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NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
Vol V, no 3 (part 2)



licans. He painted the blackest picture possible of the condition which would follow if Holcomb were elected. Credit would be refused the people of Nebraska by eastern merchants, and money-lenders. Loans would be called. Banks and stores would break. Farmers would be sold out by the sheriff. At the close of forty minutes Mr. Eckles had demonstrated his. great ability as a prophet of disaster. Before the populist speaker assigned to reply to Mr. Eckles would get the floor, Von Harris, a farmer living just west of Whitney, rose from a back seat and made this speech: "Mr. Chairman, hard times can't hurt Whitney." The effect was electrical. A great roar of laughter and stamping of feet filled the room. The answer was so complete that subsequent speakers scarcely referred to the disastrous prophesy.
   Since that time the village of Whitney nearly disappeared from the map, ambitious ranchers hauling its houses miles across the country to locate on their claims. The mill burned down. The editor flew as far as Mexico. Just a little group of old-timers gathered at the post office and swapped stories about the early boom. Then things happened, one by one. The White River, Trunk Butte Creek, East and West Ash, Cottonwood and Lone Tree streams were impounded and their waters spread, out upon strips of land. Alfalfa was planted. Winter wheat put in. The potato crop found a place in the valley. Dry farming methods came in. Cows were milked and the cream separator swiftly whirled. Hens and eggs and pigs and cows multiplied.
   So Whitney came back. It now has a community club of two hundred members. It has a twenty thousand dollar school house. It has a lumber yard, two general stores, a bank, a grain elevator, a hotel, plenty of garages, lots of pep and a newspaper. Thus the "Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Whitney village in Dawes County" makes an epic cycle of Nebraska history. And all true.

   Interesting sociology items printed in the Fairbury Journal of December 7 recall two events of half a century ago which could not happen now. First of these was a lottery project for the purpose of raising money for a Nebraska State Orphan Asylum. Second was a proposition submitted to the voters of Jenkins Mills (then an important point in Jefferson county) to vote twelve thousand dollars to aid in the establishment of a foundry and machine shop at that place. The precinct was to own stock in the enterprise. Only a few of the old-timers, or historical students of economic events, realize how often in the early years were these propositions for aid in establishing factories by bond issues put across in the western states. The ambition of early towns to become manufacturing centers made them an easy mark for the promoters of that period. The constitution of 1875 stopped that game.




Interesting Correspondence With the Secretary of Worcester
Light Infantry Veteran Association of Massachusetts,
Where General Thayer began His Career as a
Soldier in 1842

   Recently the editor has had a most interesting correspondence with Mr. Herbert L. Adams, secretary of the Worcester, Massachussetts (sic), Light Infantry Veteran Association. From this correspondence it appears that this organization is putting into record form the career of its different members through the years. One of these members is General John M. Thayer. Apparently the people in Massachussetts (sic) lacked a great deal of having adequate information concerning General Thayer. They were in possession of a newspaper clipping at the time of his death stating that he had been United States Senator from Nebraska and subsequently governor. The secretary wrote asking for more definite information.
   From the correspondence the following extracts are taken:
   Worchester, February 9, 1923. I am just in receipt of your valued favor of February 7 and I do not delay in expressing my sincere appreciation of aid afforded us.
   General Thayer was indeed a distinguished soldier and citizen, one of the most distinguished of the many who served during the past 120 years in the ranks of this old military organization, and it affords us a great deal of satisfaction to be able to publish such a complete and authentic account of his life.
   I am taking the liberty of herewith enclosing a copy of typed matter, this being the initial copy, and subject to revision, and before publication it will be carefully checked by comparison with the publications of your society and official Military records.
   I note by your memorandum that General Thayer held a commission as Brigadier General in 1855 in the Nebraska Militia which seems to confirm the meager information given in an Associated Press dispatch at the time of his death, in 1906, that, prior to the Civil War, he saw considerable service and gained a high reputation as an Indian fighter; and I am prompted to ask if you would have the kindness to procure from the records of your Adjutant General's Office, data covering his service up to the outbreak of the Civil War, i. e., date of his entering the state militia, service,: and any appointments or commissions he may have received prior to his appointment as Brigadier General.



