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Pioneer Stories of Cass

County, Nebraska

Contributed by Present and Former Residents of
Cass County

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Nehawka, Nebraska






     The Cass County Historical Society was organized May 20, 1936, at Weeping Water, has had a desire to compile the history of Cass county, different from that found in the histories of this kind.

      These stories, reprinted in book form, deal with pioneer life in almost every neighborhood of the county and connect the names of many settlers of the early days.

      It is quite evident that many writers are able to depict the joys and sorrows, the hardships and reverses, and the incidents and anecdotes of the pioneers, who blazed the way in a new country, in a more interesting way than a single historian could possibly do.

      There is no fiction in this book. These stories are true accounts of actual happenings and make valuable historical matter that will be handed down for generations to come.

Officers Cass County Historical Society

G. H. Gilmore

Ellen Pollock Minor
First Vice-President

Alvin McReynolds

Myrtle Wood
Second Vice-President
C. L. Graves


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     Many millions of years ago a turbulent sea covered the territory occupied now by our middle western states which includes Nebraska, and this sea in receding, formed boggy swamps in which ferns, rushes and many plants grew to the size of trees. This murky, cloudy era was followed later by glaciers in which the Missouri valley was covered with a sheet of ice nearly a mile in thickness and in crossing Cass county it left in its course many huge colored boulders which are sought today for rock gardens. Some of these boulders were frozen in the bottom of the glacier and as the ice sheet passed over the layers of limestone, deep grooves were cut in the surface. These glacier scratches in lime stone have been found along the Missouri river and in the old Reed quarry east of Weeping Water.
      The loess epoch then followed the ice in which the yellow clay so well known in Cass county was deposited. The bones of deer, elk and buffalo have been found in this stratum and the finding of arrow points and the remains of the Loess Man, by Dr. Robert Gilder near Omaha, show that man was living in this region at that date. On the Loess soil vegetation grew and from Its growth and decay through many years, our black top soil was formed - our farm land today.
      From the turbulent raging sea many millions of years ago to the beautiful undulating hills covered with prairie grass and wild flowers and wooded valleys with sparkling streams, we have the plains area in which Nebraska is located. The fertility of the soil and the many wood lined streams attracted to this county a pre-historic agricultural race who came and lived in semi-subterranean houses at peace with the rest of the world and in their passing left many hundreds of burial mounds and house ruins in which are found charred corn, pottery, stone and bone implements as evidence of their occupancy.
      Cass county was a part of the Louisiana Territory, which was owned by France and ceded to Spain in 1761 and in 1800 this territory was ceded back to France. It was under the administration of Thomas Jefferson that the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 for $15,000,000 - 560 million acres at less than three cents per acre.
      The records of Lewis and Clarke in 1804: "Friday, July 20 - We passed, at about three miles distance, a small Willow Island to the north of a creek on the south, about twenty-five yards wide, by the French called L'eau qui Pleure, or the Weeping Water." From here they passed along the eastern boundary of Cass county arriving at the mouth of the Platte river, Saturday evening, July 21, at 7:00 o'clock during a rain storm.
      The Otoe Indians were along the Missouri river in Cass county when

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white men first arrived and the Pawnee Indians were on the south side of the Platte river below Ashland. In 1845-46 the Mormons crossed Cass county and were followed in 1849 by gold seekers.
     It was on April 17, 1854, that the Indians relinquished their rights to the lands west of the Missouri river and May 30, 1854, an act created the TERRITORY OF NEBRASKA with boundaries: "Beginning at the 40th parallel (the line between Kansas and Nebraska) and westward to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, thence north along the summit of the Rocky Mountains to the 49th parallel (Canadian line) thence east to the west line of Minnesota, thence down the west line of Minnesota and the Missouri river to the 40th parallel," In the early fifties a startling head line appeared in the eastern papers, "GOLD DISCOVERED IN NEBRASKA." This was a fact, because at that date the Territory of Nebraska included much of Colorado, all of Wyoming, Montana and the two Dakotas.
     June 24, 1854, by a proclamation of President Pierce the Territory of Nebraska was thrown open for settlement and land seekers hurriedly crossed the Missouri on many kinds of makeshift rafts and staked out their claims.
     Cass county was named in honor of Lewis Cass, the son of Jonathan Cass, a Revolutionary soldier. Lewis Cass started life as a school teacher in Delaware, was admitted to the bar at Zanesville, Ohio, was secretary of war under President Jackson, minister to France and served two terms as U, S. Senator from Michigan and took an active part in the fight over the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, He died at Detroit June 17, 1866.
Boundaries of Cass County

