On 30 Aug. 1873 the first election was held in the county. It was held at the residence of F.U. Martin on Section 14, Township 3, Range 32 West, two miles east of the present town of Culbertson. The first officers elected were: Thomas LeGrand, W.W. Kelly and F.U. Martin, commissioners; W.Z. Taylor, Clerk, J.E. Kleven, Treasurer; G.E. Baldwin, Sheriff; A.J. Vanderslice, Judge; J.H. Conklin, surveyor; Daniel Murphy, Superintendent of Schools; J.H. Miller, Coroner. The county seat was located on the north half of Section 17, Range 31 West, the site of the town of Culbertson.
Prior to 1869, the Republican Valley was a major retreat for the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. The valley was in the heart of buffalo range and was one of the great hunting grounds of the West. Whites made only occasional hunting trips into the region, due to the threat of Indian problems. In the summer of 1869, at the Battle of Summit Springs, near present Sterling, Co., Gen. Eugene A. Carr and his Republican River Expedition defeated the hostile Indians under Chief Tall Bull, which virtually cleared the Republican for settlement.
The counties to the east of Hitchcock County were quickly organized by adventuresome frontiersmen and women. Though he did not file upon the land until August, George C. Gessleman was the first person to settle in what is now Hitchcock county, arriving in the early spring of 1873. During the next few months, he was joined by about a dozen other men, staking claims along Blackwood Creek to the east and north of present Culbertson.
On 30 May 1873, a flash flood on the Blackwood brought near disaster to those first frontiersmen of the county. In the night, after everyone was in bed, most sleeping outdoors, a flood rushed down the creek, washing away tents, wagons and possessions.
The boundaries for Hitchcock County had been defined by the legislature in January 1873 and named for Phineas W. Hitchcock, then serving as United States ?Senator from Nebraska. Situated near the southwest corner of Nebraska, the county is twenty-four miles north and south and thirty miles from east to west.
In June the settlers petitioned Governor Robert W. Furnas for permission to organize the county, and he issued a proclamation on 5 July 1873, calling for an election to organize the county to be held on August 30th. In July, William Zacariah Taylor arrived on the present site of Culbertson and began building a store, probably at the instigation of the Republican Valley Land Company, the town site company of the Burlington Railroad. He named the site for Alexander Culbertson , noted trader of the Upper Missouri County in the 1840s and 1850s, who was living out his old age at Orleans, Harlan County, where his son-in-law was a Burlington official.
Before the election, however, the settlers went through another time of trial, when the Sioux defeated the Pawnee at the Battle of Massacre Canyon on Tuesday morning, August 5th. The day before the battle a party of Sioux warriors had terrorized some of the settlers along the Blackwood, destroying some property. An account of the battle is given elsewhere in this history.
Eighteen votes were cast at the first election on August 30th, and the men elected served only until the regular election on October 14th. Several of those elected had apparently left the county by the second election, however. A party of buffalo hunters were robbed in early October on the Stinking Water and left afoot on the prairie later making their way to the Kansas settlements. They and others said the robbery was done by some of these first county officials.
During that first summer, only a few acres of ground were broken. For survival, these first frontiersmen depended upon the buffalo and other wild game. Supplies had to be transported from the railroad in the Platte Valley, mainly from North Platte or Plum Creek (Lexington). Having little money, many of the settlers traded buffalo meat for essentials. This was to remain the main source of trade until the buffalo herds were finally wiped out.
Though 1874 started out well, the grasshopper hordes arrived in late summer and the few small fields were devastated. Many of the settlers left the county, leaving only a handful of men.
In 1875 a major change came to the county. Large scale ranching began in Southwest Nebraska. Some ranchers came from the East, but others were Colorado ranchers who entered the region from the west. Thus began Culbertson's boom period. Though a few very small settlements, such as Stratton, Palisade and Benkleman were started about 1880, until about 1883, Culbertson was the only real settlement in Southwest Nebraska, being the only town between Indianola and Ogallala. Though many of the ranchers and their families lived in Culbertson, at least during the winter, and many of the men served as officials of Hitchcock County.
Until the railroad built up the valley, few settlers entered the region, for they would have had no way to market their produce except for the long haul to the Platte. When the Burlington began to build west, many homesteaders entered the county, settling on the Driftwood and the Frenchman, as well as building up the river valley. It was not until about 1884, however, that homesteaders began to settle on the divide lands, booming the population of the county.
Early history of Hitchcock County tells of frequent Indian scares, but no injury was ever done the settlers. In the fall of 1876, two horse thieves were killed in Massacre Canyon and buried near Culbertson. In the fall of 1878, a band of Cheyenne Indians escaped from their reservation, to visit their old Nebraska home, and passed near here.
In the fall of 1881 the Burlington and Missouri Railroad was completed to Culbertson and trains began running regularly to this point. In March 1882, trains began running westward as far as Akron, Colorado.
The first school district was organized 21 Feb. 1876. This district was the north one-half of the county. No other district was organized until 1879 when four more districts were added. Another district was formed in 1880 and three more in 1881, making nine school districts in the county by 1882. There were 335 children of school age and 12 teachers holding certificates. The salaries of the teachers ranged all the way from $20 to $40 per month.
The first newspaper in the county was the spring of 1879 by W.Z. Taylor, and Nat L. Baker was the editor. This paper was published until the spring of 1800, when Baker took the material and started the "Chipper." Taylor started another paper called the "Sun" at the same time and employed R.D. Graham as editor. During the same summer the "Clipper" failed and Baker returned the material and the "Sun" remained the only paper published in the county.
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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by Brenda Lawless Daniel