Worcester, Mass., 24th March 1923.

   The additional information you give us concerning the career of General Thayer is most welcome and will be incorporated in the sketch for the history, and, thanks to you, it will make one of the most interesting sections of the work.
   We who have served in the ranks of the old company which has had a continuous existence for 120 years, take much pride in the organization as a body and in the individual records such as that of General Thayer who is one of a large number of the old command who have become distinguished in military and civic life. Three governors of this state, one of Maine, Nebraska and Wyoming; Senators (U. S.) Representatives in Congress; U. S. Attorney General; Judges of high courts; twenty or more State Senators and representatives; Members of Governor's Council and a dozen or so Mayors of our city, to say nothing of the very many who won high rank in the various wars in which the country has been involved, the last and crowning glory from a military standpoint, in the fact that the company was Co. C, of the 104th Infantry, 26th Division U. S. A., whose colors were decorated by the French Government in France, the only American Regiment to be honored.

Worchester, Mass., 28th February, 1923.

   This is in somewhat tardy acknowledgement of your very kind favor of February 16, with the Volume V, of your publications you were so good as to loan us and which I have found, aside from that part relating to General Thayer, of very great interest.
   I have now made up a somewhat better sketch of the life and career of General Thayer, which I am taking the liberty to enclose an extra carbon copy of and which I hope you will consider as more adequately doing justice to such a career. You are at liberty to destroy or place this matter in your file if desired.
   I call your attention to one item in this sketch with which you may not agree, that is the lines relating to a (possible) connection with the family of Hon. Eli Thayer who became conspicuous in western affairs just about the time that General Thayer was winning renown in the same section of the country.
   Strange as it may seem, it has been impossible for me to confirm my belief that these two men were closely related, although Eli Thayer has two daughters now living in Worcester who appear to be in ignorance, and so far as I have searcher, the published genealogies of the Thayers make no mention. It would seem to me however that inasmuch as both and Eli Thayer were born in the same town (Bellingham being set off from Mendon) and both born within a year of each



other, they must have come from the same family. I am still looking and may have to change my sketch as far as it has mention of Eli Thayer.
   I have the good fortune to have in my own home here, a gentleman, George C. Hitt, a former resident of Indianapolis, connected by relationship with former Congressman Robert C. Hitt, of Illinois, who was personally acquainted with General Thayer and a number of his associates in civic and military life when he was (Gen'l. Thayer) a resident of your state. He also has been interested in reading the book and looking over your catalog of publications and has more than once remarked about the fine work your society is doing on historical lines and I am glad also to compliment you. It has pleased me also to find a number of your publications on file here at our public library.
   We are especially pleased to have so good a likeness of General Thayer and this, combined with. the sketch, will make an interesting chapter in the forthcoming history.



   General John Milton Thayer, one of the most distinguished veterans of the Worcester Light lnfantry, was born in the town of Bellingham, Massaachusetts (sic), January 24, 1920 (sic). He was the ninth child and son of Lieutenant Elias and Ruth (Staples) Thayer, both natives of Mendon, Mass. He graduated from Brown University in 1841; took up the study of law in the office of William Lincoln in Worcester; was admitted to the bar of Worcester County and practiced here until about 1854. While engaged in his profession, he was for a short period editor of the old Worcester Magazine and Historical Journal, a publication which gave promise of becoming noted but which unfortunately through lack of financial backing, had a short existence.
   General Thayer was regarded here as a man of considerable literary and professional ability and one of the most promising members of the bar. He was a member of an old and distinguished New England familiy of common ancestry with others of the same name who became distinguished in public life, one of whom, Hon. Eli Thayer, of Worcester, became nationally famous thru his advocacy of the admission of Oregon into the Union his efforts in making Kansas and its settlement by "organized emigration" in the "fifties."
   At the age of twenty-two, in the first year after his graduation from college, General Thayer became a member of the "Infantry," which was then designated as a "A Company of Light Infantry," attached to the 8th Regiment, 5th Brigade and 3d Division, of the Mass. Militia. He was appointed Third



Lieutenant, July 23, 1842 and. second Lieutenant, April 27 1843, then because of the demands of his profession, he retired from the militia here. He was married in Worcester, on December 17, 1842 to Mary Laura Albee.
   In 1854 General Thayer removed to the new Territory of Nebraska and engaged in the practice of law at Omaha, in which he continued until the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion in 1861.
   When the Territorial Militia of Nebraska was organized in 1855 and a choice was to be made for a Brigadier General to command same, Gen. Thayer was selected. As stated by a State of Nebraska official, "by reason of his previous military training in your organization (Worcester Light Infantry) General Thayer was regarded as the best equipped man to be appointed Brigadier General" and he was commissioned as such, retaining this office until outbreak of the Civil War.
   On June 30, 1861, he was mustered into the service of the United States as Colonel of the First Nebraska Infantry, which organization subsequently became the First Nebraska Cavalry. This regiment had a good record in the war, participating in the battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and elsewhere. On November 1, 1862, General Thayer was honorably discharged as Colonel by reason of his acceptance on that date of an appointment as Brigadier General of Volunteers, in signing his commission at the end of the war and receiving his discharge on July 19, 1865.
   From 1867 to 1871, General Thayer was United States Senator from Nebraska; in 1875 he was appointed by President Grant Governor of Wyoming Territory and from 1887 to 1891 he was Governor of Nebraska.
   His death occurred at Lincoln, Nebraska, March 19, 1906 at the age of 86. When the news of his death reached Worcester by Associated Press dispatches, there were a number of old members of the bar and ex-member of the militia living who remembered him when a citizen of Worcester.
   General Thayer became a citizen of Nebraska. when it was a young and somewhat turbulent territory. The country outside of Omaha and a very few other places was very thinly settled and there was considerable lawlessness and disregard of civilized authority, especially on the part of the Indians, of whom there were a great number in and surrounding the territory and with these elements the military forces of the territory had more or less trouble.
   The most notable occasion in which General Thayer played a leading part was the so-called "Pawnee War of 1859" which consisted of a stern chase after the marauding red men by a volunteer force under General Thayer. The Indians compris-



ed practically the entire tribe of "Pawnees" and while this conflict did not result in bloodshed, this was due altogether to the coolness, daring and quick-wittedness of the general, who--realizing fully the responsibility resting upon him and the great risk he was taking, ordered his force of only one hundred and ninety-four mounted men, with one small piece of field artillery to charge the Indian who were in camp and numbered fourteen hundred armed warriors, constituting the fighting force of the tribe that numbered altogether about five thousand males, females and children.
   The story of this campaign has been told by various parties but the best and undoubtedly the most truthful account has been related by General Thayer himself, who modestly attributed his success to the fact that every man of his small force was a trained frontiersman, of courage and daring. They were thoroughly incensed at the Indians, many of them having suffered by their continual raids and all were anxious to retaliate. The very audacity of the charge took the red men "off their feet" and caused their complete surrender without the loss of a life and could not be considered otherwise than a most notable achievement.
   In connection with this campaign, there was a story which was not given general publicity until many years after the incident occurred. It was told by General Thayer at a meeting of the Nebraska State Historical Society, January 10, 1900, the particulars of which are given in the published report of the society for that year, furnished through the kindness of its Superintendent, Addison E. Sheldon.
   It appears that when news of the uprising of the "Pawnees" first reached the Capitol at Omaha, brought in by couriers from the regions along the Elkhorn river, where the Indians were driving out the settlers, burning their homes and devastating their settlements, the Governor of the territory was absent and the duties of governorship fell upon the then secretary, Honorable J. Sterling Morton (afterwards Secretary of Agriculture under President Cleveland.) Because of the exigency of the moment, Acting Governor Morton issued orders to General Thayer to recruit a force of volunteers immediately and set out to rescue the settlers and subjugate the Indians.
   Acting in strict accord with his orders from the Acting Governor, General Thayer started with such force as he was able to raise for the seat of the trouble. It appears however, that the Governor himself had learned of the affair and the start of the expedition and General Thayer had not been out more than two days before he was overtaken by the territorial Governor, who, unfortunately, was very much under the