     Said county is bounded on the north by the Platte river, one the east by the Missouri river, on the south by the Weeping Water to its head waters, thence westward to the west boundary ceded to the United States, and thence by said boundary north to the Platte river," This would take a strip along the north side of Colorado and the south side of Wyoming to the crest of the Rocky Mountains.
     'There shall be two precincts or places of voting in Cass county, viz., one at the house of Col. Thompson in Kanosha precinct, and one at the house of Samuel Martin in Martin precinct. G. S. Griffith, Thomas Ashley and L. Young shall act as judges of election in Kanosha precinct and Benjamin R. Thompson and Wm. H. Davis clerks of the same. James O'Neil, Thomas L. Palmer and Stephen Wiles shall act as judges of election in Martin precinct and T. S. Gaskell and Levi Todd, clerks of the same."-- T. B. Cumming Acting Governor, November 23, 1854.
     The county official organization in the beginning was very inefficient and to give the settlers justice, claim associations were formed with rules and regulations. The following Claim Club was organied (sic) at Lewiston, two miles southeast of Murray:

Rock Creek Claim Association

     A meeting of the citizens in the neighborhood of Rock Creek, Cass county, Nebraska Territory, was held on the 31st of August for the purpose of protecting settlers in their claims. T. B. Ashley was chosen president and Wm. H. Davis, secretary, after which the following resolutions were passed:
      1. A claim is known by actual set-


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     2, A claim may embrace 120 acres  80 acres of which may be timber and may be in detached parts (and no more.)
     3. That when the claim lines do not run with the survey of the government, that the person having the over-plus will deed over to the other person, provided they cannot agree to the survey line of the government and the person having the same deeded shall furnish the money necessary for the entrance thereof at Congress price.
     4. That a committee of five be appointed to settle difficulties in relation to claims and claim intrusion either by persons at home or abroad.
     5. That the following persons be entitled to hold claims: Men 21 years of age or the head of a family, widows and all boys who are 16 years old, but boys are prohibited from taking up more than one claim.
     6. Boys are required to build a house or break five acres of prairie on their claim within eight months and if they sell their claim the person purchasing the same are required to conform to the obligations of the Association.
     7. (Vacant.)
     8. The bounds of the organization are as follows: On the north by Rock Creek Precinct, the west by the head of Rock Creek, south to include the John C. Rakes settlement, on the east by the Missouri river,
     9. The committee chosen are as follows: T. B. Ashley, Wm. Young, Elza Martin, John Carroll and Martin Neff. The president may call a meeting of the association at any time but the regular meeting of the association shall be the last Saturday in each month at Lewiston,
     10. The proceedings of this meeting shall be published in the Nebraska City News and we hereunto set our hands:
     Benedice Spiers, Wm. Frans, Augustus Spiers, Wm. D. Wiley, Lewis H. Young, Wm. T, Ashley, Lawrence Purvis, Elza Martin, A. C. Towner, John Carrol, A, Towner, Jr., H. M, Clousen, Vim. T. Laird, G, W, Winder, John Clemmons, A, Towner, Martin Neff, Thomas Patterson, William R. Ellington, John Louisignont, Samuel Winthrow, Frances Young, John R. Rakes, Isaac Rakes, Benjamin K. Davis and James Gordon.

Thomas Ashley, president.
Wm. H, Davis, secretary.

By Wm. H. Davis, Register of Deeds.

     Filed for record, September 1, 1855,"

Among the above named members of the ROCK CREEK CLAIM ASSOCIATION we have:
     A. C. Towner the first sheriff of Cass county, by appointment. Wm. R. Ellington, the first sheriff by election in 1855.
     Lewis Young platted the paper town of Lewiston, Augustus Spiers platted Granada, a suburb of Rock Bluff.
     Elza Martin and Sarah Morris, first marriage in Cass county.
     Thomas Patterson, the first resident of Rock Bluff and as government surveyor, sectionized the river tier of townships from Nebraksa (sic) City to the Platte river,
     Wm. H. Davis as the first recorder of Deeds in the county, kept his deeds filed in his log cabin, two miles east of Murray.
     Thomas Ashley, a husky blacksmith, one mile southwest of Rock Bluff, was elected the first justice of the peace in Kanosha precinct and held the championship as the biggest story teller in the county.

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Pioneer Nebraska Minister

     When this country was new, everything had its beginning in a small way, for of course at first the settlers were few and widely scattered. So of necessity, church work had to begin in a small way. When the missionaries first began their home mission work in this territory, they located and contacted the settlers and invited them to services at the most centrally located home. Then they would travel on, locate another group and again have services in some of those homes. They would return as often as they could, but some times it would be three or six months before they could come back, depending on how large a territory they covered. There were no roads at that time, only Indian trails to follow across the prairies and the mode of travel was on horse back.
     On account of new customs and most of all the new language, the immigrants from foreign countries usu-


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ally settled in groups of the same nationality. As these newcomers mostly where from countries where church work and religious training were well established, they soon began to want the same things here. But because they found little time or opportunity for learning the new language, they preferred to establish their churches in their mother tongue. There being & number of German Lutherans in this community, they wanted church services in their own language and faith, but the native missionaries could not speak their tongue and the settlers could not understand the missionaries language, so some of the seminaries in Germany were contacted and also the more settled east and the result was that the following German Lutheran pastors did home missionary work in this community from 1859 to 1879: These men in the order of their service were pastors Kuhns, Groenmiller, Huber, Peschau and Dietrich. In 1879 my father, Rev. Frederick Spriegel, was sent to Nebraska from Germany by the seminary from which he had graduated, it being St. Chrischanna Seminary at Basel, Switzerland. He had done several years of evangelistic work in Germany and perhaps for that reason was thought to be more prepared for the missionary work he was to do here.
      He first came to Fontanelle, in Washington county and there had his first experience of meeting wandering bands of Indians while he was riding his faithful pony across the prairie locating the isolated settlers and arranging for services. His work there was just to acquaint him with conditions as they were there and he worked with or under the supervision of Rev. Dales, who was stationed there and who was on old friend of his.
     From Fontanelle he came to Nehawka, and located along the Weeping Water creek near Nehawka, and from there followed up the work that tied been started by the missionaries proceeding him. He began his work here in 1880, and by this time preaching places had been established at the Heebner school house, west of Nehawka and the Paap school house near Otoe. He continued preaching at those places and later he also found settlements of Germans near Eight Mile Grove and Avoca and began preaching there. Of necessity, services could not be held often or regularly even then, because distance and roads, if they could be called such - and transportation were still obstacles to be overcome. Weather often played a large part in those days. In the winter, roads were often blocked by snow drifts for days and days and sometimes even longer than that. In the summer after heavy rains many of the creeks and streams that had to be crossed were so high they could not be forded - this being the way they had to be crossed in many instances. I can well remember hearing my father tell about getting lost in blizzards while riding across the prairies, also of riding late at night when the settlers had gone to bed and he could see no lights to give him his bearings. He had many hours of lonely wandering and riding until he learned that often his pony knew more than he did about the trails and if he let it go where it wanted to, usually it took him to some place of refuge.
     But gradually improvements came along all lines, roads became better,

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settlements grew larger, which meant larger congregations and churches began to be talked of. After several attempts, two were finally built in my father's territory. One near Otoe, formerly Berlin, was started in the fall of 1882, and finished in the spring of 1883 and one near Eight Mile Grove was completed in 1890.
     As these congregations grew, they of course, required more of his time and services until they became his main activities. Of course, at first, the work was carried on in the German language, but as the immigrants gradually learned the new language and mingled more with those of other nationalities that settled here, it became evident that the new language would also have to enter into the church work. So even though difficult at first, the instruction of the young people was begun. Even tho my father never really preached in English, he officiated at many baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals in that language. Of course the work now is done almost all together in the English language. In spite of many obstacles and setbacks, the work seemed to prosper and he remained here in charge of these two congregations for almost thirty-three years. At the charge he served near Otoe, three generations of his family now attend church.
     He went from here to Platte Center in 1912, where for nine years he served a congregation there, which, by the way, was the only other pastorate he ever held. He died there in 1921.
     His work was very dear to him and he spared neither time nor energy in doing it. It seemed not to have been in vain, because at both of the places he served so long in this territory, and also at the congregation at Platte Center, the work is still progressing nicely.
      NOTE--When Rev. Spriegel came to Cass county in 1880, he settled on the present H. P. Sturm farm, a mile north of Nehawka. In 1882 the family moved to what is generally known as the "Spriegel farm," nine miles north of Nehawka, where they resided until Auguht (sic), 1912.


Establishment of Railroad in 1891 and the Foundation of Present Little City



     Note--The following history on the town of Murdock was written by L. Neitzel whose picture appears above (sic), Mr. Neitzel is one of the first residents of Murdock, has made his home there for years and being a leading citizen of that community, he was asked to supply us with a photograph of himself which is reproduced here.
     The Rock Island railroad company began constructing its main line from


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An Early Cass County Settler and
Author of this Article

