HPR Banner
Published Quarterly by the Nebraska State Historical Society
Addison E. Sheldon, Editor

Subscription $2.00 Per Year
All sustaining members of the Nebraska State Historical Society receive Nebraska History and other publications without further payment.

Vol. V.

January-March, 1922

No. 1

   Miss Ruth A. Galleher writes a good account of the Mormon handcart expeditions in 1855, some of which outfitted at Iowa City, in the Palimpsest, published by the State Historical Society of Iowa. One of these expeditions left Florence, Nebraska, August 18 of that year and passed beyond Fort Laramie in September. It was overtaken by snow storms and many of its number perished from cold and hunger before the main body reached Salt Lake City in November. Most of the members were immigrants from Europe. Men, women, and children pushed handcarts and walked from the Missouri river to Salt Lake. Miss Galleher says that the deaths in 1856 handcart columns led to acrimonious correspondence between Mormon leaders and discontinuance of handcart parties.
   Handcart Mormon expeditions were, however, still walking to Zion on the Nebraska City-Fort Kearny trail in the late sixties before the completion of the Union Pacific to the Salt Lake. There are persons living in Nebraska who remember these handcart and wheelbarrow companies.

   Among the interesting Souvenirs of early times in Furnas county is one received from the daughter of William Sweeney, of Arapahoe, this read thus:
   August 25, 1874. The bearer Mr. T. G. Brown is empowered to collect from William Sweeney the sum of six dollars ($6.00) being money due me for use of cattle six days. John W. Gillmore. * * * Paid this bill with four dollars ($4.00) Tuesday, November 24 to T. G. Brown drug store William Sweeney.
   It would appear that the service of a yoke of cattle was valued by the owner at one dollar a day, but he compromised at four dollars for six days. This receipt is written upon a narrow sheet of note paper bearing a map the upper left-hand comer slowing Arapahoe as a railroad center with lines of road reaching out in every direction.




   Hon. Peter Jansen was born March 21, 1852, at the town of the sea of Azof in southeastern of Berdjansk, on the shore Russia. He came to Nebraska in 1874. He is still among us and publishes a volume of 140 pages entitled "Memoirs of Peter Jansen." The reader wishes the book were longer. It is one of a number of books now being published by the pioneer of Nebraska, each one telling the story of the early days in a personal, vivid, interesting and truthful way.
   Senator Jansen's sketch of his life has far more than the usual interest because it tells the story of the great "Mennonite migration" which filled vast areas of Nebraska prairies in Jefferson, Gage, Clay, Hamilton and York counties in the decade of 1870-80. It is time, even now, to do honor and give credit to those people in the settlement of our State. They brought to Nebraska a perfectly disciplined, religious, frugal hard working people. Almost without a single exception they made a success of their settlements and of each individual home in them.
   How queer and clannish they appeared to the eyes of the original American stock. Boyhood recollections of the writer emphasize this. The Mennonite houses, built of sod with a huge brick stove nearly filling one of the rooms, burning straw for fuel and used as a general bedstead for the family on cold winter nights. The housing of live stock in a section of family home. The cut of the clothes. And all that.
   The old American stock was inclined to scoff at the queer people from Russia, speaking German, sticking close together and finding in the old fashioned religion of their deEditor, nomination most of their culture as well as consolation. They certainly taught Nebraska some good lessons. First of all they brought Turkey red winter wheat from southeastern Russia. They brought that splendid hedge tree, fruit tree and bird shelter--the Russian mulberry. They brought steadiness and devotion and showed how homes could be made upon the high prairies of central Nebraska. They brought also deep, even if at times, irrational, belief and practice in peace doctrines for they were Quakers. They had left Prussia hundred years before to avoid military service. They had settled in southern Russia with solemn guaranty of exemption from that service. When the Czar broke the contract and began to marshal all his subjects for the great war preparation in Europe which followed, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, these people left the fruitful farms they had made and came to Nebraska.
   Looking back upon their almost fifty years of settlement in this state it can be said that they have proven themselves one of the most valuable of many valuable elements in



population. It is time for those of us having the old American stock in our blood to say this now while some of the pioneer Mennonites are still among us. It will be said by all, and especially by the future Nebraska historians in a century from now.
   Senator Peter Jansen has not only given the people of his time a book of current interest, but has made a document which will be valued by the historian of the future as one of the most important contributions to the history of pioneer Nebraska.