influence of liquor and very far from being in a tractable frame of mind. He immediately tried to assume command of the expedition and issued some orders which threatened to cause a revolt and actual disbandment unless something was promptly done. General Thayer had no time to consult with anyone at headquarters--there were no quick means of communication--and realizing the temper of his man and the futility of trying to reason with his drunken Governor, His Commander-in-Chief, he immediately placed him under arrest; had him placed in an ambulance wagon under guard and kept him there until the force had met and overcome the Indians.
   General Thayer felt very sure that because of the fact that he was out there in an unbroken wilderness, where no law or authority, except that of "might," prevailed, he was justified in his course of action. The force under him was purely voluntary--not even enlisted--and he felt that the emergency called for prompt and drastic action, such as would command the respect of his men--and it did. The Indians were overtaken and thoroughly subdued; the Governor sobered up and the incident of his arrest seems to have been forgotten, so far as any "official" action went.
   General Thayer was regarded by the people of Nebraska as one of the state's most distinguished citizens. His civil and military record there covered a period of more than fifty years, from 1854 to 1906. He was buried in the beautiful Wyuka cemetery, adjoining the city of Lincoln, where a handsome monument marks his grave.

   Everyone familiar with the townsite of the city of Scottsbluffs twenty years ago recalls how it was distinguished above other places in the North Platte valley by the beautiful young groves of cottonwood planted by the early settlers. At that time these cottonwoods were saplings, just about tall enough to hide a horse. They gave the townsite an attractive appearance which was certainly some contribution to the future metropolis of the North Platte valley. Those trees now shade the city and the Scottsbluff Star-Herald notes that these cottonwood pioneers are now being removed from the business blocks by axe and saw.

   Rev. Thomas L. Sexton died in Lincoln, November 29, 1922, aged 83. Dr. Sexton came to Seward as a Presbyterian minister in 1882 and was for forty years one of the leaders of his denomination in the state, a strong, high-minded spirit, a Union soldier in the Civil War.

   A fire at Blair December 1 burned the millinery store of Mrs. Hilton thereby calling attention to the fact that she had been continuously in the millinery business, at that place since the spring of 1869. Her husband, L. F. Hilton, was editor for many years of the Blair Pilot and his name familiar in the early newspaper annals of the state.




Visited by President Harvey and Secretary Sheldon of the
State Historical Society--A Smooth Plat of Unbroken
Prairie in the Midst of a Cornfield on
the Oregon Trail About Ten Miles Southeast
of Lexington

   In October, 1922, President Harvey and Superintendent Sheldon visited the site of the Plum Creek Massacre on the south side of the Platte river, about ten miles from Lexington. We were guided to the place by County Surveyor Beattie, of Dawson County, one of the early pioneers of the region.
   The site is located near the center of an eighty acre cornfield and about sixty rods north of the section line highway. The land is part of the Dilworth ranch owned by C. J. Dilworth, former attorney general of Nebraska. The murdered party of emigrants were buried by the soldiers who arrived soon after the massacre. Other persons were subsequently buried in the same plot of ground. It is a perfectly level tract one-fourth acre in extent, about a quarter of a mile from the banks of Plum Creek. The Oregon Trail wound its way across this level bench of prairie crossing Plum Creek at a point about a mile west of the site where the dead are buried. The wagon tracks of the old trail are clearly visible even today. Several gravestones mark the site of the massacre, some of them broken. There are several individual graves and one or two large mounds apparently marking the common grave of a number of people.
   The owner of the land has carefully refrained from cultivating this little patch of Nebraska sod in the midst of his field. It is inaccessible to the public, except by walking across the cultivated land. A strip of land for a public drive leading in to the burial site should be secured. A worthy monument should be erected at the spot. The survey of the Burlington railroad extension from Newark up the south side of the Platte to North Platte and Bridgeport runs across this bench land near the line of the Oregon Trail. The management of the Burlington road could do a noble deed and add to the historic interest of this line, when constructed, by bringing this little consecrated strip with its pioneer graves into its right of way and making the monument one of the conspicuous historic marks upon its historic highway.
   The nearest to an eye witness account of the Plum Creek massacre in existence was written by James Green, of Central City, for the annual meeting of the State Historical Society a few years ago. Mr. Green is now seventy-eight years old. His account of the massacre, which he narrowly escaped with