Omaha west in 1890. The "Kansas Town and Land Co." was formed to purchase right of way and locate the towns. L. Eickhof owned the quarter section where Murdock was later located. A Mrs. Thompson was the agent of the Kansas T. & L. Co., who purchased the land from Mr. Eichof. The land was surveyed in the fall of 1890 and the depot located, and the first railroad agent came in April, 1891, Mr. E. E. Wees with his wife and little daughter, Loraine. Lots were offered for sale in January, 1891 when L. Neitzel, M. Inhelder, W. F. Schneerin and A. Hass, a minister of the Evangelical church, purchased lots. Inhelder and Schneerln bought the two lots where the Farmers and Merchants bank now stands, intending to start a bank, which did not materialize. A. Hass put up a two-story frame building and L. Neitzel a story and a half building, the former, a general store and the latter a hardware store.
      Building operations were started in April 1891. Jake Cain started the building of the hotel; Ernest and Charley Hilderbrandt built the livery barn east of the hotel, H. Bornemeier and Mr. Fickes of Wabash built a store on unsurveyed land, that is now the first addition to Murdock. but both became dissatisfied over the running of the business, and went to court, closed the store until the court settled the case. The building was finally bought by L. Eikhoff and moved to its present location, and converted into a drug store and pool hail. Mr. Mahoney of Greenwood ran the drug store and Charley O'Brien the pool hall. The next man to run the drug store was Ed Evans, brother of John Evans, the elevator man, the last druggist was H. V. McDonald, who owned it until he died in 1930.
     A post office was given to Murdock in 1891 and Fred Hess of Wabash became the first postmaster. A. Zabel followed him.
     Kounselman & Co., of Kansas City, Mo., erected the first elevator in 1891, with Al Babbit in charge and L. Neitzel paid for the grain. There was no bank there yet. Two years later Evans & Hare built the second elevator; Scott Hare in charge. A Mr. Parks started buying hogs in 1891. but quit soon and Evans & Hare bought livestock thereafter.
     Mr. W. A. Savidge started a black-

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smith shop but stayed only one year when Jake Geohry came in 1895 from Manley and moved his house here too. In May 1882, E. J. Tool and son Arthur, came from Ackley, Ia., looking over the town and decided to locate. B. S. Tool opened a lumber yard and A. J. Tool a harness shop. Folsom Brothers started a bank in 1891 in Hass Brothers general store coming from South Bend, Nebr. In 1892 H. N. Meeker and Geo. Meeker started the Bank of Murdock, put up a brick biulding (sic), with Geo. Meeker as cashier.
     The naming of the town was left to L. Neitzel, being the first one to build on the townsite. The K. T. & Land Co., wanted it named "Neitzel" to which L. N. objected; he in turn named it "Eichoff," to which L. Eichoff objected, then L. Neitzel proposed the name of Murdock, after the name of one of the Officials of the R. I. R. R. which was adopted.
     In 1895 Mr. Dean of Ashland, started the second lumber yard with Lou Sawyer as manager, and a second bark with Lou Sawyer as cashier. Mr. P. Eveland, Chas. Lau, Fred Sheve and Milt Moore as stockholders with a $5,000 capital. This business did not last over three years when the lumber yard was absorbed by Wood & Tool, and the assets of the Farmers Bank were bought by H. R. Neitzel and added to the Bank of Murdock. The first school was built in 1892. G. V. Pickerell, John Connally and L. Neitzel were the building committee, costing $1,800, was paid for in two years and did service until 1924, when the present consolidated building was erected, costing over $45,000.
     Preaching services was begun in 1891 in the depot, by a Christian minister, Rev. Jacobs. A Sunday School was also started, but not organized until 1892 in our new school house by Mr. A. J. Hillis. Services were held in the school building until 1904. L. Neitzed (sic) did janitor work for twelve years, then the M. E. Church was erected.
     The first doctor was a man from Indiana, H. C. Madding, who stayed some three years, then moved to Lincola. Dr. Friday attended the sick for a while from South Bend, when finally Dr. O. D. Jones located permanently until he died.
     Jake Cain soon quit the hotel business and moved back to the farm, and Mr. Sam Kitts bought the hotel and ran it for a number of years. Business never changed hands very much in Murdock. L. Neitzel occupied his location for 42 years; A. J. Tool has resided there for 41 years; H. V. McDonald had held his place some 37 years. (This is written in 1932.)
     In 1893 Zabel & Detman dissolved partnership in Wabash. Detman moved to Elmwood, going into the general merchandise business, while A. Zabel came to Murdock, bringing his home with him. John Scheel owns the former Zabel home. The old "Center School" was brought into Murdock in 1893 and stands just east of John Scheel's home.
     Murdock had a newspaper for a while, edited by O. P. Stewart in the 90's, with Bertha Geohry as assistant, while O. P. would teach school on the side. Among the first teachers were W. J. Mattes, W. Berge. the Misses Whipple, Mrs. A. J. Tool, all doing excellent work. Some of their pupils occupy high and honorable positions.
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