   Many thanks for the copy of Dr. Koenig's Study of Tuberculosis among the Nebraska Winnebago. The conditions which she pictures are shocking, but not new. In many tribes they have been noticed for years, though not described in detail as by Dr. Koenig. Her paper is most interesting and it is useful to have the matter again brought up now and in such form as to reach a new public.
   The Indians are wholly ignorant of sanitation, of the communicability of tuberculosis, and of the dangers which follow the recent changes in mode of life. But perhaps the most fatal thing that the Indians have had to face is the absolute lack of an interest. In the old times the constant search for food, the excitements of the war path, the moving about from place to place, kept them interested and busy. These occupations have all disappeared; and where people are in receipt of some small income that will just support them, and so have no motive whatever for exertion, they are without any active interest in their lives.
   What the outcome shall be of the difficulties the race is meeting, we cannot now tell; but to view the largely preventable suffering among many tribes of Indians, is discouraging and painful.
   Dr. Koenig has done a useful piece of work in bringing together her observations about this particular tribe. I am especially glad that she has made inquiry into the use of peyote, and has published what she has learned. This testimony ought to be of some help in securing legislation by Congress against the transportation of this drug, the use of which I have always believed is enormously harmful.
   I congratulate Dr. Koenig on her paper, and the Nebraska Historical Society on its energy in publishing this.

   D. C. Young, rural route 1, Plattsmouth, writes:
   Please send a few extra copies of Nebraska History from July to, December 1921. I want to send some of them to a son of Robert Stafford, mentioned as an early settler of Rock Bluff. I am acquainted with two men here that took part in some of the Indian fighting of the 60's. I will try to get some data of them. I will send you the picture of my father's log house that was built in 1855, a part of which is still standing.



Picture or sketch


   In the October-December (1921) number of the Nebraska History Magazine, I note the wish of Hon. George F. Smith, of Waterbury, Dixon County, that a marker might be placed somewhere on the Old Mormon Trail that passes from Florence to Niobrara. As little seems to be known of the Mormons in this state and why they should have selected the mouth of the Niobrara for winter quarters on their way to their promised land, perhaps I am in as good a position to reveal the facts as anybody.
   The first white people, in any considerable number, to stop in the old L'Eau qui Court (Rapid river or Niobrara) county were the Mormons. The party comprised sixty-five families with one hundred and fifty wagons. It was the pioneer train to the land of promise, and it was at this point (or rather on the west bank of the Niobrara river opposite the town of Niobrara) that they spent the winter of 1846-7.
   Until 1901 it was believed by the founders of Niobrara, because of the numerous graves found in that vicinity, that these Mormons had perished at the hands of the red men, and their coming and their going was shrouded in mystery. In June, 1901, Isaac and John Riddle, the former from Provo, Utah, the latter from Crete, Nebraska, visited Niobrara for the purpose of locating these landmarks and two mill burrs that had been left here by them in their departture (sic).



   It was my good fortune to have an extended interview with these Mormons. Isaac, at the time of the Mormon camp here in 1847, was sixteen, and his return gave me an opportunity to straighten out history, and it is hoped that Captain North will, if he has not already done so, locate "Pawnee Station," the first stop.
   Mr. Riddle said that in their start from Kanesville, Iowa, in July 1846, they made the first wagon wheel mark up the Platte Valley. While in camp at Pawnee Station (presumably near Columbus or Genoa), where soldiers were stationed, they contracted with the government to harvest a crop of small grain and corn which had been put in by laborers, but who, becoming frightened by the Pawnees, had fled. While thus engaged in the close of the harvest a courier from Kanesville arrived with orders not to proceed farther, as it was feared they could not reach their destination before winter set in, and they should seek winter quarters.
   It was found that prairie fires had devastated the country west of Laramie and thereabouts. A band of Ponca Indians chanced to be visiting the Pawnees at the time, who, upon inquiry, reported that excellent winter quarters could be found at the mouth of the Niobrara river, and they volunteered to pilot them. Mr. Riddle said that his party had with them a small cannon which much attracted their attention and he thought that this was one reason for their solicitation, since the Sioux always annoyed the Poncas.
   The Ponca had truly led them into a country of verdure -- plenty of feed and timber and game. The young men of the party frequently accompanied the Indians in their winter hunts up the Niobrara Valley, The timber stretches were abundant with wild turkeys and the prairies alive with buffalo. "Where your town now stands," (Niobrara), said the aged patriarch,"there were Indian camps from the mouth of the Niobrara to Five Mile (Bazile) Creek."
   During the winter of 1846-7 Newell Knight, a millwright, chiseled from granite boulders found in the neighboring hillsides, two mill-burrs, with which they had intended to grind their grain by horse-power.
   Mr. Knight and sixteen others, principally women and children, succumbed to pneumonia. The mission of the Riddles was to locate these graves for Jesse Knight, the Utah capitalist, whose father's remains lie here, that an appropriate monument might be erected in memory of that winter's sojourn. The graves had become extinct, but ashes from fireplaces in the barracks were found.
   In the spring of 1907 Jesse Knight, two daughters, and elder brother, the president of the Mormon University, and J. W. Townsend, of Crete, Nebraska, who also accompanied the Riddles in 1901, made final arrangements for the ground on which the present impressive granite shaft, surrounded by an iron fence, faces the public highway, telling its own, short story thus:


Erected 1908
Born Sept. 13, 1800, Died Jan. 11, 1847
A Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints.