his own life, has sufficient interest to warrant printing at this time when the extension of the Burlington railroad is apparently an event of the near future. His story is as follows:
   In the spring of 1860 I went with my parents to Pike's Peak, where I passed the time until January, 1862. Then I, with my brother, S. S. Green, now of Schuyler, Nebr., started, each with an ox team, from Denver to Omaha after freight. From January to November in the year 1862 we made these round trips from Denver to Omaha, driving 3,600 miles in eleven months with oxmobile.
   In the spring of 1863 my brother went to Montana. At this time I exchanged my cattle for a mule team and made one trip with them, in the early summer of sixty three. While in Omaha I became entangled in the famous Judge Tator trial for the murder of his friend, Isaac Neff and I think I was the most important witness in the case. Judge Tator was convicted and executed some time in the fall of 1863. It was, I believe, the first legal execution in the territory.
   Having become highly taken up with the country around Shinn's ferry, about seven miles west of the present city of Schuyler, I came back from Denver and squatted on a piece of land where the present station of Edholm now stands. On May thirteenth following I was married to Miss Elizabeth Garrett who lived with her parents twenty miles east of me in Saunders county. Not long after this, some time in July, I got a hankering for the old Rockies again and we loaded our traps in the wagon and started across the Plains, fully expecting to make our future home some where along the foot of the Rocky mountains. At the time we started there were faint rumors that the Indians were going to cause trouble and on arriving at Fort Kearney, 125 miles west, the officers there were advising the emigrants to travel in large companies for self-protection. But, being perfectly familiar with the country and also with the Indians, for they were always in evidence along the route, we proceeded on our way and went as far as Cottonwood Springs, later Fort McPherson. On our arrival at this point the air was full of rumors of depredation further west and it was said one man had been killed and his stock run off. After due consideration we concluded the best thing to do was to turn back and wait a year, when perhaps the Indian troubles would be settled.
   So early in the morning, August 6, we turned our oxen to the east and drove to Gillman's ranch twelve miles east, and went into camp one half mile east of the ranch on the bank of the river. The river here was full of little tow heads and small channels a few inches deep trickling over the sand. After we had been in camp perhaps one and one half hours and

(Continued in Vol. V No. 4)




A Famous Woman of French and Indian Blood Whose Family
Connects the Present Time With the Earliest
White Settlement in Nebraska

   Mrs. Harriett Pilcher, widow of John Pilcher died at Walthill December 14, 1922, in her eighty-second year. She was born at Philadelphia August 28, 1841, and with her parents made the long journey by ox team arriving at Omaha on December 1, 1855. Her father's name was Arlington, the village being named for him. A little later she moved to Decatur, where in 1860 she married John Pilcher. Ten children were born of this marriage and eighty-seven grandchildren and great grandchildren at the time of her death. Eight of her grandsons served as soldiers in the World War, one of them being wounded in the Argonne.
   John Pilcher was the son of Major Pilcher, leading Indian trader in the Nebraska region a century ago. His trading posts along the Missouri river were famous resorts of Indians and white men. In 1823 he became president of the American Fur Company at St. Louis and in 1838 he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for this region. He died in 1843. The mother of his son John was an Omaha Indian Woman.
   The children of early fur traders and Indian women have been the great connecting link between the savage customs and traditions of the Indian tribes and the civilization of the white man. Speaking the languages of both the Indian tribes and the white men, and knowing from childhood the ways of the Indian, they became not only the interpreters between the white and red men at their councils but, even more, the interpreters of Indian life to the civilized world. Without their aid we should have inevitably lost the large part of the knowledge of Indian customs, folklore and religion which is such a valuable storehouse for future literature and perpetual interpreter of prehistoric times to present day people.
   The Pilcher home, on a beautiful site two miles west of Walthill, has for many years been a center of all that was best in both Indian and frontier white society. Six daughters in the family made an attractive center for many young men. All the daughters married well. Mrs. Pilcher was a deeply religious woman, full of sympathy and helpfulness for Indian or white people. Her name will always be an honored one in Nebraska history and in the annals of the Omaha Indian tribe.


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