to that of Lewis Cass of his native state. His oath of office as secretary was administered August 3, 1854, by Peter V. Daniel, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and he arrived in the territory on the 8th of the same month. To the task of evoking political order from the chaos he found, he was quite equal -- his enemies said more than equal. In few of our commonwealths has the framing of the state fallen to men of such large ability as were the framers of political Nebraska; and in point of ability Thomas B. Cuming should doubtless be named with the half dozen or


Picture button


First secretary and twice acting governor of Nebraska territory

less of the first class. In executive capacity and aggressive force, in the judgment of some of his ablest contemporaries, he excelled them all. Two of those contemporaries have expressed the opinion, independently of each other, that if Cuming had gone to the Civil war he would have become a distinguished general.9 In audacity, and in his methods in general, he was Napoleonic. The difficult knot in which he found the question of temporarily locating the capital of the territory, which all ordinary man would have striven in perplexity to untie, he cut with an Alexandrian stroke, and his generalship in the campaign for formally and legally fixing the seat of government at Omaha was of the same order. By like methods he went about the task of organizing orderly government out of the chaotic material he found.
   Bribery and other forms of corruption in the settlement of the capital question were freely and vociferously charged, and are credited as a matter of course by the survivors of those strenuous times. The partisans of Bellevue pushed as her superior claims seniority and the intent of Governor Burt, the real executive. At the third session of the legislature a well-distributed committee of the council, composed of Jacob Safford10 of Cass, Dodge, and Otoe counties, Samuel M. Kirkpatrick of Cass, and William Clancy of Washington, in their unanimous report in favor of relocating the capital, said:

   When the first governor arrived in territory he found but one place entitled to the name of village, even, anywhere north of the Platte river. The town of Bellevue, the first town-site north of the Platte, was the place where it was known it was his intention to locate the capital. His death, however, left the matter in other hands, and the capital was located at its present site. Your committee are loth (sic) to say what influences are universally believed to have been brought to bear in inducing the present location. It is sufficient for them to say that the people of the territory are by no means satisfied with the location or with the means by which it was located, and still less by the means by which it has been kept there.11

   Omaha was exactly midway between the north and south limits of population at that time, and nearer the center of the north and south limits of the prospective and now actual state than Bellevue. Distances east and west were of little consequence because
   9 Personal recollections of James M. Woolworth and Dr. George L. Miller.
   10 Safford was a resident of Otoe county.
   11 Council Journal, 1855-1857, p. 25.



it was thought that for an indefinite time to come the country would not be settled more than forty miles westward from the river. Regard for the sentiment of the people and for superior eligibility as a site for a city and as a point for a railroad crossing certainly would have made Bellevue the capital. But the population was so small and so shifting that this consideration was of little consequence. The new order of man-made cities was soon to be illustrated in Omaha herself, so that the priority argument for Bellevue had little weight.
   It is a truth or abstraction of small practical consequence to say that Acting Governor Cuming should have convened the first legislature at Bellevue in accordance with the decision of Governor Burt, though there was at most none other than a moral obligation to do so. It would be more to the purpose to say that Acting Governor Cuming should have fairly apportioned the members of the first legislature, so that the South Platte, or anti-Omaha settlers would have had the majority to which they were entitled. In that case the legislature would perhaps have located the capital at Bellevue where it would have remained, not unlikely, to the present time, and where the Union Pacific bridge and terminals would have followed it. In other words, Bellevue would have taken the place of Omaha as the commercial capital of Nebraska, but more than that, for an indefinite time would have been the political capital also. But we say "perhaps," because the same potent Iowa influence, focused at Council Bluffs, which after years of effort had compassed territorial organization and made Nebraska a separate territory, might have prevailed in spite of any adverse initiative of the governor. To contemplate this might-have-been, to conjure in the mind the splendid dual capital which might have adorned the beautiful site-the most beautiful as well as the most eligible of the available sites -- of the now deserted village is perhaps idle speculation, or at most a fascinating fancy. But to relate the facts and interpret the motives which contributed to this important incident in the beginning of a commonwealth is legitimate history.
   On Saturday, October 21st, the governor issued the second proclamation which announced that an enumeration of the inhabitants of the territory would begin October 24th, the purpose of the notice being to enable persons who were temporarily absent from the territory to return in time for the census. The third proclamation, dated October 26th, gave instructions as to the duties of the six deputy marshals who were to take the census in the six districts into which the territory had been divided for that purpose -- the first three lying north and the last three south of the Platte river. According to the instructions the work was to be completed by the 20th of the following November and returns to be made to Mr. Lindley, postmaster, Omaha City, or to the governor, at the mission house, Bellevue. The governor appointed as enumerators Joseph L. Sharp, first district; Charles B. Smith, second district; Michael Murphy, third district; Eli R. Doyle and F. W. Symmes, fourth district; Munson H. Clark, fifth district; Charles W. Pierce, sixth district.
   The fourth proclamation, made November 18, 1854, appointed Thursday, November 30, as a day of thanksgiving. The fifth, dated November 23, 1854, promulgated rules for the elections. The sixth executive document, pertaining to territorial organization, issued November 23, 1854, proclaimed that elections should be held December 12, 1854, to choose a delegate to Congress and members of a legislature which was to meet January 8, 1855. The seventh proclamation, issued December 15, 1854, authorized a special election at Nebraska City on the 21st of that month to fill the vacancy in the council left by a tie vote cast at the regular election. On the 20th day of December the last two proclamations