   Who died during the hardships of our exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

Matt. V ch., 10 vs..



Others Who Died at Ponca in the Years 1846-7:

Mr. Caval
Mrs. Caval
Lucy Brunson
Ann Boyce
Mrs. Rufus Tack
Mrs. Spicer Crandall
Mrs. Newell Drake
Mrs. Dame
Gardurout Noble
Benjamin F. Mayer

   In the spring of 1847 these Mormons were called back to Florence by Kanesville church heads, returning by the Bazile Valley and over to the Logan Valley. A new start was made the spring following. This route was selected, Mr. Riddle explained, because of the heavy rains and consequent impassable condition of the Platte Valley. By taking the old trail via Waterbury and the head of the Bazile, they were enabled to head the Elkhorn that they might reach Laramie. The main business, street of Creighton, Nebraska, is on the Old Mormon Trail.


   These burrs were in existence when the first permanent white settlers came to Niobrara and were used in a small mill on the Red Bird, but no trace of them could be found when the Riddles and the Knights were here, nor since. It was supposed that the west channel that forms Niobrara Island Park had been used for power, and to this day that channel is designated as "the Mormon canal," but this was not the case, as these authorities advised me when inquiry was made.


   I think the following letter fully fits the title.
   Mr. Roberts' statement that all of the bricks for the first university building were made in Nebraska City seems to be incorrect. "A Complete History" of Its (Lincoln's) Foundation and Growth____," by John H. Ames, printed in June 1870, hundred and forty thousand bricks are now on hand, and the brick-yard is furnished with one thousand cords of wood and two improved brick machines capable of moulding 28 000 bricks per day, with which brick may be made as fast as needed in the construction of the building. A sufficient amount of sand and lime is also on hand for the completion of the work, which is to be commenced on the walls during the present Week____." This statement by Mr. Ames deserves credence. Furthermore, under date of June 22, 1870, David Butler, governor; John Gillespie, auditor; and Thomas P. Kennard, secretary of state, as "Commissioners of Public Buildings of the State of Nebraska," certify the correctness of the history.
   Thomas Malloy, a stonecutter from Chicago who was employed in the construction of the first capitol in Lincoln, in a short history of that enterprise referred incidentally to the construction of the university building, as follows: "In 1868 Mr. Robert Silvers got the contract of building the State University. The first thing he did was to start a brick yard. He



bought all the wood he could find in the country and had to haul it with teams as there was no railroad in the country at that time."
   The contract for the erection of the university building was dated August 19, 1869. D. J. Silver and Son were the contracting builders. The son, Robert D., was the actual builder. This scandalous agreement with David Butler, on the part of the state, was the gist of articles of the impeachment proceedings against the governor.
   Mr. James Stuart Dales, who has been secretary of the board of regents of the university since December 1, 1875, says that some bricks, made in Nebraska City, were used for facing the walls of the building.

   Dade City, Florida, March 23, 1922.    

Mr. Albert Watkins,
Lincoln, Nebraska.
Dear Sir:
   Yours of the 20th instant received. It seems odd to be called upon to recite, as if it were ancient history, some facts that seem to me very recent. It may be true that I am getting old but where are the scores of younger men who knew as well as I or better all about the building of the first or Administration building of the State University. I arrived in Lincoln, February 20th, 1870, and on the 22nd there was an adjournment of the state legislature and all went out to view the site of the penitentiary which had just been located. It was a fine warm day and I and two friends were lying on the grass southwest of the capitol when we saw a cloud of dust and teams coming from the south. It was the legislators and citizens coming back from the Penitentiary site. They were in open lumber wagons mostly. (There was only one two-seated carriage in town at the time, that of Governor Butler), and all were engaged in a wild race whipping the horses and yelling like Comanches. That was my introduction to official Nebraska. But I am not answering your questions.
   The brick for the University building came from Nebraska City. Part of them were on the ground when I came and the walls of the basement were more than half completed. The bricks were laid in that year 1870 and at that time no bricks bad been made at Lincoln except one or two small kilns burned by Luke Lavender. L. K. Holmes began burning brick in 1879 and that fall or the next spring Moore & Krone began burning brick. They had the contract for the High School building and burned their own brick. That was in 1872. I do not know who hauled the brick for the University or whether Nebraska City helped pay for hauling, but presume not. John Burks, if still alive, should know something about, the mat-

Vol IV, no 4  Prior pageSpacerTOCSpacerNext page  Vol V, no 1, part 2
Return to NE History & Record of Pioneer Days

© 2000, 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller