper between
the Missouri river and California.

In 1856 the Brownville Advertiser was started at Brown-
ville. It was founded by Dr. John McPherson, but soon fell
into the hands of R. W. Furnas and Lyanna. This paper
was quite prominent for a number of years as a republican
advocate and was wide awake in arousing Nebraska people
to push forward development.

The Nebraska City Press under the name of "People's
Press" was established by Hon. O. H. Irish and Matthias in
the spring of 1859, and it came to stay, and next to its con-


temporary the oldest living paper of the Trans- Missouri
country. It has always been strongly republican, while the
News has always held aloft the democratic standard.

The Nebraska Republican was first issued in 1858 and
lived up to 1889.

The Omaha Times came to light under the management
of Geo. W. Hepburn in 1857 and expired about 1870.

The Wyoming Telescope was started by Jacob Dawson
at Wyoming, Nebraska, in 1857, but only survived two vears,

The Omaha Nebraskan, edited byT. H. Robertson, the
rankest copperhead of his days, in 1854, and expired in the
sixties, just in time for Dr. Geo. L. Miller to start the ablest
democratic paper that Nebraska ever contained, in 1865,
which continued to do battle for Nebraska and the democra-
tic party for twenty three years, when it was consolidated
with the World, and is now known as the World -Herald.

There were many other papers started in various localit-
ies, generally for the purpose of booming paper towns.
Many of them were like the "rose of the wilderness, born
to blush unseen." The number of the inhabitants that win-
tered in Nebraska in the winter of 1854 and 1855 can never
be known. It is safe to say they were few. There being
but ten voting precincts as the story goes, people had to be
imported from Iowa to hold elections in several instances.
The settlements were confined to a narrow strip along the
river, mostly. Should we attempt to estimate the population
it would be guess work. As yet we are not aware that there
was any incorporated village although there were many
names of cities of great promise. The only means of com-
munication was a stageline to Council Bluffs, known as Kan-
esville, an old Mormon settlement, and an ocasional river

The first session of the Territorial Assembly met in the
winter of 1854, which had largely been elected by Iowa citi-
zens, who in some instances brought along their candidates.
(See Dr. Geo. L. Miller's paper.) It is needless to tell the
readers that acting Governor Cummins winked at these slight
irregularities. By his proclamation forming election districts
there were whole counties where there was not a white set-
tler and assembly men were accredited them and they must


be represented "you know." One of the principal labors of
that legislature was to bring forth a whole litter of wild cat
banks, the story of which is told in another chapter of this
book. In March, 1855, this farce of a legislature granted a
charter to the first insurance company, known as the "West-
ern Fire and Marine Insurance Campany," with full powers
to do a general banking and exchange business, and thus
was born the Farmers Western Exchange Bank of Omaha.
During the first four years of occupation, settlements
made but little progress. New immigrants were constantly
arriving at the different points and others tired and were
leaving. No lands were yet in market and the only title
obtainable was by the squatter's right and this was not very
satisfactory. Of course a pre-empt or's title was all right
until the lands were thrown into market, but it happened as
noted in another chapter that the lands were thrown into
market just exactly in the wrong time and it played havoc
with the pre- emptors.

Population increased slowly, but in 1858 there was a new-
development, or rather two new developments. The Mor-
mons of Utah were in rebellion against the government and
an army was sent there and had to be supplied from Missouri
river points, and the great firm of Majors, Russel & Wadell
got a contract to haul army supplies to Utah and other west-
ern forts. That year four thousand men with thirty thous-
and oxen with great wagons, were sent across the plains.
The outfitting point for the Utah traffic was Nebraska City.
This gave a new impetus to business and the growth of the
village for a time was phenomenal. Large brick business
houses were erected and people flocked in by the hundreds.
Speculation ran high, and just about this time gold was dis-
covered at Cherry Creek, at the site of the coming Denver.
The wildest stories of the fabulous wealth of the mines were
circulated all over the states and great droves of people
gathered at all the Missouri river towns and made prepara-
tions to cross the plains to the gold fields. This gave life
and push to every hamlet on the river. Tens of thousands
of infatuated people swarmed through Nebraska headed for


the mountains, knowing nothing of the suffering and disap-
pointment that was in store for them. Trade in all the towns
was simply enormous. Everything was on a wild boom.
Values of. property increased fabulously. The wildcat banks
issued money by the cart load and it was no uncommon sight
to see boys with their pockets full of money, but soon this
bubble burst. Thousands of disgusted Pikes peakers began
their homeward journey, careworn and weary, and were
ready to wreak vengeance on the towns of Nebraska that had
started the wild stories that induced them to embark on the
foolhardy venture. In the mad rush to get back to the states
it is safe to say that along the great trials between the river
and the mountains there was a million dollars worth of prop-
erty thrown away and abandoned. Tired out animals,
wagons, machinery, tools, groceries and provisions. Then
who can tell of the numbers that perished and that sleep in
unknown graves, or left to be eaten by the wolves on the

Just about this time the tidal wave of destruction, caused
by the panic of 1857, had reached the western borders and
there was a general collapse. The story of the situation in
1K59 and 1860 is dealt with more fully in another chapter in
which is related the money condition, the land sales and con-
ditions of the people; how they had to "snuff ashes and drink
pond water" for a living. Perhaps we may be excused for
relating a story of our personal experience in the summer of
1860, just after the great tire at Nebraska City. We desired
to work at carpenter work and we were anxiously looking for
a job and it came to the point where we were very willing to
saw wood, or dig, just any old thing for bread and butter.
We called at a place where we understood there was help
wanted. Yes, they wanted a man. What do you want per
day, was the first question. Seventy-five cents and board
myself, The terse reply was: "Pshaw! Can hire plenty of
good men at twenty-five cents per day." My first job of
work was sawing up a big rick of cord wood for a dollar and
fifty cents, store pay. Store pay was good "you know,"
but the work was faithfully done and we went to hunt up the


store. How our heart leaped for joy as we looked upon the
stock of merchandise. It consisted of a few remnants of an
old busted up hardware stock. There were a few old log
chains and two or three ox yokes, a few horse shoes and a
little brown stoneware. Splendid stuff to feed a hungry


Visit to Nebraska— Scenes and Incidents— First bight of the Promised
Land— First Dinner— Nebraska City— Looking up Land— Land Sale
—First Entry— Floating Ice— General Appearance of the Territory-
Wild Cat Banks— Paper Cities— Wild Speculation— Panic of 1857—
All Good Money Gone— Morman Trade— Pike's Peak— Great Throngs
of Emigrants— Majors. Russell and Waddell— (^reat Freight Trains
— Galusha A. Grow — Homestead Law Vetoed— ''Gave them a Stone"
—Land Sharks— Great Fire— Mob— Disastrous Results— Great Drouth
of 1860 — Hard Characters — Whipping Post— Governor Black — Indian
Trouble and Default of Major Denisten— A Land of Slavery— John
Brown — Underground Rail Road Depot — Rebel Flag — War Meeting
in 1861 — Alex Majors— River Steamers— First Apple Tree— Profes-
sional ^len — Noble Women — Letter from Morton.

In the early autumn of 1859 we had the first opportunity
to gratify our curiosity to visit Nebraska.

At this time we resided in Page county, Iowa, at the
little town of College Springs. A little company of us, in-
cluding Abner Munger, David Haskins and Robert Hopps,
who resided in Nebraska City over forty years, but now de-
ceased, started with the determination of seeing the new
promised land of Nebraska.

Online LibraryWilliam Wallace CoxHistory of Seward County, Nebraska, and reminiscenses of territorial history → online text (page 1 of 57)