pertaining to territorial organization were issued, one convening the legislature at Omaha, and on the 16th instead of the 8th of January, 1855; the other announcing the organization of the judiciary system, and designating judges of probate, justices of the peace, sheriffs, constables, and clerks for the several counties, and in the same proclamation the three judges were placed. Chief Justice Fenner Ferguson was assigned to the first district, comprising Douglas and Dodge counties; Justice Harden to



the second, embracing all of the counties south of the Platte river; and Justice Bradley to the third district, comprising the counties of Burt and Washington. Judge Ferguson arrived in the territory October 11, 1854, and the next day took the oath of office before Secretary Cuming "at the town of Bellevue." Judge Bradley arrived October 14th, and took the oath before Judge Ferguson at Omaha City, October 28th; Judge Harden arrived December 1st, and took the oath before Judge Ferguson at Bellevue, December 4th. Attorney General Estabrook arrived at Omaha City, January 22, 1855, and took the oath before Secretary Cuming. Marshal Izard arrived October 20th, and took the oath before Judge Ferguson at Bellevue, October 24th. The Palladium of December 6th gives this account of Judge Harden:

   Hon. Edward R. Harden, one of the associate judges of Nebraska, accompanied by the clerk of his court, M. W. Riden, and J. H. White, Esq., of Georgia, arrived at Belleview, December 4. The judge is a middle aged man, spare in person and to appearance quite feeble in constitution -- his manners, dress and equipage all bear the stamp of democratic simplicity and economy. He is courteous in manner, agreeable and affable in conversation . . .
   On the 23d of December the governor called for two volunteer regiments for defense against the Indians.
   The date marks of these state papers show that the executive office was wherever the governor happened to be when he desired to perform an executive act; and they faintly suggest that the aspirations and hopes of each hamlet to become the capital were delicately nurtured, or at least not inconsiderately or prematurely blighted.
   Giving a strict construction to the provision of the organic act that nothing therein contained "shall be construed to impair the rights of person or property now pertaining to the Indians in said territory so long as such rights shall remain unextinguished by treaty between the United States and such Indians, or to include any territory, which by treaty with any Indian tribe, is not without the consent of said tribe, to be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any state or territory," he had aimed to include in these districts only such territory as had been actually relinquished by the Indians. But doubt as to the scope of this restriction having arisen, on the 1st of November Governor Cuming addressed a letter to the commissioner of Indian affairs asking whether he had done right to restrict election privileges to those actually within the Otoe and Omaha cessions and to exclude "the traders and others northward of the Blackbird Hills, who by the intercourse act of 1834 have been given special privileges, or those in any other part of the territory who are



living on Indian lands not yet ceded, but to restrict all election control within the Omaha and Otoe cessions, reaching north to the Aoway river, south to the little Nemaha river, and west to the lands of the Pawnees."
   "Some of the territorial officers and many of the citizens," he said, "contend that election precincts should be established over all the territory wherever white men (traders and others) reside -- comprising the Sioux, Blackfeet, Crows, and other tribes. Others are of the opinion that such election privileges should only be enjoyed by the settlers within the Omaha and Otoe cessions where it is now understood that the whites have the authority of the government to make a permanent residence." The commissioner was asked to "state also whether there is any neutral or United States ground south of the Platte river, south and west of the Otoe and Missouri cession, where an election precinct may be made."
   The commissioner, Mr. George W. Manypenny, answered that,

    Where there has been no cession made by an Indian tribe, as has not been done by the Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Crows, the Poncas, and some others, any exercise of authority for territorial purposes by the government would be in my opinion in contravention of the proviso of the act organizing the territory.

   To Governor Cuming's second question the commissioner replied:

   The country west of the half-breeds and south of the Platte river west of the Otoe and Missouri cession and bounded on the north by the Platte river as far back as 101 degrees west longitude, and from that point in a southwesterly direction to the line dividing Kansas and Nebraska near the 103d degree is of such character.

   In accordance with the commissioner's opinion the governor sent Deputy Marshal Jesse Lowe to spy out this "United States ground" to the southwest. The only record we have of the object and result of this investigation is contained in Marshal Lowe's report of December 10, 1854:

 To Acting Governor T. B. Cuming:
   Sir: Having been sent by you to establish what is called Jones county, bounded as follows, commencing 60 miles west from the Missouri river at the north corner of Richardson county; thence west along the south bank of the Platte river to the 101st degree of west longitude; thence southwesterly to the boundary between Kansas and Nebraska at the 103d degree of west longitude; thence along said boundary to the southwest corner of Richardson county; and thence to the place of beginning, and instructed to apportion to said county one representative or more as the number of inhabitants should require, (I) respectfully report that by ascertaining from satisfactory information that there are no voters in said county unless a few living in the neighborhood of Belews precinct in Richardson county, and who would naturally vote at said precinct, and believing furthermore from satisfactory information, that Richardson county has been given more than her just representation, I am of opinion that no apportionment should be made for Jones county.
SpacerVery respectfully,
SpacerMARK W. IZARD, marshal,
By JESSE LOWE, deputy.

   Governor Cuming sent the following curious announcement:

Omaha City, Nov. 30, 1854.

To Editors Newspapers:

   Dear Sir: The deputy territorial marshal has been sent below the "Platte" in the neighborhood of "the Blues" to establish a new county.
   The notices of election in the census district above the Platte, (Belleview and Omaha) will not be circulated until he can be heard from as it will be impossible until then to correctly fix the apportionment, which is limited by law to a certain number for the whole territory.
   It will be well to make this announcement public. The other counties have received their apportionment and this is the only district in the territory where this course will be pursued, it being the most compact and least subject to injury by delay.
SpacerRespectfully yours,
                                               T. B. CUMING,
                                        Acting Governor of Nebraska.

   ELECTION PRECINCTS. The inference from this communication is that the governor intended to cut the Douglas county represen-





The first white man to be appointed to official position in the government of Nebraska territory



tation cloth to suit the whole garment after it should be completed by the attachment of that part on "the Blues," just as he evidently entirely disregarded Mr. Sharp's comprehensive count of Richardson county, quite in accordance with the suggestion or warning of Deputy Marshal Lowe.
   It was at once freely and forcibly charged by the enemies of Governor Cuming, who appear to have been nearly identical with those who opposed the location of the capital at Omaha, that this first census was doctored, with fraudulent intent, in the interest of Omaha. Though at the beginning of the session the governor, in compliance with a resolution of the house, moved by Mr. Decker of Nebraska City, had furnished copies of the census returns to that body, they are not now in existence. That there were gross falsifications and other irregularities in this census there is no doubt. These legislative districts were gerrymandered by Governor Cuming in the interest of Omaha, and there is only one motive that may be assigned therefor. The interests of a coterie of enterprising Iowa speculators who had gathered in Council Bluffs, and some of whom were camping in expectation on the site of Omaha, required that the capital should be located there, and they set about to reach their end by much the same means and methods as always have been employed for like purposes. They won, as was inevitable, on account of the great superiority of their resources. If Governor Burt, who, being a southern gentleman of the old school, would have been proof against these means and averse to these methods, had lived, his initiative might have drawn this Iowa influence to Bellevue. As governors of new territories go, Burt was the exception and Cuming the rule; more of them act as Cuming acted than as Burt would have acted -- though few would act in like circumstances with a vigor so naturally effective and so little impaired by nicety of moral scruple or conventional restraints.

    THE FIRST CAPITAL CONTROVERSY. The story of the proceedings in the capital contest rests mainly upon personal recollection and tradition. It is doubtless true that Governor Cuming demanded of "Father" Hamilton one hundred acres of the section of mission land at Bellevue as the price for designating that place as the capital. It would doubtless have been difficult to alienate this land at all, since the board of missions did not receive a patent for it until 1858. "Father" Hamilton seemed to be filled more with the fear of the Lord than of losing the capital, and the reader of the Palladium gains an impression that its editor, Mr. Reed, was too much possessed by a sense of the righteousness of Bellevue's cause to be willing or able to meet her opponents on their own morally less defensible but practically far stronger grounds. The moral suasion of these good people of Bellevue was not backed up with material arguments sufficient to meet those of the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry company, which not only represented but constituted Omaha's interests.
   Under authority of the organic law Governor Cuming had divided the inhabited portion of the territory into eight counties, and after the census had been taken he apportioned the several counties into legislative districts.
   Friends of Bellevue read in this apportionment the doom of their hopes for the capital, and it was the first overt act of the bitter war between the North Platte and South Platte sections which lasted until the chief cause of the quarrel was removed by the removal of the capital to Lincoln in 1867. It is seen that twenty-one members were awarded to the counties north of the Platte and eighteen to those south of that river. It was strongly contended by the people south of the Platte that their section was the most populous, and the governor's own census gave it 1,818 inhabitants as against 914 in the northern section. The census showed 516 voters -- that is, males over twenty-one years of age -- south, and 413 north of the Platte. But during the final

Previous Page
Table of Contents
General Index
Next Page

© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller.